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October 15, 2012

R.I.P. Phil Bagwell

October 15, 2012

Typesafe's Phil Bagwell passed away on October 6, 2012.  We, and the entire community, are deeply saddened by this loss.  Our hearts go out to his family and everyone who knew him.

Below are the words spoken by Typesafe co-founder and creator of Scala, Martin Odersky, at Phil's funeral earlier today:

Like many of his friends I am terribly sad to see him go so untimely soon. But I am also thankful for having known him and for the things he brought into our lives.

I met Phil 11 years ago. He came into my office and told me he wanted to write up some nifty ideas on datastructures in an academic conference paper. It was the first time he ventured into that terrain after a successful career in industry. So his question was: How could he make sure the program committee would not steal his ideas?

I told him that program committees are not in the habit of doing that, but in any case, if he had concerns, he could publish a technical report from EPFL, so the precedence of his ideas would be established. So that's what he did. We started to discuss, and I asked him whether he could write a datastructure for a functional programming language that was essentially as efficient as an array. He tweaked his ideas and produced a paper which appeared at the IFL conference in 2002 with the title "Fast Functional Lists". 

Fast forward 10 years and the majority of functional languages out there have a version of the data structure Phil invented.  Arguably, the rise of functional programming in the last 5 years would not have been possible without it. So, Phil happened to influence the development of functional programming to no small degree even though he never wrote programs in a functional language himself.

We then got back together about 5 years ago, when Phil told me that he would like to help us market the Scala language we were working on.  Us academics understood as little of marketing then as Phil understood of academic publishing when he first walked into my office. Phil taught us that marketing is about people, taking their concerns seriously and making them your own. He was great at that.

One outstanding thing he did was organize the Scala Days conferences. We had the first one in 2010 in Lausanne, and Phil made it a huge success, with people being super-enthusiastic and excited. He then repeated this feat twice more, in Stanford, and in London, every time with increasing numbers of speakers and participants. Sadly, the London conference he could no longer attend himself, although his presence was very much felt.

The first Scala Days conference sparked so much enthusiasm that we decided to form a company to support the language, which soon after merged to become Typesafe.  Phil was part of it from day one.  It's fair to say, that, without Phil, there would not have been a Scala Days conference, nor a company like Typesafe.

In all this, Phil is remembered for his touch with people. It's no understatement to say that Phil was the bright light of every group he worked with, whether at EPFL or at Typesafe. Phil was a very kind person, he genuinly understood people, he cared for them, and was attentive to their needs. He was also always positive, seeing the bright side of things and insisting that people have fun. For me, he was a personal friend, that would teach me new ways to approach things, and to whom I could speak about everything in complete confidence. I will very much miss him, and I will keep him fondly in my memories.

 

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