Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs

Unknown author (1983-07-01)

"The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs" is the entry-level subject in Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is required of all students at MIT who major in Electrical Engineering or in Computer Science, as one fourth of the "common core curriculum," which also includes two subjects on circuits and linear systems and a subject on the design of digital systems. We have been involved in the development of this subject since 1978, and we have taught this material in its present form since the fall of 1980 to approximately 600 students each year. Most of these students have had little or no prior formal training in computation, although most have played with computers a bit and a few have had extensive programming or hardware design experience. Our design of this introductory Computer Science subject reflects two major concerns. First we want to establish the idea that a computer language is not just a way of getting a computer to perform operations, but rather that it is a novel formal medium for expressing ideas about methodology. Thus, programs must be written for people to read, and only incidentally for machines to execute. Secondly, we believe that the essential material to be addressed by a subject at this level, is not the syntax of particular programming language constructs, nor clever algorithms for computing particular functions of efficiently, not even the mathematical analysis of algorithms and the foundations of computing, but rather the techniques used to control the intellectual complexity of large software systems.