I did a PhD in software engineering, now working in financial IT. I had a proper education in algorithms, data structures, operating systems, networks, software etc. and worked as a tutor for Java, OOP, UML during my PhD.

Now a senior board member asks me for a good introduction into all that "computer and architecture stuff".

I tried hard but don't find a suitable book that has it all on a decent level.

Topics I'd like to see are:

  • a bit of computing history: from Babbage via Turing, OS/360 ("mythical man month"), PCs to embedded systems like Smartphones, TVs and Raspberry Pis
  • what is a operating system, what is a file system, what is a database, what is an "application server" (abstract, e.g. including systems like CICS).
  • what is computation (imperative vs functional)
  • what is data (relational databases, data structures like trees, lists)
  • why is the notion of "state" important (finite state machines)
  • communication and networks: protocols, distributed systems
  • architecture: layers (ISO/OSI), separation of concerns, pipes and filters

All of this in a proper introductory textbook, but one that is not intended for students but people with a degree in another science.

Actually I am thinking of something history oriented, that also explains the "big" ideas (that are still present in current enterprise setting).

Perhaps someone here can recommend the one and only book, that has it all in a compressed form.

Alternatively a small list that addresses specific topics for non-experts are also interesting.


2 Answers 2


It is a bit hard to capture all of that. Unfortunately*, the best book is probably The Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs but that assumes the person is willing to do some programming.

But one can learn a lot on Paul Graham's Essay Page, just by choosing interesting titles to explore.

*Unfortunately = work involved, not just browsing.

  • $\begingroup$ Funny, I was going to comment that SICP is basically the inversion of everything the OP asked for. I don't think that any normal person is going to plow through such an arcane intro to "all that computer stuff". It would be good to have a more accessible book. Tannenbaum's book is from the same era, but has what the OP wants. $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Sep 14, 2018 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ Would you, please, edit your answer to address what the resources cover, that the OP needs, and where they fall short of the objectives. Give the future readers of your answer what they need to know about the resources as they try to decide which ones they might use for their purposes. $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2018 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ @ScottRowe You should make an answer with the Tannenbaum book. $\endgroup$
    – Ben I.
    Feb 3, 2019 at 3:29
  • $\begingroup$ @BenI. "Oh Tannenbaum, Oh Tannenbaum! How graceful are thy Branches!" Couldn't resist. $\endgroup$
    – Scott Rowe
    Feb 5, 2019 at 0:35

This might be a starting point, though the language and style is more for non-academics:

IT Demystified: The IT handbook for digital leaders, Ade McCormack 2017

At least the TOC and samples I could see have what I expected.

  • $\begingroup$ This looks more like a comment on the answer by @Buffy than an answer on its own. $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2018 at 14:12
  • $\begingroup$ I asked for recommendations to collect them here publicly. This is another one that is admittedly "suboptimal". $\endgroup$
    – Bastl
    Dec 19, 2018 at 14:48
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps, then, you could edit the answer to address what the book covers, that you need, and where it falls short of the objectives. Give the future readers of your answer what they need to know about the book as they try to decide which resource they might use for their purposes. $\endgroup$ Dec 19, 2018 at 15:02

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