Brian Kernighan

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Brian Kernighan
Brian Kernighan in 2012 at Bell Labs 1.jpg
Brian Kernighan at Bell Labs in 2012 photographed by Ben Lowe
Brian Wilson Kernighan

(1942-01-01) January 1, 1942 (age 77)[1]
Alma materUniversity of Toronto
Princeton University (PhD)
Known for
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science
InstitutionsPrinceton University
ThesisSome Graph Partitioning Problems Related to Program Segmentation (1969)
Doctoral advisorPeter Weiner[3]
InfluencedDavid J. Malan[4][5]

Brian Wilson Kernighan (/ˈkɜːrnɪhæn/; born January 1, 1942)[1] is a Canadian computer scientist who worked at Bell Labs alongside Unix creators Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie and contributed to the development of Unix. He is also coauthor of the AWK and AMPL programming languages. The "K" of K&R C and the "K" in AWK both stand for "Kernighan". Since 2000 Brian Kernighan has been a Professor at the Computer Science Department of Princeton University, where he is also the Undergraduate Department Representative.[6][7]

Early life and education[edit]

Brian Kernighan speaks at a tribute to Dennis Ritchie in 2012 at Bell Labs.

Born in Toronto, Kernighan attended the University of Toronto between 1960 and 1964, earning his Bachelor's degree in engineering physics.[8] He received his PhD in electrical engineering from Princeton University in 1969 for research supervised by Peter Weiner.[3]

Career and research[edit]

Kernighan has held a professorship in the department of computer science at Princeton since 2000. Each fall he teaches a course called "Computers in Our World", which introduces the fundamentals of computing to non-majors. Kernighan's name became widely known through co-authorship of the first book on the C programming language with Dennis Ritchie. Kernighan affirmed that he had no part in the design of the C language ("it's entirely Dennis Ritchie's work").[8] He authored many Unix programs, including ditroff.

In collaboration with Shen Lin he devised well-known heuristics for two NP-complete optimization problems: graph partitioning and the travelling salesman problem. In a display of authorial equity, the former is usually called the Kernighan–Lin algorithm, while the latter is known as the Lin–Kernighan heuristic.

Kernighan was the software editor for Prentice Hall International. His "Software Tools" series spread the essence of "C/Unix thinking" with makeovers for BASIC, FORTRAN, and Pascal, and most notably his "Ratfor" (rational FORTRAN) was put in the public domain.

He has said that if stranded on an island with only one programming language it would have to be C.[9]

Kernighan coined the term Unix and helped popularize Thompson's Unix philosophy.[10] Kernighan is also known as a coiner of the expression "What You See Is All You Get" (WYSIAYG), which is a sarcastic variant of the original "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG).[citation needed] Kernighan's term is used to indicate that WYSIWYG systems might throw away information in a document that could be useful in other contexts.

Kernighan's original 1978 implementation of Hello, World! was sold at The Algorithm Auction, the world's first auction of computer algorithms.[11]

In 1996, Kernighan taught CS50 which is the Harvard University introductory course in Computer Science.[5] One of his students on CS50 was David J. Malan, who now teaches the course.[4]

Other achievements during his career include:



  1. ^ a b Lohr, Steve (31 October 2002). "To the Liberal Arts, He Adds Computer Science". The New York Times. Mr. Kernighan, 60, is a computer scientist
  2. ^ "C" Programming Language: Brian Kernighan - Computerphile on YouTube
  3. ^ a b Kernighan, Brian Wilson (1969). Some Graph Partitioning Problems Related to Program Segmentation. (PhD thesis). Princeton University. OCLC 39166855. (subscription required)
  4. ^ a b Mendez, Cordelia F. (2014). "This is CS50". The Harvard Crimson. Archived from the original on 2017-03-17.
  5. ^ a b Malan, David J. (2010). "Reinventing CS50". Proceeding of SIGCSE '10 Proceedings of the 41st ACM technical symposium on Computer science education: 152. doi:10.1145/1734263.1734316. ISBN 9781450300063.
  6. ^ Brian Kernighan author profile page at the ACM Digital Library
  7. ^ Brian Kernighan's home page at Princeton University
  8. ^ a b Dolya, Aleksey (29 July 2003). "Interview with Brian Kernighan". Linux Journal.
  9. ^ Budiu, Mihai (July 2000). "An Interview with Brian Kernighan".
  10. ^ a b c d McIlroy, M. D. (1987). A Research Unix reader: annotated excerpts from the Programmer's Manual, 1971–1986 (PDF) (Technical report). CSTR. Bell Labs. 139.
  11. ^ "Brian Kernighan – Hello World". Artsy. Artsy. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  12. ^ D is for Digital: What a well-informed person should know about computers and communications ISBN 1463733895
  13. ^ Brian Kernighan and Alan Donovan (2015) The Go Programming Language ISBN 0134190440

External links[edit]