Computer Science Professor Bjarne Stroustrup Wins Draper Prize for Creating Programming Language

Bjarne Stroustrup
—Photo courtesy of Bjarne Stroustrup

Bjarne Stroustrup, a visiting professor in computer science at Columbia Engineering and a managing director in the technology division of Morgan Stanley in New York City, has been awarded the National Academy of Engineering’s prestigious Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering. The award honors an engineer whose accomplishment has “significantly impacted society by improving the quality of life, providing the ability to live freely and comfortably, and/or permitting access to information.”

Stroustrup was honored for his creation of the C++ programming language, which has had “a monumental, singular influence on the field of computing,” said NAE President C.D. Mote, Jr.  

"This is a rare and great honor,” said Stroustrup, upon learning of the award. “I'm am both stunned and humbled. The Draper Prize is a great recognition of the efforts of the C++ community. Draper recipients have contributed so much to the world. Receiving this award motivates me to work even harder to find ways to improve software."

Stroustrup began developing C++, one of computing’s most influential programming languages, in 1979 while working at Bell Labs. Though invisible to the general public, billions of people indirectly use C++ every day. Pervasive in computerized systems everywhere, the Google search engine is written in C++ as is most of Google’s supporting infrastructure. The communications parts of smartphones are written in C++ as well as much of the telecommunication systems that connect them. C++ is key to many of tools of the movie industry and the higher levels of the Mars Rover software. C++ libraries underlie the current efforts in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and autonomous vehicles.

The Draper Prize is awarded anually to honor the memory of "Doc" Draper to increase public understanding of the contributions of engineering and technology.
—Image courtesy of the National Academy of Engineering

Strongly influenced by the object-oriented model of the SIMULA language (created by Ole-Johan Dahl and Kristen Nygaard), Stroustrup extended the traditional C language by adding object-oriented programming and other capabilities. In 1985, C++ was commercially released and spread rapidly, becoming the dominant object-oriented programming language in the 1990s and one of the most popular languages, significantly impacting computing practices and pushing object-oriented technology into the mainstream of computing.

In November 2017, Bjarne Stroustrup received the 2017 Faraday Medal from the Institution of Engineering and Technology for his “significant contributions to the history of computing, in particular pioneering the C++ programming language.

Recently elected an Honorary Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, Stroustrup is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of both the IEEE and the ACM. He is also a fellow of the Computer History Museum.  His publications include several books—The C++ Programming Language (Fourth Edition, 2013), A Tour of C++ (2013), Programming: Principles and Practice using C++ (2014)—as well as a long list of academic and general-interest publications that Stroustrup maintains here.

The Draper Prize, awarded annually, was established in 1988 at the request of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory Inc., Cambridge, MA, to honor the memory of “Doc” Draper, the “father of inertial navigation,” and to increase public understanding of the contributions of engineering and technology.

Stroustrup will receive the Draper Prize at a gala dinner event in Washington, D.C., on February 20, 2018. 

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