Friday, December 8, 2023

IT career and achievements of computer science legend Brian Kernighan

Brian Kernighan is a Canadian engineer and scientist who made the history of IT development in Toronto. 30 years of a successful career at Bell Labs scientific centre, new developments and lecturing have made him famous not only in his hometown but also beyond. Thanks to his knowledge and skills, the world learned about new programming languages and ways to improve information systems. Learn more at toronto-future.

Studies at the University of Toronto

Choosing a future profession wasn’t a difficult decision for a lover of exact sciences. In high school, he enjoyed studying maths, physics and chemistry. One of those who noticed those inclinations and advised the student to continue gaining knowledge in that direction was his mathematics teacher. He completed a course in engineering physics at the University of Toronto, so Brian also got interested in it.

Describing his study there, Brian said that it had been a course for engineers, so they had learned the technology of creating steel beams, breaking concrete, etc.

Brian Kernighan’s father was a chemical engineer. After a short thought, the boy chose a similar professional field, engineering physics, and in 1960 entered the University of Toronto.

The engineering physics course was very diverse, as it consisted of a large number of topics and practical tasks. As it turned out later, that is why not all students wanted to continue their studies at that faculty. About 30% of them decided to choose another educational course. But Brian liked to study engineering. He learned a lot of interesting things and had to make a lot of effort to complete all the tasks in time.

Start of career at Bell Labs

During his graduate studies, Brian Kernighan completed a summer internship at a research centre and proved himself well. His group worked on the first general-purpose time-sharing operating system called CTSS. Brian was programming with the most advanced technology he knew. CTSS supported the MAD programming language. During his internship, he created new programmes and solved the problem of dividing graphs into subgraphs.

Brian continued to work there in 1969. He created new projects and conducted research in the fields of engineering and IT together with other employees. At that time, the team of the scientific centre consisted of 3,000 people. They were all very friendly and loved what they did. The development and discussion of new information products took place in the spacious premises of the office every day. The efficiency of funds and resources was one of the main advantages of the Bell Labs centre in the period when computers and other technological devices were just beginning to be improved.

The main achievements of Brian Kernighan in the field of IT 

During 30 years of work at the science centre, Brian managed to build a career and constantly develop his professional skills. The most important thing is that he made new discoveries in programming. In the 1990s, he authored AWK, a programming language designed for scanning and processing sample text documents. He also created AMPL, a language for modelling and presenting large-scale tasks of high complexity and the UNIX multifunction operating system.

While working at the research centre, he created all his IT developments with the aim of solving a specific problem. First, he tested them using ready-made tools that speed up the process of creating a new programming language. Brian Kernighan then asked other employees to test his creations, which proved successful and were recognised in Toronto and beyond.

After several years of work, he gained a lot of knowledge and practical experience, which he decided to share in his books. Some of them are dedicated to the programming languages invented by the author himself. They will be interesting to those who also want to create new developments in the field of IT. The author supplemented several sections with programming instructions that he had created at the beginning of his work at Bell Labs.

Brian’s students at Princeton University and all those interested in the topic of programming read his books. Later, he finished his career at the scientific centre and started lecturing. In addition to the books, Brian created the course “Computers in the modern world”.

In this course, Brian Kernighan tries to explain what computing and communications are, as they are the most important components of the modern world. Today, people can talk even if they are separated by a whole continent. Therefore, it is an important part of life for everyone. However, it can influence us both in positive and sometimes negative ways.

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