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.
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.
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.
This course will next be taught by
Elliott is an instructor and course developer at Bradfield. Previously he was a tech lead at Triplebyte, where he designed assessments for hiring software engineers, and a senior engineer at Dropbox, where he built a distributed search engine. In addition, he has experience as a mentor for the Google Summer of Code and a tutor at Stanford's Center for Teaching and Learning.