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InfoQ Homepage News Mythical Man Month Author and Father of the 8-Bit Byte, Fred Brooks, Dies at 91

Mythical Man Month Author and Father of the 8-Bit Byte, Fred Brooks, Dies at 91

Dr Frederick P Brooks Jr, originator of the term "architecture in computing", author of one of the first books to examine the nature of computer programming from a sociotechnical perspective, architect of the IBM 360 series of computers, university professor and person responsible for the 8-bit byte, died on 17 November at his home in Chapel Hill, N.C. Dr Brooks was 91 years old.

He was a pioneer of computer architecture, highly influential through his practical work and publications including The Mythical Man Month, The Design of Design and his paper No Silver Bullet which debunked many of the myths of software engineering.

In 1999 he was awarded a Turing Award for landmark contributions to computer architecture, operating systems, and software engineering. In the award overview it is pointed out that:

Brooks coined the term computer architecture to mean the structure and behavior of computer processors and associated devices, as separate from the details of any particular hardware implementation.

In the No Silver Bullet article, he states:

There is no single development, in either technology or management technique, which by itself promises even one order-of-magnitude improvement within a decade in productivity, in reliability, in simplicity.

Quotations from the Mythical Man Month:Essays on Software Engineering permeate software engineering today, including:

  • Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.  
  • The bearing of a child takes nine months, no matter how many women are assigned.
  • All programmers are optimists.

On April 29, 2010, Dilbert explored the adding manpower quote.  

In 2010 he was interviewed by Wired magazine. When asked about his greatest technical achievement, he responded:

The most important single decision I ever made was to change the IBM 360 series from a 6-bit byte to an 8-bit byte, thereby enabling the use of lowercase letters. That change propagated everywhere.

He was the founder of the Computer Science Department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where the Computer Science building is named after him. In an obituary the University says:

Dr. Brooks has left an unmistakable mark on the computer science department and on his profession; this is physically recognized by the south portion of the department’s building complex bearing his name. He set an example of excellence in both scholarship and teaching, with a constant focus on the people of the department, treating everyone with respect and appreciation. His legacy will live on at UNC-Chapel Hill.

His page on the university website lists his honours, books and publications.

The Computer History Museum has an interview of Dr Brooks by Grady Booch.

He leaves his wife of 66 years Nancy, three children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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