The legacy of Niklaus Wirth

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Niklaus Emil Wirth (1934-2024) was a Swiss computer scientist renowned for his significant contributions to the field of computer science. He is best known for designing several influential programming languages, including Pascal, ALGOL W, Euler, Modula, Modula-2, Oberon, Oberon-2, Oberon-07, and the Oberon System15. Wirth's work in software engineering has been pioneering and has shaped the perspective of several generations of programmers6. His focus on simplicity and efficiency in programming language design has been particularly influential7. He was a proponent of the idea of stepwise refinement of code, which he proposed in the IFIP Working Group on Programming Methodology28. Wirth's book "Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs" is considered a classic in the field of computer science2. He also popularized the adage now named Wirth's law, which states that software is getting slower more rapidly than hardware becomes faster1. In 1984, Wirth was awarded the Turing Award, the highest distinction in computer science, for developing a sequence of innovative computer languages145. He also received the IEEE Computer Society's Computer Pioneer Award in 1987 for his work on Pascal2, and in 2004, he was made a Fellow of the Computer History Museum2. Wirth spent most of his professional life at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, where he developed new programming languages, built the first personal computers in Switzerland, and trained a first generation of Swiss computer scientists68. He retired in 1999 but remained a frequent presence on the ETH campus for many more years8. Wirth's legacy extends beyond his technical contributions. His focus on engineering versus science in programming language design, his emphasis on what is proven and has a well-understood means of efficient implementation, and his commitment to simplicity and elegance in language design have all had a profound impact on the field of computer science7. His work continues to influence the development of programming languages and the practice of software engineering.
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