Edsger W. Dijkstra (1930 – 2002)


Dijkstra was famous for fundamental contributions to developing programming languages. Among others he created the shortest path algorithm, known as Dijkstra’s algorithm for finding the most direct path on a graph or map. The Dijkstra algorithm is now used in OSPF routing.

He was a big fan of ALGOL 60, one of the first high-level programming languages.

Dijkstra concluded that in high-level languages, the overuse of the GOTO statement was symptomatic of poor structure. In 1968 he wrote a private paper “A Case against the GOTO Statement”, which was then published as a letter in CACM. Editor Niklaus Wirth gave this letter the heading “Go To Statement Considered Harmful“, which introduced the phrase “considered harmful” into computing.

Fun facts:

  • Dijkstra was famous for his general rejection of personal computers. Instead of typing papers out using a word processor, he printed everything in longhand.
  • Students who emailed Dijkstra were asked to include a physical mailing address in the letter. His secretary would print the message, and he would respond by hand.
  • Personal computers weren’t the only technology he shunned. He refused to use overhead projectors, calling them “the poison of the educational process.”
  • He owned a fictional company named Mathematics Inc. of which he claimed to be chairman.

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