Computer Architecture
and the Hardware/Software Interface

To understand a program you must become both the machine and the program.
— Alan Perlis

Computer architecture—sometimes called “computer organization”—is an important first look at computing from below the software surface. In our experience it is one of the most neglected area among self-taught software engineers.

The course is scoped as an introduction to the topic, designed for software engineers who wish to be better software engineers, rather than prospective hardware engineers.

The focus is on building a strong mental model of the actual execution of programs by a microprocessor, so that you can better reason about the code you write. This manifests most clearly as the ability to write faster code, whether by better understanding the available instruction set, by reasoning more clearly about branch prediction or cache coherence, or by understanding the limits of parallel execution.


  1. What Is a “Computer”? and What Does It Mean to “Program” It?
  2. “Machine” Programming and “Systems” Programming
  3. An Overview of C, the Portable Assembly Language
  4. Logic (computation) and State (memory) Circuits
  5. The Clock and the Datapath
  6. Improving Performance with Pipelining
  7. Improving Performance with Caching
  8. Improving Performance with Parallelism

Projects and exercises

The practical component of this course involves a number of small exercises, mostly writing C or assembly code to understand the hardware/software interface, or designing simple circuits to really understand what your microprocessor does. A favorite exercise among students involves profiling and refactoring a snippet of code to dramatically improve performance based on understanding CPU cache levels.

Assumed knowledge

This course assumes confident general programming abilities. Some familiarity with C and/or assembly programming is advantageous but not required: both are covered in class.

Schedule and price

This course will next run 6pm-9pm Tuesdays and Fridays, from 7 July to 1 August 2017. The total price for either session is $1,800.

Apply now Still have questions? Contact us.
I didn’t realize I needed to learn Computer Architecture until I attended Bradfield. In retrospect it should have been obvious—decisions at the transistor level have implications further up, for everything from databases to compilers. The abstractions we work on are nice, but if you want to be a great engineer you need to understand the tools you’re working with.
Yoshio Goto portrait
Yoshio Goto, Lead Engineer at Talk-To
Trying to wrap my head around textbook discussions and video lectures on CPU data paths left me feeling overwhelmed, trying to break down a complicated system into its component functions. But Myles presented a logical progression, building up the data path one piece at a time, turning a mystifying topic into something clearly understandable.
Anthony Landreth portrait
Anthony Landreth, Owner, Robophilosopher LLC
1141 Howard St
San Francisco, California
© 2016 Bradfield School of Computer Science