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Adventuring Through SICP


01 January 2015

Back in May, a coworker and I got the idea to start up a little seminar after work every couple of weeks with the plan to set aside some time to learn and discuss new ideas together, along with anyone else who cared to join us.

Learning Together

Over the past several months, we've read our way through the first three chapters of the book, watched the related video lectures, and did (most of) the exercises.

Aside from being a great excuse to unwind with friends after work (which it is!), it's proved to be a great way to get through the material. Doing a section of a chapter every couple of weeks is an easy goal to meet, and meeting up to discuss it becomes something to look forward to. We all get to enjoy a sense of accomplishment in learning stuff that can be daunting or difficult to set aside time for alone.

The best part, by far, is getting different perspectives on the material. Most of my learning tends to be solitary, so it's refreshing to do it with a group. By reviewing the different concepts together, we're able to gain insights and clarity we'd never manage on our own. Even the simplest topics can spur interesting conversations.

SICP

Our first adventure together so far has been the venerable Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. This book had been on my todo list for a long time, but never quite bubbled to the top. I'm glad to have the opportunity to go through it in this format, since there's plenty of time to let really get into the excercises and let the lessons sink in.

SICP was originally an introductory textbook for MIT computer programming courses. What sets it apart from most, though, is that it doesn't focus so much on learning a particular programming language (while the book does use and cover MIT Scheme) as it does on identifying and abstracting out patterns common to most programming problems. Because of that, the book is every bit as useful and illuminating as ever, especially now that functional paradigms are re-entering the spotlight and means of abstracting and composing systems are as important as ever.

What's next?

We've still got plenty of SICP left to get through. We've only just gotten through Chapter 4, section 1, which has us building a scheme interpreter in scheme, so there's plenty of fun left to be had there.

We're also staring to do some smaller, lunchtime review meetings following the evening discussions to catch up the folks that can't make it. I may also try sneaking in some smaller material, like interesting blog posts, to keep things lively.


If anyone's interested, I have the exercise work along with some notes taken during the meetings hosted online. I apologize for the lack of notes early on, I've been trying to get better at capturing memorable excerpts and conversation topics recently. I may have to put some more posts together later on summarizing what we discussed for each chapter; if and when I do, they'll be posted on the seminar website.


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