Distinguished Professor, Chair, Department of Computer Science at Naval Postgraduate School and Chair, Director at Cebrowski Institute
Denning was born January 6, 1942, in Queens, NY, and raised in Darien, CT. He took an early interest in science, pursuing astronomy, botany, radio, and electronics while in grade school. At Fairfield Prep, he submitted home designed computers to the science fair in 1958, 1959, and 1960. The second computer, which solved linear equations using pinball machine parts, won the grand prize. He attended Manhattan College for a Bachelor in EE (1964) and then MIT for a PhD (1968). At MIT he was part of Project MAC and contributed to the design of Multics. His PhD thesis, "Resource allocation in multiprocess computer systems," introduced seminal ideas in working sets, locality, thrashing, and system balance.
At Princeton University from 1968 to 1972, he wrote his classic book, Operating Systems Principles, with E G Coffman. He collaborated with Alfred Aho and Jeffrey Ullman on optimality proofs for paging algorithms and on a simple proof that compilers based on precedence parsing do not need to backtrack. At Purdue University (1972–1983) he supervised numerous PhD theses validating locality-based theories of memory management and extending the new mathematics of operational analysis of queueing networks. He co-founded CSNET. He became department head in 1979 and completed another book on computational models, Machines, Languages, and Computation, with Jack Dennis and Joe Qualitz.
At NASA Ames from 1983 to 1991 he founded the Research Institute for Advanced Computer Science (RIACS) and turned it into one of the first centers for interdisciplinary research in computational and space science.
At George Mason University from 1991 to 2002 he headed the Computer Science Department, was an associate dean and vice provost, and founded the Center for the New Engineer. The Center was a pioneer in web-based learning. He created a design course for engineers, called Sense 21, which was the basis of his project to understand innovation as a skill. He created a course on Core of Information, Technology the basis his Great Principles of Computing project.
At Naval Postgraduate School since 2002 he heads the Computer Science Department, directs the Cebrowski Institute for Innovation and Information Superiority. He chaired the faculty council.
Denning served continuously as a volunteer in Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) since 1967. In that time he served as president, vice president, three board chairs, Member-at-Large, Editor of ACM Computing Surveys, and Editor of the monthly ACM Communications. He received seven ACM awards for service, technical contribution, and education. ACM presented him with a special award in June 2007 recognizing 40 years of continuous service.
Denning has received 26 awards for service and technical contribution. These include one quality customer service award, three professional society fellowships, three honorary degrees, six awards for technical contribution, six for distinguished service, and seven for education.
He married Dorothy E. Denning in 1974. She went on to become a noted computer security expert.