Jean Ichbiah (1940-2007)
Jean Ichbiah, from Burlington (Massachusetts), the chief
designer of the Ada computer programming language, died on January 26, 2007, after
a battle with cancer.
Jean David Ichbiah was born in Paris
in March 25, 1940. He was a second generation Frenchman, the grandson of
Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Greece and Turkey.
During World War II his family was hidden on an estate in southern France
to escape Nazi persecution.
Mr. Ichbiah attended the prestigious French engineering school
École Polytechnique in Paris, majoring
in Civil Engineering at the École des Ponts et Chaussées, after serving in the
French army in Germany.
In 1964 he married Marianne (née Kleen). Soon after his marriage Mr. Ichbiah enrolled
as a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, obtaining a
PhD in Civil Engineering and Operations Research in only two years.
Returning to France in 1967, Mr. Ichbiah was employed as a
computer scientist by the then recently formed company CII-Bull, conceived by
President de Gaulle to give France a leading edge in the computer
industry. It was at CII-Bull, later
associated with Honeywell U.S., that
Mr. Ichbiah did his outstanding work as the chief designer of Ada, a computer programming
language sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense to incorporate the best
features from the Babel of computer languages that predominated in the 1970s.
The development of Ada, which was standardized in 1983 in
the U.S. and later internationally under ISO, advanced the state of the art in
language design and led to significant cost savings in software development.
Since its inception Ada has been used for a broad range of applications ranging
from aircraft avionics to payroll processing, and it is especially attractive for
high-integrity systems with requirements for safety and/or security.
As chief designer of Ada, Mr. Ichbiah succeeded in combining
goals into a practical language: program reliability, readability, and
efficiency. Mr. Ichbiah’s colleagues and collaborators have described him
as a brilliant, tenacious leader capable of developing a consensus among
several proposals for solving tricky technical problems.
In 1980 Mr. Ichbiah left CII-Honeywell-Bull
to found the Alsys (Ada Language Systems) company. As its CEO, he continued his
work on Ada and hired an international team of over one hundred computer
scientists to implement Ada development toolsets on a variety of platforms ranging
from PCs to mainframes. Alsys had
offices in the U.S., France, England, Germany, and Japan and was ultimately acquired
by Thomson in 1991. Since 1993 the Ichbiah family has owned Textware Solutions
of Burlington, MA, a company they created when Jean developed an innovative
fast text entry system for PCs and a virtual keyboard layout (Fitaly) optimized
for handheld computers.
Jean Ichbiah was a member of the
French Legion of Honor and the French Academy of Sciences, and he received the “Grand
Prix de la Technologie” from the City of Paris. He was awarded a Certificate of
Distinguished Service from the U.S. Department of Defense for his work on Ada,
and he also received an ACM SIGAda Award for Outstanding Ada Community
Jean and Marianne Ichbiah became American citizens in 2001. In
a recent article by Mr. Ichbiah published by the French
Academy of Sciences, he extolled
American research and entrepreneurship suggesting them as a models for the
French universities and research institutes.
Mr. Ichbiah is survived by his wife Marianne of Burlington,
MA, and also three children and six grandchildren all living in France. His
son, Emanuel Ichbiah, is an independent computer consultant; his two daughters Helena
and Myriam are respectively a graphic art designer and an executive at l’Oreal.
In a 1984 interview with the Association for Computing
Machinery, Mr. Ichbiah was asked to express his feelings about the language he had
masterminded. The response is befitting of a designer trained in civil
engineering and becoming a preeminent computer scientist: I see Ada
as a cathedral, with all the architectural
lines interwoven in a harmonious manner.
I would not do it differently if I had to do it over again.
Jean Ichbiah in a 1984 photo
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