You Might as Well Be a Great Copy Editor

An early draft of a paper, blog post, grant proposal, or other piece of technical writing typically has many problems. Some of these are high-level issues, such as weak motivation, sections in the wrong order, or a key description that is difficult to understand because it lacks an accompanying figure. These problems need to be …

How LLVM Optimizes a Function

An optimizing, ahead-of-time compiler is usually structured as: A frontend that converts source code into an intermediate representation (IR). A target-independent optimization pipeline: a sequence of passes that successively rewrite the IR to eliminate inefficiencies and forms that cannot be readily translated into machine code. Sometimes called the “middle end.” A target-dependent backend that generates …

How Clang Compiles a Function

I’ve been planning on writing a post about how LLVM optimizes a function, but it seems necessary to first write about how Clang translates C or C++ into LLVM. This is going to be fairly high-level: rather than looking at Clang’s internals, I’m going to focus on how Clang’s output relates to its input we’re …

Software Engineering Takeaways

I had a great time this spring teaching a software engineering course for a new professional masters degree program created by my department. Since I didn’t use slides or hand out lecture notes, some students were asking if maybe I could write up a summary of what I wanted them to learn in the course. …

The Basic Toolbox

This post is aimed at computer science students. In the software engineering course I’m teaching this spring, I often find myself saying things like “you need to know a scripting language” or “everyone should be able to run a code coverage tool.” Finally, the other day, a student stopped me and asked for the whole …

Trust Boundaries in Software Systems

One of the big things that has changed in computer science education over the last 20 years is that it is now mandatory to prepare students for writing software that lives in a hostile environment. This content can’t be limited to a computer security course, it has to be spread throughout the curriculum. My experience, …

A Conversation about Teaching Software Engineering

For better or worse, my impressions of software engineering as a field were shaped by a course I took as an undergrad that I thought was mostly not very interesting or useful. We spent a lot of time on waterfalls and stuff, while not covering testing in any detail. For the final project in the …

Fun at the UNIX Terminal Part 1

This post is aimed at kids, like the 6th graders who I was recently teaching about programming in Python. It is more about having fun than about learning, but I hope that if you enjoy playing around at the UNIX terminal, you’ll eventually learn to use this kind of system for real. Keep in mind …