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What is computer architecture?
Computer architecture is a set of rules and systems that govern how a computer system operates. It encompasses a variety of components, including instruction set architecture, microarchitecture, and implementation. Everything from cell phones to smart washing machines house a computer system. In order to function, they require an architectural design that serves their unique purpose and processes.
Well-constructed computer architecture can be taken for granted. When done correctly, users hardly notice the machinery in the background and instead focus on the smooth functionality. But computer programmers and engineers understand how each piece of hardware and every line of code contributes to the larger picture.
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Types of computer architecture
There is no single set of rules that computer architects must follow in order to build a working system. Rather, they have many types of computer architecture to choose from depending on their needs. Among these are Von Neumann architecture, Harvard architecture, and Instruction Set architecture.
Let’s explore each one in more detail:
Von Neumann architecture was designed in 1945 by physicist and mathematician John Von Neumann. In this structure, program data and instruction data are stored in the same memory. While this can be convenient in some cases, it can cause bottlenecks and other functionality issues.Footnote 1
Harvard architecture was developed to overcome the bottleneck challenge presented by Von Neumann architecture. This structure separates program data and instruction data separately, which can be more costly to operate.Footnote 2
Instruction Set architecture is a more basic approach than those listed above. This structure describes the computer’s design in terms of its functions and operations, but it does not detail how those operations should be performed.Footnote 3
You can learn more about these structures and their applications by taking a computer architecture course online. edX offers a variety of options for learners looking to advance their career and education.
Computer architecture courses and curriculum
If you’re interested in learning about computer architecture, you can start with an introductory course. This may cover classical systems and processor designs, writing short programs, and building microprocessors. Additional lessons may cover hardware components, computer organization, cloud computing, and neural networks.
More complex topics, such as quantum computing, may be covered in advanced courses. Curricula may discuss micro-architectures, compilers, and programming languages. These skills can help learners become more competitive as a tech professional applying for computer architecture roles.
Learning computer architecture doesn’t require you to apply that knowledge to professional pursuits. Whether you’re simply curious about how processors work, or you want to build a self-driving miniature car, you can find classes to bring you closer to technology. Even professionals with experience in computers may find it helpful to brush up on current tools and frameworks to stay on the cutting edge of technology and innovation.
Start learning online today and work toward a degree in a variety of fields. With online coursework delivered through edX, you can earn a bachelor’s in computer science or pursue a master’s in data science, for example. Or you can build specialized skills with accelerated learning formats, like a coding boot camp. Find the right educational pathway for you.
Discover computer architecture jobs
As technology continues to advance, computers will need to be powerful enough to keep up. It’s the work of computer architects that moves these capabilities forward. Job opportunities in this field include roles such as:
Computer and information systems managers, who help organizations meet their information technology goals. They do this through the strategic implementation of computer systems. Knowledge of computer architecture can enhance their interactions with other technical stakeholders and teams.Footnote 4
IT project managers, who implement and oversee technology projects within their organization. They are responsible for delegating tasks to relevant team members and ensuring the success of each project. Having an understanding of computer architecture can help them make more informed decisions.Footnote 5
Computer programmers, who write, maintain, and test code that allows software programs to run properly. They often must write programs that can run across multiple operating systems and devices. Being able to differentiate between various systems and their structures can make their work easier and quicker.Footnote 6
Database administrators, who develop and maintain the systems that store data for their organization. They can use their understanding of computer architecture to better serve their company’s needs and even prevent potential issues.Footnote 7
Depending on the role, you may need more or less experience with computer architecture. Employers may require applicants to have additional knowledge in other areas of computer science or a related field. Some may require a bachelor’s degree while others may seek out candidates with master’s degrees for higher-level roles.
Explore how learning computer architecture can help your career and begin your educational journey today with courses delivered through edX. With everything from individual courses to boot camps to full degree programs, there are a range of learning formats and topics to choose from to help propel your professional and personal development forward.