Donald Chamberlin was born in 1944 in San Jose, California, and holds a BS in engineering from Harvey Mudd College (1966) and an MS (1967) and PhD (1971) in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Chamberlin is best known as co-inventor of SQL (Structured Query Language), the world's most widely used database language. Developed in the mid-1970s by Chamberlin and Raymond Boyce, SQL was the first commercially successful language for relational databases. Chamberlin was also one of the managers of IBM's "System R" project, which produced the first SQL implementation and developed much of IBM's relational database technology.
Chamberlin joined IBM Research at the T.J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, New York, in 1971. In 1973, he returned to San Jose, California, and continued his work at IBM's Almaden Research Center, where he was named an IBM Fellow in 2003. In 2009, he was appointed a Regents' Professor at UC Santa Cruz.
Chamberlin was named an ACM Fellow in 1994 and an IEEE Fellow in 2007. In 1997, he received the ACM SIGMOD Innovations Award and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. In 2005, he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Zurich.