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2003 Dr. Dobb's Excellence in Programming Award

For nearly a decade, Dr. Dobb's Journal has presented its Excellence in Programming Award to individuals who, in the spirit of innovation and cooperation, have made significant contributions to the advancement of software development.

Don Chamberlin, this year's recipient, grew up in Silicon Valley before anyone had heard of that term. He received his bachelor's degree from Harvey Mudd College, and Ph.D. from Stanford, before joining IBM at T.J. Watson Research Center in New York. Don became interested in database software and studied the "navigational" database languages of the day, including DBTG and IMS. Listening to a lecture by Dr. Edgar Codd, Don had a "conversion experience" and understood the power and elegance of the relational data model. When IBM consolidated its database research in San Jose and undertook an industrial-strength implementation of Codd's ideas, Don was eager to participate.

Don and his colleague, Ray Boyce, believed that programmers needed a new relational database language. The relational languages described by Codd lacked update capabilities, and relied on special symbols that were not found on a keyboard. With this in mind, Don and Ray proposed a keyword-based relational language called SEQUEL, short for "Structured English Query Language." SEQUEL combined a nonprocedural query and update facility with features for view definition, authorization, and other database administration tasks. When Ray Boyce died suddenly of a brain aneurysm, Don carried on the work on development of SEQUEL, which was renamed SQL in its product form. SQL was adopted as an ANSI and ISO Standard language in 1986, and the Standard was updated in 1989, 1992, and 1999. SQL is now the world's most widely used database language.

SQL served as the user interface of System R, the prototype system developed at IBM Research that served as a testbed for IBM's DB2 technology. Don managed the language group in the System R project, which developed the world's first SQL implementation and the world's first cost-based query optimizer. For this work, Don and several other members of the System R team (together with the Ingres team at the University of California at Berkeley) received the ACM Software System Award. The history of System R is documented in

With the advent of personal computers, Don became interested in desktop publishing. He led an IBM research group that developed Quill, a document editor/formatter. Quill let users interact with either a logical or physical view of a document, and had specialized subeditors for text, graphics, tables, and mathematics. The logical view of the document was maintained using the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML), which gave Don his first introduction to markup languages.

Don returned to database research in the 1990s to work on object-relational systems and write A Complete Guide to DB2 Universal Database (Morgan Kaufmann, 1998). With the advent of the Web and rise of XML as a data interchange format, Don saw an opportunity to combine the two major threads of his research career — database query languages and document markup languages. Don signed on as an IBM representative to the W3C working group on XML Query (

Don joined with two other members of the XML Query working group, Jonathan Robie and Dana Florescu, to propose an XML query language called "Quilt." Quilt was chosen as the basis for development of the XQuery language, which is making its way toward adoption as a W3C Recommendation. Don continues to serve as a member of the XML Query working group and as an editor of the W3C working drafts on XQuery.

Don has always had a strong interest in education. From time to time, he has taught computer-science courses at Santa Clara University and San Jose State University. For the last several years, he has served as a problem contributor and a judge at the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest ( At Don's request and in his name, Dr. Dobb's Journal is pleased to make a grant of $1000 to Harvey Mudd College. Please join us in honoring Don Chamberlin, who once again reminds us that a mix of technology, innovation, vision, and cooperative spirit continue to be fundamental to advancement in software development.

Past recipients of Dr. Dobb's Excellence in Programming Award include:

  • Alexander Stepanov, for his work on the C++ Standard Template Library.

  • Linus Torvalds, a name synonymous with Linux.

  • Larry Wall, author of Perl.

  • James Gosling, chief architect of Java.

  • Ronald Rivest, educator, author, and cryptographer.

  • Gary Kildall, for his work in operating systems, programming languages, and user interfaces.

  • Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, John Vlissides, and Ralph Johnson, authors of Design Patterns: Elements of Reusable Object-Oriented Software.

  • Guido van Rossum, Python creator.

  • Donald Becker, Linux networking contributor and chief investigator of the Beowulf Project.

  • Jon Bentley, computer-science author and researcher.

  • Anders Hejlsberg, developer of Turbo Pascal and architect of C# and the .NET Framework.

  • Adele Goldberg and Dan Ingalls, pioneers in Smalltalk and object-oriented programming.

Jonathan is editor-in-chief of DDJ and can be contacted at

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