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Charles W. Bachman: 1924-2017

An engineer best known for his work in database management systems, and in techniques of layered architecture that include Bachman diagrams.
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Charles W. Bachman

Charles William "Charlie" Bachman, the "father of databases" who received the ACM A.M. Turing Award for 1973 for creating the first database management system, died June 13 at the age of 92.

Born in Manhattan, KS, in 1924, Bachman earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering in 1948, as well as an M.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania.

He went to work for Dow Chemical in 1950, using mechanical punched-card computing devices to solve networks of simultaneous equations representing data from Dow plants. In 1957, Bachman became head of Dow’s Data Processing Department, through which he became a member of Share Inc., and a founding member of the Share Data Processing Committee.

In 1960, Bachman joined the General Electric (GE) Production Control Services Group in New York City, using a factory in Philadelphia to test designs for a system to automate factory planning, scheduling, operational control, and inventory control. The resulting MIACS was based on the Integrated Data Store (IDS), Bachman’s concept of an "information inventory," and was first to adopt the "network data model" in which the system would support and enforce relationships between records.

Bachman moved to GE’s Computer Department in 1964, where he helped build another management information system, the Weyerhauser Comprehensive Operating Supervisor (WEYCOS 2).

Bachman was awarded the ACM A.M. Turing Award for 1973 for his contributions to database technology. As biographer Thomas Haigh observed, "Bachman was the first Turing Award winner without a Ph.D., the first to be trained in engineering rather than science, the first to win for the application of computers to business administration, the first to win for a specific piece of software, and the first who would spend his whole career in industry."

Who inspired Bachman? "The inventors, the developers of new concepts, the solvers of previously unsolved problems."

The British Computer Society named Bachman a Distinguished Fellow in 1977 for his work in database systems.

Bachman received the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation (NMTI) for 2012. The award was presented to Bachman in 2014 by President Barack Obama.

He was nominated for the NMTI by U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), who said, "The United States would not be the worldwide hub for technological innovation had it not been for the achievements of Charles Bachman."

Data scientist Gary Rector said Bachman was "humble, kind, generous, and a gentle soul; his entire family reflects that humanity. Charlie loved flowers and had a smile that embraced everyone. His heart connected to people more meaningfully than any database could ever do merely with data. To connect to people in this way is the greatest lesson he gave me."

George Colliat, a colleague from GE, said, "I have learned from his ability to look for solutions that transcend the problems at hand and thereby multiply the value of the solutions." He added, "Charlie’s human values have influenced me as much as his creative genius. His respect for his colleagues, always looking for their positive contribution, his patience in explaining ideas to people who were not always at his level, his humility and open mind in always listening to others as an opportunity to learn something new, characterize him as a gentleman in this industry."

Haigh last saw Bachman when he was "close to 90 but still sharp and enjoying life; talking about the article he was working on and his chats with E.O. Wilson in the retirement community they shared. He never stopped trying to understand how things worked, or trying to make them work better. I feel honored to have known him."

In 2014, Bachman was named a Fellow of the ACM for his contributions to database technology.

Bachman was named a Fellow of the Computer History Museum in 2015, for his work on database management systems. Also that year, Michigan State University awarded Bachman an honorary doctorate of engineering for being "at the forefront of computer science for more than 65 years."

Bachman’s son, Jon, said his father’s vision of the Integrated Data Store resulted in "a high-performance direct access storage model (that) allows developers to build large efficient databases of any type of business or operational data. In fact, the first versions were so successful that they became established as the most important system software on mainframe computers of that era."

In an interview in 2008, Bachman was asked who in the IT industry "inspired you or was a role model for you?" He replied, "The inventors, the developers of new concepts, the solvers of previously unsolved problems, the assemblers of new and interesting combinations of old technologies. Take Sir Maurice Wilkes, Edsger Dijkstra, Sir Tim Berners-Lee."

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