Edsger Wybe Dijkstra

E.W. Dijkstra, 2002 Hamilton Richards

Dijkstra in 2002. Picture © 2002 Hamilton Richards

Edsger Wybe Dijkstra (11 May 1930 - 6 August 2002) was one of the most influential persons in the history of the Dutch computer science. Dijkstra studied theoretical physics at the University of Leiden. While studying in Leiden he programmed the ARRA, developed at the Mathematical Center in Amsterdam, where he worked from 1952 to 1962. In 1959 he obtained a doctoral degree for a thesis with the title "Communication with an Automatic Computer." This paper described the software for the first Dutch, commercially sold computer, named the Electrologica X1.

In the early 1970s, Dijkstra worked as a research fellow for Burroughs Corporation and as a professor at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. Later Dijkstra held the Schlumberger Centennial Chair in Computer Sciences at the University of Texas in Austin, Texas, USA. In 1984 he moved to Austin where at first he traveled between the Netherlands and the United States a couple of times a year.

EWD Manuscripts

Dijkstra also wrote a lot of articles, now called EWD manuscripts, both in Dutch as in English. They are all indexed on a web site of the University of Texas[1]. His characteristic manner of writing produced an easy to read, essay style, with a precise but short argumentation. All EWDs were typed using his personal Hermes typewriter with its characteristic old fashioned font or hand written with his Mont Blanc fountain pen. One of the most famous articles is called Go To Statement Considered Harmful, which was a step towards deprecation of the GOTO statement and its replacement by control structures such as the while loop. Nowadays a lot of articles use titles similar to Dijkstra's article, in the form of "Problem X considered harmful". The name for Dijkstra's article was actually made up by Communications of the ACM editor Niklaus Wirth - Dijkstra originally named it "A Case Against the Goto Statement"[2].

Dijkstra's wife, Ria Debets, was one of the Computing Girls

Dijkstra received the A.C.M. Turing Award in 1972 for his contributions in the area of programming languages. A lot of terms which are common known these days, are pioneered by Dijkstra. Examples are:

Dijkstra is considered the most famous Dutch computer scientist ever. Known world-wide, he's not an unsung hero at all. Nevertheless we dedicate a page to him, as he was involved with several of the other unsung heroes on this website.


Because Dijkstra has become a internationally famous computer scientist rather than an unsung hero, we're not paying more attention to Dijkstra on this website, despite his impressive career. The links below contain more information and some of his work. Apart from that it should not be difficult to find more information about Edsger W. Dijkstra.

Extra Links


  1. Dijkstra, E.W. , E.W. Dijkstra Archive, , 2002  .
  2. Dijkstra, E.W. , "Go To Statement Considered Harmful", Communications of the ACM, vol. 11, issue 3: Association for Computing Machinery, Inc., pp. 147-148, 03/1968.
  3. Apt, K.R. , "Edsger Wybe Dijkstra (1930 - 2002): A Portrait of a Genius", Formal Aspects of Computing, vol. 14, issue 2, pp. 92-98, 12/2002.
  4. Alberts, G. , "Een halve eeuw computers in Nederland: 2. Het geluid van rekentuig", Nieuwe Wiskrant, vol. 22, issue 3: Freudenthal Instituut, 03/2003.
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