Niklaus Wirth

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File:Niklaus Wirth, UrGU.jpg
Niklaus Wirth giving a lecture

Niklaus E. Wirth (born February 15, 1934) is a Swiss computer scientist.


Wirth was born in Winterthur, Switzerland. In 1959 he earned a degree in Electronics Engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. In 1960 he earned an M.Sc. from Laval University, Canada. Then in 1963 he was awarded a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, supervised by the computer designer pioneer Harry Huskey.

File:Niklaus Wirth large.jpg
Portrait of Niklaus Wirth taken 1969, courtesy of Robert M. McClure.

From 1963 to 1967 he served as Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University and again at the University of Zurich. Then in 1968 he became Professor of Informatics at ETH in Zurich, taking a two year sabbatical at Xerox PARC in California.


Wirth was the chief designer of the programming languages Algol W, Pascal, Modula, Modula-2, and Oberon. He was also a major part of the design and implementation team for the Lilith and Oberon operating systems, and for the Lola digital hardware design and simulation system. He received the ACM Turing Award for the development of these languages.

His article Program Development by Stepwise Refinement is considered to be a classical text in software engineering. In 1975 he wrote the book Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs, which gained wide recognition and is still useful today.

In 1995, he popularized the adage now known as Wirth's law: "Software gets slower faster than hardware gets faster".

Wirth retired in 1999.


Europeans tend to pronounce his name properly, as Nih-klaus Virt, while Americans usually mangle it into something like Nickles Worth. That has led to the programmer joke saying Europeans call him by name while Americans call him by value.

External links and references

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