Edsger Djikstra

“The art of programming is the art of organizing complexity, of mastering multitude and avoiding its bastard chaos as effectively as possible.”

Quick Facts

Born: 11th May 1930

Died: 6th August 2002

Nationality: Dutch

Occupation: Computer Scientist

Known for: Djikstra algorithm and his contribution to the development of structured programming

Childhood and Education 

Edsger Djikstra was born in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Both his parents were scientist – his father was a chemist, a high school chemistry teacher and the president of the Dutch Chemical Society, his mother a mathematician. This may have had certain influence on Dijkstra, who started to show an aptitude for science early on. In 1942, at the age of 12, Edsger entered Gymnasium Erasmianum (one of the best high schools in the Netherlands), where he received a comprehensive education. Oddly, despite his apparent talent and outstanding grades, Djikstra did not associate his future with sciences. He wanted to be a lawyer and represent the Netherlands in the United Nations. His father talked him out of this idea, pointing that his grades in mathematics, physics and chemistry were too good for that. Listening to his parents suggestions, he ended up enrolling on a theoretical physics course at the University of Leiden. It was during his time as an undergraduate that Djikstra realised he was interested in computer science. In 1951 he attended a programming summer school at University of Cambridge, as he thought programming was a useful skill for a theoretical physicist. Next year, he was offered a part time position at the Computational Department of the Mathematical Centre in Amsterdam. In 1956 he graduated from the University of Leiden and in 1959 he completed his PhD at the University of Amsterdam.  


In the same year as he was awarded his PhD, Djikstra also published a paper on the shortest distance algorithm. He continued to work at the Mathematical Centre until 1962, where he worked on the software for the computer his colleagues were building. He also developed a compiler for the language ALGOL 60 and worked on the deadlock and real-time interrupt problems. In 1962 Djikstra left the Mathematical Centre and started to work at Eindhover Institute of Technology as a professor of mathematics. The most notable piece of work he completed there is the THE operating system. Many of the designed principles he used became commonly utilized in later operating systems. In 1968 Djikstra caused a long and heated debate when he expressed his view on the goto statement, which was used a lot at that time. He claimed it was harmful and not needed in a well structured program. He also worked on theoretical concepts behind programming. In 1973 Djikstra joined Burroughs Corporation as a Research Fellow. His 2 most important pieces of work from that period were the development of predicate transformers and the theory of nondeterminacy. He also worked at the University of Texas at Austin where he taught computer science to the students. Djikstra retired in 1999. One of his most famous books is “A discipline of programming”. 

Awards and Achievements 

  • Being named Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1971 
  • Turing Award in 1972 
  • ACM Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education in 1989 
  • Being named Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery in 1994 
  •  ACM PODC Influential-paper Award in 2002 (renamed Djikstra prize in his honour a year later) 


  1. https://www.computer.org/web/awards/goode-edsger-dijkstra 
  2. http://amturing.acm.org/award_winners/dijkstra_1053701.cfm 
  3. http://www-history.mcs.st-and.ac.uk/Biographies/Dijkstra.html 
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edsger_W._Dijkstra 
  5. Out of their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists by Dennis Shasha