Kenneth E. Iverson was born on 17 December 1920 in Camrose, a town in central Alberta, Canada. His parents were farmers of Norwegian descent who came to Alberta from North Dakota. While he showed an early aptitude for mathematics, teaching himself calculus while a teenager, he left school after the 9th grade to work on his parents’ farm. However, during World War II, while he served in the Royal Canadian Air Force, he qualified for a high school diploma by taking correspondence courses. After the war, he was able to enter Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario and graduated in 1950 with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Physics.
Continuing his education at Harvard University, he received a Master’s degree in 1951 in Mathematics and started working with Howard Aiken and Wassily Leontief. Howard Aiken had developed the Harvard Mark I, one of the first large-scale digital computers, while Wassily Leontief was an economist who was developing the input-output model of economic analysis, work for which he would later receive the Nobel prize. Leontief’s model required large matrices and Iverson worked on programs that could evaluate these matrices on the Harvard Mark IV computer. Iverson received a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics in 1954 with a dissertation based on this work.
Iverson stayed at Harvard as an assistant professor for the next five years but failed to get tenure.
Iverson was hired by IBM in 1960 to develop his notation into a programming language for the IBM/360.
In 1980, Iverson left IBM for I. P. Sharp Associates, a leading Canadian APL timesharing company, where he, among other things, participated in the further development of the APL programming language. In 1987 he retired from I. P. Sharp.
In the summer of 1989, Roger Hui and Arthur Whitney, along with Iverson, produced a short prototype interpreter which would later be the seed for the J programming language, a variant of APL. Iverson and Roger Hui would continue collaborating on J for the next 15 years.
Ken Iverson died of a stroke on 19 October 2004 at the age of 83.
1975 Harry H. Goode Memorial Award
“In recognition of the generalized notation, APL, which he conceived and developed; of the effectiveness in communications which has resulted from the use of APL in many diverse applications; and of the expected impact that APL will have on programming language theory and practice in the future.”
Learn more about the Harry H. Goode Memorial Award