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Brian Wilson Kernighan (pronounced /ˈkɛrnɪhæn/, the 'g' is silent), (born January 1942, Toronto, Ontario, Canada) is a computer scientist who worked at Bell Labs alongside Unix creators Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie and contributed greatly to Unix and its school of thought. 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'. Brian Kernighan is currently a Professor at the Computer Science Department of Princeton University, where he is also the Undergraduate Department Representative.

Kernighan's name became widely known through co-authorship of the first book on the C programming language with Dennis Ritchie. Kernighan has said that he had no part in the design of the C language ("it's entirely Dennis Ritchie's work"). He authored many Unix programs, including ditroff, and cron for Version 7 Unix.

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 styled Lin–Kernighan.)

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.[1]

Kernighan is also known as a coiner of the expression "What You See Is All You Get (WYSIAYG)", which is sarcastic variant of the original "What You See Is What You Get" (WYSIWYG). Kernighan's term is used to indicate that WYSIWYG systems might throw away information in a document that could be useful in other contexts.



He received his Bachelor's degree in Engineering Physics from the University of Toronto. He received his PhD in electrical engineering from Princeton University, where he has held a professorship in the department of computer science since 2000. Each fall he teaches a course called "Computers in Our World", which introduces the fundamentals of computing to non-majors.

He has on occasion revealed it was his own pun which led to the use of the name 'Unix' (initially 'Unics') for the operating system Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie were working on.

Summary of achievements



  1. ^ An Interview with Brian Kernighan

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Brian Kernighan (born 1942) is a computer scientist who worked at the Bell Labs and contributed to the design of the pioneering AWK and AMPL programming languages. He is most well-known for his co-authorship of the first book on the C programming language.


  • Controlling complexity is the essence of computer programming.
  • The most effective debugging tool is still careful thought, coupled with judiciously placed print statements.
    • "Unix for Beginners" (1979)
  • Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you're as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it?
    • "The Elements of Programming Style", 2nd edition, chapter 2
  • Do what you think is interesting, do something that you think is fun and worthwhile, because otherwise you won't do it well anyway.
    • An Interview with Brian Kernighan from the PC Report Romania[1]
  • Advice to students: Leap in and try things. If you succeed, you can have enormous influence. If you fail, you have still learned something, and your next attempt is sure to be better for it. Advice to graduates: Do something you really enjoy doing. If it isn’t fun to get up in the morning and do your job or your school program, you’re in the wrong field.
    • "Leap In and Try Things: Interview with Brian Kernighan"[2] from Harmony at Work blog[3]


  • First make it run, then make it run fast.
  • If you haven't used grep, you've missed one of the simple pleasures of life. [4]

External links

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