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Fernando José Corbató

Born July 1, 1926 (1926-07-01) (age 83)
United States Oakland, California
Nationality American
Fields Computer Scientist
Institutions Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alma mater California Institute of Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Known for Corbató's Law
Notable awards Turing Award

Fernando José "Corby" Corbató (born July 1, 1926 in Oakland, California) is a prominent American computer scientist, notable as a pioneer in the development of time-sharing operating systems.

Amongst many awards, he received the Turing Award in 1990, "for his pioneering work in organizing the concepts and leading the development of the general-purpose, large-scale, time-sharing and resource-sharing computer systems".

The first timesharing system he was associated with was known as the MIT Compatible Time-Sharing System, an early version of which was demonstrated in 1961. The experience gained led to a second project, Multics, which was adopted by Honeywell. Multics, while not particularly commercially successful in itself, directly inspired Ken Thompson to develop Unix, the direct descendants of which are still in extremely wide use; it also served as a model for every other subsequent operating system design.

Born in Oakland, California, Corbató received a bachelor's degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1950, and then a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1956. He joined MIT's Computation Center immediately upon graduation, became a professor in 1965, and stayed at MIT until he retired.

Corbató is known for "Corbató's Law" which states

The number of lines of code a programmer can write in a fixed period of time is the same independent of the language used.

Corbató has a wife, Emily. He has two daughters, Carolyn and Nancy Corbató by his late wife Isabel, and two step sons, David and Jason Gish.

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Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Metaphors are a way of internalizing and abstracting concepts allowing one's thinking to be on a higher plane and low-level mistakes to be avoided.

Fernando José "Corby" Corbató (born July 1, 1926) is an American computer scientist and winner of the 1990 Turing Award "for his pioneering work organizing the concepts and leading the development of the general-purpose, large-scale, time-sharing and resource-sharing computer systems, CTSS and Multics."

Contents

Sourced

  • Systems with unknown behavioral properties require the implementation of iterations which are intrinsic to the design process but which are normally hidden from view. Certainly when a solution to a well-understood problem is synthesized, weak designs are mentally rejected by a competent designer in a matter of moments. On larger or more complicated efforts, alternative designs must be explicitly and iteratively implemented. The designers perhaps out of vanity, often are at pains to hide the many versions which were abandoned and if absolute failure occurs, of course one hears nothing. Thus the topic of design iteration is rarely discussed. Perhaps we should not be surprised to see this phenomenon with software, for it is a rare author indeed who publicizes the amount of editing or the number of drafts he took to produce a manuscript.
    • "A Managerial View of the Multics System Development", Conference on Research Directions in Software Technology, Providence, Rhode Island, October 10-12, 1977; Research Directions in Software Technology,P. Wegner (ed.), MIT Press (1979); also published in Tutorial: Software Management, Donald J. Reifer (ed.), IEEE Computer Society Press, (1979, 1981, 1986)

On Building Systems That Will Fail (1991)

1990 Turing Award lecture [1], Communications of the ACM 34 (9), September 1991, pp. 72–81

  • Because one has to be an optimist to begin an ambitious project, it is not surprising that underestimation of completion time is the norm.
    • p. 75
  • The computer field is intoxicated with change. We have seen galloping growth over a period of four decades and it still does not seem to be slowing down. The field is not mature yet and already it accounts for a significant percentage of the Gross National Product.
    • p. 75
  • To our dismay, users who had been enduring several hour waits between jobs run under batch processing were suddenly restless when response times were more than a second.
    • p. 77
  • Design bugs are often subtle and occur by evolution with early assumptions being forgotten as new features or uses are added to systems.
    • p. 78
  • One is faced with a dilemma: If one places total trust in all other users, one is vulnerable to the antisocial behavior of any malicious user—consider the case of viruses. But if one tries to be totally reclusive and isolated, one is not only bored, but one's information universe will cease to grow and be enhanced by interaction with others. The result is that most of us operate in a complicated trade-off zone with various arrangements of trust and security mechanisms.
    • p. 79
  • It is important to emphasize the value of simplicity and elegance, for complexity has a way of compounding difficulties and as we have seen, creating mistakes. My definition of elegance is the achievement of a given functionality with a minimum of mechanism and a maximum of clarity.
    • p. 80
  • The value of metaphors should not be underestimated. Metaphors have the virtue of an expected behavior that is understood by all. Unnecessary communication and misunderstandings are reduced. Learning and education are quicker. In effect metaphors are a way of internalizing and abstracting concepts allowing one's thinking to be on a higher plane and low-level mistakes to be avoided.
    • p. 81

Unsourced

  • The number of lines of code a programmer can write in a fixed period of time is the same independent of the language used.
    • Known as "Corbató's Law"

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