April 19, 1931, Durham, North Carolina, United States


AB, Duke University (1953– physics); SM, Harvard University (1955 – computer science); PhD Harvard University (1956 – applied mathematics/computer science); Honorary PhD ETH-Zurich (1991 - technical science)


IBM Corporation (1956 – 1965); University of North Carolina (from 1964); Defense Science Board (1983 – 1986); Artificial Intelligence Task Force (1983 – 1984); Military Software Task Force chairman (1985 – 1987); Computers in Simulation and Training Task Force (1986 – 1987); National Science Board (1987 – 1992)


IEEE Fellow (1968); IEEE McDowell Award (1970); DPMA Computer Science Award (1970); Guggenheim Fellowship, Cambridge University (1975); American Academy of Arts and Sciences Fellow (1976); member, National Academy of Engineering (1976); IEEE Computer Society Pioneer Award (1980);: National Medal of Technology (1985); University of North Carolina Thomas Jefferson Award (1986); ACM Distinguished Service Award (1987); AFIPS Harry Goode Award (1989); Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences member (1991); IEEE John von Neumann Medal (1993); ACM Fellow (1994); British Computer Society Distinguished Fellow (1994); member UK Royal Academy of Engineering (1994); ACM Allen Newell award (1994); Franklin Institute Bower Award and Prize in Science (1995); CyberEdge Journal Sutherland Award (1997); ACM Turing Award (1999); member National Academy of Science (2001); Fellow Computer History Museum (2001); ACM/IEEE Eckert-Mauchly Award (2004); IEEE Virtual Reality Career Award (2010).

Frederick ("Fred") Brooks

United States – 1999

For landmark contributions to computer architecture, operating systems, and software engineering.

Frederick Phillips Brooks, Jr. was born April 19, 1931, in Durham, North Carolina. Growing up in the Raleigh/Durham region, he earned his AB in physics at Duke University in 1953. Brooks then joined the pioneering degree program in computer science at Harvard University, where he earned his SM in 1955 and his PhD in 1956. At Harvard he was a student of Howard Aiken, who during World War II developed the Harvard Mark I, one of the largest electromechanical calculators ever built, and the first automatic digital calculator built in the United States.

After graduation Brooks was recruited by IBM, where for the first several years of his career he served in various positions in Poughkeepsie and Yorktown Heights, New York. During that time he helped design the IBM 7090 “Stretch” supercomputer, so called because it was a considerable “stretch” to the technology and performance of most computers of the time. Stretch was IBM’s first transistorized computer, containing some 150,000 transistors. Although it was a commercial failure, it pioneered a number of advanced concepts quite important to contemporary computing, such as instruction look-ahead, overlapping and pipelining of instruction execution, error checking and correction, and the 8-bit addressable character. Brooks and fellow engineer Dura Sweeney patented an interrupt system for the Stretch which has been widely copied as an essential mechanism in all contemporary computers that conduct concurrent activities and react to events from the physical world (U.S. Patent 3,048,332). Brooks went on to participate in the design of the architecture of the IBM Harvest, a variant of the Stretch with special features for the National Security Agency. He later helped the government assess the computing capability of the Soviet Union.

Brooks was next assigned to help design the IBM 8000, a new transistorized mainframe computer intended to replace the IBM 700/7000 series. But by the early 1960s, the global market for computers was incredibly crowded, with numerous companies offering incompatible, proprietary systems. As customers replaced their older systems with faster ones, they realized that their investment in software was a growing problem, because they had to rewrite it for every new system. Bob Evans promoted IBM’s vision to develop a single product line of general purpose computers with a common instruction set that permitted customers to preserve their investment in software as the moved from slower machines to faster ones. Evans assigned Brooks to lead the team to design this product line, called the System/360, which was announced in 1964. Brooks coined the term “computer architecture” to mean the structure and behavior of computer processors and associated devices, as separate from the details of any particular hardware implementation.

The importance of the System /360 cannot be understated: it was a widely successful project that transformed the face of business computing and reshaped the landscape of the computer companies throughout the world. Among many important contributions to the design of the System/360, Brooks was particularly proud of the 8-bit byte, which permitted the use of uppercase and lowercase alphabets and expanded the role of computers in text processing.

While the hardware architecture for the System/360 was well underway, it was clear that there was considerable risk in delivering the operating system for the new series of machines. Brooks was assigned to lead the software team in building what was perhaps the largest operating system project of its time. Brooks describes the lessons he learned in his classic text on software engineering, The Mythical Man-Month. It is from that experience that Brooks proposed “Brook’s Law”: that “adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

After the successful delivery of the System/360 and its operating system, Brooks was invited to the University of North Carolina, where he founded the University’s computer science department in 1964. He chaired the department from 1964 to 1984, and served as the Kenan Professor of Computer Science. His principal research area, real-time three-dimensional graphics, provides virtual environments that let biochemists reason about the structure of complex molecules, and let architects walk through buildings under design. Brooks has also pioneered the use of a haptic force feedback display to supplement visual graphics.

Brooks married Nancy Lee Greenwood in Falls Church, Virginia, on June 17, 1956. They have three children and nine grandchildren. In addition to his professional roles, Brooks has been involved in church activities and in national politics.

More photos of Fred Brooks can be found here

Author: Grady Booch