How does a Computer _Really_ Work?

Short Form


By thinking and exploring how to _program_ a simple computer, we learn how to _think_ like a computer, and this may help us become better programmers.


Once upon a time, after showing the local Middle School computer club what life was like for me as a kid programming an Apple ][, one astute student asked me, How does a computer really work?

After working feverishly for a week, I created a simplistic, but working CPU (central processing unit) running in a browser. I named it after my daughter, Flora (with a nod to Ada Lovelace), and then spent more time writing lessons and projects to help answer the original question: how does a computer really work.

In this session, we’ll time travel back to an earlier age when entire computers could be built by a couple of people and hack our way into the source code to build an emulator like this (see Github for source code). We’ll then talk about how learning to program low-level computer languages, like Assembly, can help each of us level up as programmers.

Speaking experience

Spoke at Open Source Bridge many times, as well as other conferences, like OSCON, EmacsConf and Node Summit.


  • Elfyme


    With over thirty years of programming experience from C to Clojure, he enjoys mentoring younger colleagues as well as teaching the next generation. He hosts a local computer programming club at his local middle and high schools as well as mentoring the local robotics team. Oh, and he does have a day job, working on the software defined networking team at Workday.