Niklaus Wirth

2004 Fellow

For seminal work in programming languages and algorithms, including Euler, Algol-W, Pascal, Modula, and Oberon

"Increasingly, people seem to misinterpret complexity as sophistication, which is baffling—the incomprehensible should cause suspicion rather than admiration."

— Niklaus Wirth

Niklaus Wirth was born in Winterthur, Switzerland, in 1934. He received the degree of electronics engineer from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (eth-Zurich) (1959), an MSC from Laval University (1960), and a PhD in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley (1963).

Upon graduation, Wirth became an assistant professor at the newly created computer science department at Stanford University. From 1968 until his retirement in 1999, he was a professor at ETH in Zurich. There, he developed the programming languages Pascal (1970), Modula-2 (1979), and Oberon (1988). Pascal, in particular, became a widely used programming language in computer science education and influenced a generation of students and professional programmers.

Following two separate sabbatical leaves at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in California, Wirth became an enthusiastic adopter of the groundbreaking workstations he saw there, and returned home inspired to build similar systems. While doing so, he simultaneously created several elegant and useful programming languages and environments that had profound research implications.

Wirth contributed to both hardware and software aspects of computer design and wrote influential books on software engineering and structured programming. Among other recognitions, he held the 1984 ACM Turing Award. Wirth passed away on January 1, 2024.


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