Don Ervin Knuth

Ting-Wei Pan

Professor Alan Fowler

January 31, 2014

Don Ervin Knuth

Donald Ervin Knuth was born on January 10, 1938 in Wisconsin to a middle class church organist. He is one of the most renowned personalities in the field of computer sciences and known for his work in mathematics and logic. He is considered a pioneer in algorithm analysis owing to his contribution in analysis of algorithm complexity. Knuth’s contribution does not only come in the form of analysis of algorithms. He is an ardent programmer and a very prolific author on the science and art of computer programming.

The author of “The Art of Computer Programming” and a Stanford University professor, Knuth is considered one of the pioneers in contemporary computer programming techniques. Three out of the planned seven volumes of this book are already in the market since the 1960s. The remaining four are still under compilation. The book is considered a fundamental guide for computer programmers. His contribution is of great value in that it is easily comprehendible by starters and can be used to learn the basics of computer programming on which patterns that are more complex can be built.

Knuth started writing computer science publications at a very young age. His earliest article was published as young as when he was 19 years old. Though formally a mathematician, he used his vast knowledge and dexterity in mathematics and put it to use in algorithm analysis and computer system design. Knuth is recognized as an expert in compiler design and structured documentation. His dexterity and knowledge in the field of computer science has been recognized by Bill Gates as well who has testified to the quality of his books and their contribution to computer science. Bill Gates has suggested programmers to read the volumes of the Art of Programming to gain insight to the art of programming and become better programmers who could come up with outstanding and computationally efficient algorithms (Walden 2014).

His early education was characterized by his work in statistics during which he worked in a statistics lab and on the IBM 650 machine. This made him develop an interest for computers, and especially programming. He honed his skills in computer science and mathematics concurrently and this fueled his passion for programming. His skill in mathematics was spotted by the Case Institute of Technology, Ohio who awarded him an MSc degree when he has completed his BS coursework in 1960.

Knuth continued to pursue his PhD in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology and started writing compilers. He completed his PhD in 1963 and thereafter used his writing skills to write a number of research papers and books. In recognition of his work for the development and understanding of computer science, he was awarded the Turing award in 1974. He has received many awards since then, in recognition of the contributions he has made in the field of computer science (O’Connor and Robertson 2009).

Knuth also developed a typesetting system, the TeX, which would help in the highest quality typesetting and subsequently made changes in its design to ensure superior functionality. He combined the TeX with the METAFINT, which is a software system for alphabet design. Overall, his contribution to the field of algorithm design and analysis forms the basis of modern programming techniques that are being exploited by the computer science community in the modern era (Seibel 2009).























Walden D. 2012. Donald (“Don”) Ervin Knuth. [Internet]. ACM; [cited 2014 Feb 1]. Available from:

Seibel P. 2009. Coders at work. New York, NY: Apress

Knuth D. 2011. Leaders in Computing: Changing the Digital World. United Kingdom: BCS, The Chartered Institute

O’Connor J.J. and Robertson E.F. 2009. Donald Ervin Knuth. [Internet]. University of St Andrews, Scotland; [cited 2014 Feb 1]. Available from: