The STEMpunk Project: Reflections On The Computing Module

Today marks the completion of the first module in The STEMpunk Project. To review, here is a truncated version of my original goals for the opening salvo of this year-long attempt to become a techie:

  • Stage I: Read books about building PCs. Put a parts list together, check with my smarter friends, and then order them. Wait around while the parts arrive, and finish the module by building a computer out of them.
  • Stage II: Read “The Elements of Computing Systems” and build the simulated computer described therein.
  • Stage III: Read the CompTIA A+ book and take the certification test. Do the same with CompTIA Network+ and CompTIA Security+, take the relevant tests if time allows.
  • Stage IV: Profit and/or drop mic on stage, as appropriate.

There are a few reasons that I chose to lead with computing. Of the four modules it’s the one I’m the most intrinsically interested in, so I reasoned that completing it would build enough momentum to carry me through the rest of the project. It’s also the subject I’m most likely to continue studying after the project is finished, so any mistakes I make in the planning and execution stages are more likely to be remedied later through followup work.

And there have been plenty of mistakes. The most obvious is that my goals for the this module were wildly, laughably over-ambitious. With the benefit of hindsight it’s astonishing to me that I thought I would be able to complete stages II and III in six weeks. Worse, I had originally planned on doing programming tutorials for about an hour everyday, though I had the sense to realize that that would be overreach before I even started.

A major reason for the time crunch is that The STEMpunk Project got off to a slow start and stage I ended up taking longer than I originally thought it would. I’m not too bothered by this; after all, developing the ability to undertake projects of this magnitude has been my single biggest motivation from the outset, so there was bound to be some growing pains while I stretched the relevant cognitive muscles.

Another mistake is that I completely forgot to factor in the taxes I’d have to pay in April when budgeting for the project. Though I went ahead and researched the kind of system I want, building it would’ve stretched me too thin. I’m hopefully going to order the parts and assemble them later in the year.

All this having been said I’m mostly happy with my layout and choice of materials, with one exception: because I did not have the time required to do many of the implementation exercises in “The Elements of Computing Systems” it probably would have been wiser to focus instead on Stallings’ “Computer Organization and Architecture”. The latter book covers much of the same material as the former, but in more detail and with the benefit of study questions at the end of each chapter.

To other aspiring techies:

The three stages of this module cover a cross-section of computing knowledge that has both breadth and depth. Taken together they are an excellent foundation for further study, and would be even more so if I had actually managed to do all the things I said I would do. My advice to anyone wanting to tread the same path is to remember taxes and other large, fixed expenses when developing a budget, and give yourself closer to half a year if you want to get everything done at a comfortable pace.

If any of you do this and have useful insights, I hope you’ll share them with me.


4 thoughts on “The STEMpunk Project: Reflections On The Computing Module

  1. I realize this post is months old, but hopefully you’ll still be able to awnser this question:

    What prequisite knownledge would someone need to undertake this module you designed?

    Meaning, does this assume the avarage joe could get through these books, or would you need previous knownledge of say, calculus, analysis, programming, mechanical/electrical systems, etc?

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