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 three main 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 Contributions.
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 1984
    Jean Ichbiah in a 1984 photo
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