Edgar F. Codd


Edgar Frank Codd was born the youngest of seven children in Portland Bill, in Dorset, England, in 1923. His father was a leather manufacturer, his mother a schoolteacher. He attended Oxford University on a full scholarship, studying mathematics and chemistry. During World War II, he was a pilot with the Royal Air Force. In 1948 he moved to New York and, hearing that IBM was hiring mathematicians, obtained a job there as a researcher.

A few years later, in 1953, angered by Senator Joseph R. McCarthy's pursuit of Americans he said had Communist ties or sympathies, Codd moved to Ottawa for several years. After returning to the United States, he began graduate studies at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he received his doctorate in computer science in 1965.

In 1967, he moved to California to work in the IBM San Jose Research Laboratory. Here Codd wrote several papers outlining theoretical foundation for relationship databases. His idea, based on mathematical set theory, was to store data in cross-referenced tables, allowing the information to be presented in multiple permutations. To his frustration, I.B.M. largely ignored his work, as the company was investing heavily at the time in commercializing a different type of database system.

It was not until 1978 that Frank T. Cary, then chairman and chief executive of IBM., ordered the company to build a product based on Codd's ideas. However, IBM was beaten to the market by Lawrence J. Ellison, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, who used Codd's papers as the basis of a product around which he built a start-up company that has since become the Oracle Corporation.

In 1981, he received the A. M. Turing Award, the highest honor in the computer science field.

Codd died on April 18th, 2003.