Daily Archives: November 23, 2015

Gratitude #10, Bob Elliott


Bob Elliott was a comedian and half of the pair Bob and Ray (archive material here). I grew up listening to his work.

Response #2 to Gratitude #7, Brian Kernighan

Mr. Kernighan gave me permission to post my letter to him and his response.



Dear Mr. Kernighan,

I’m writing to you today to thank you. Some thirty years ago, I was part of the Explorer program that came to Bell Labs to learn C. At that point I had been coding in BASIC or 6502 assembly. C was a turning point for me. A few years later, I got a job working for Max Mathews as a violin maker. I asked for an account and on alice or rabbit, I coded more. I came in in the evenings to use the new Blits in the UNIX room.

I met you formally at Oberlin and gave a talk about the language and autographed my copy of K&R. Not long after, I landed a job at Adobe working on PostScript and later Acrobat, all in C. You kicked my career. Thank you.

If you are wondering why I am writing to you, it is because as I approach 50, It’s becoming increasingly important for me to thank those people who, knowingly or not, helped make me into who I am. I am documenting this at http://www.plinth.org/gratitude  You can participate too. If you choose to reply, and you need not, be sure to indicate if and how you would like to participate, for example, giving permission to post this letter. Rest assured, I will post nothing beyond the header without you [sic] say so, and of course no contact information.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Hawley

Mr. Kernighan’s response:

Hi, Steve —

Thank you for your note, and especially for your generous spirit of acknowledging those who have been of help, however indirectly (as in my case).

I wish that I had been able to thank the high school math teacher who steered me towards the right undergrad program. That experience led to further opportunities, and of course more help from others.  I can easily think of a dozen or two of other people without whom I would be in a very different place.

One obvious one is Dennis Ritchie, the sole creator of the C programming language; I had nothing to do with that, just writing a book with him.

You are welcome to post your original letter to me and this response.

Thanks again.