Alan Perlis

Alan Jay Perlis (April 1, 1922 – February 7, 1990) was an American computer scientist and professor at Purdue University, Carnegie Mellon University and Yale University. He is best known for his pioneering work in programming languages and was the first recipient of the Turing Award.[1]

Alan J. Perlis
Born(1922-04-01)April 1, 1922
DiedFebruary 7, 1990(1990-02-07) (aged 67)
ResidenceUnited States
Alma mater
Known for
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science
ThesisOn Integral Equations, Their Solution by Iteration and Analytic Continuation (1950)
Doctoral advisorPhilip Franklin
Doctoral students


Perlis was born to a Jewish family in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Taylor Allderdice High School in 1939.[2] In 1943, he received his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the Carnegie Institute of Technology (later renamed Carnegie Mellon University). During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army, where he became interested in mathematics. He then earned both a master's degree (1949) and a Ph.D. (1950) in mathematics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). His doctoral dissertation was titled "On Integral Equations, Their Solution by Iteration and Analytic Continuation".

In 1952, he participated in Project Whirlwind.[3] He joined the faculty at Purdue University and in 1956, moved to the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He was chair of mathematics and then the first head of the computer science department. In 1962, he was elected president of the Association for Computing Machinery.

He was awarded the inaugural Turing Award in 1966, according to the citation, for his influence in the area of advanced programming techniques and compiler construction. This is a reference to the work he had done as a member of the team that developed the programming language ALGOL.

In 1971, Perlis moved to Yale University to become the chair of computer science and hold the Eugene Higgins chair. In 1977, he was elected to the National Academy of Engineering.

In 1982, he wrote an article, Epigrams on Programming, for Association for Computing Machinery's (ACM) SIGPLAN journal, describing in one-sentence distillations many of the things he had learned about programming over his career. The epigrams have been widely quoted.[4] He remained at Yale until his death in 1990.


Publications, a selection:[5]

About Alan Perlis
  • Denning, Peter J. (May 1990). "Alan J. Perlis—1922–1990: a founding father of computer science as a separate discipline". Communications of the ACM. 33 (5): 604–605. doi:10.1145/78607.214943.
  • Cheatham, Thomas (1978). "ALGOL session" (PDF). History of Programming Languages. New York, NY: ACM Press. p. 171. doi:10.1145/800025.1198357. ISBN 978-0127450407. Retrieved 2007-09-18.

See also


  1. Ulf Hashagen, Reinhard Keil-Slawik, Arthur L. Norberg (2002) History of Computing: Software Issues. p.26
  2. "A.M Turing Award Winners: Alan J. Perlis". Association for Computing Machinery. Retrieved January 21, 2018.
  3. National Academy of Engineering (1979) "Alan Jay Perlis" in: Memorial tributes. Vol 10. p.168
  4. Computer science quotations
  5. For a listing of his talks and lectures (1951–1988) see Alan J. Perlis Papers, 1942–1989. Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
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