Python Master Classes

with David Beazley
Author of the Python Cookbook, 3rd Ed
Python Essential Reference, 4th Ed.
Dabeaz, LLC
5412 N Clark Street #218
Chicago, IL 60640
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Target Audience:

This class is for more experienced programmers who like learning new things and being challenged. Knowledge of Python programming basics is assumed. No background in compilers is required although knowledge of fundamental programming language concepts (e.g., type systems, functions, objects, scoping rules,etc.) is strongly encouraged.

Date: March 20-24, 2017.

Price: $2000

What's Included?

  • A printed copy of the course notes.
  • Breakfast and lunch at local restaurants
  • Snacks
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Write a Compiler

[5 days] Come to Chicago and shatter your brain by writing a compiler for a programming language! Why? Because it's fun and you'll learn a lot, that's why. In this workshop, participants will be partake in an intense guided coding project where you will create your own programming language, write a compiler for it, and have your compiler emit working executable code using LLVM. If you've ever wanted to take a compilers course or you're just looking for a project that's a bit more involved than reading a CSV file, then this is the course for you.

Major topics include:

  • Regular expressions and text manipulation
  • Parsing and parser generators
  • Syntax directed translation
  • Abstract syntax trees
  • Type systems and type checking.
  • Control-flow analysis
  • Code generation
  • Optimization

Almost all of this course is spent coding on a project. Lecture slides are given as necessary to discuss background material prior to different project sections.

Practical Takeaways

Compilers is often considered a capstone course for computer science majors. There is a reason for that--it touches almost every topic ranging from mathematical theory to computer architecture. Here are some practical things that you'll get out of taking this course:

  • Text manipulation and parsing skills. These can be applied to a variety of problems such as data munging, scraping, protocol implementation and more.

  • Complex data structure manipulation. Writing a compiler involves a vast array of data structures beyond your basic list or map. You'll build trees and directed graphs. You'll need to write code that navigates through those data structures. Managing the complexity is a challenge and you'll likely get ideas for how you might do it in other contexts (e.g., machine learning, networking, etc.).

  • Testing. A compiler is one of the most complicated programs you will ever write, consisting of a series of interlocking components that interact in non-trivial ways. Figuring out how to test it is hugely problematic. As such, you'll be exploring different facets of unit testing, integration testing, assertions, contracts and more. These skills will be useful in all of your future software development.

  • Object Oriented Programming. One approach for managing the complexity in a compiler project is to utilize different object oriented programming techniques and design patterns. Although OO is not the main focus, you will implement code involving a variety of classes and advanced programming techniques involving classes. This may include inheritance, multiple inheritance, decorators, and metaclasses. Seeing these features used in practice will give you insight into how large frameworks operate and may give you ideas on how they could be applied to your own code in future projects.

  • Programming Language Semantics. How does your favorite programming language actually work? No, I mean do you REALLY understand how it works? In order to write a compiler, you have to wrap your brain around a lot of important, often esoteric, under-the-hood details. For example, the underlying type system, memory management, evaluation rules, call stacks, and more. After you're done writing a compiler, you'll have a much greater awareness of how everything works and this has all sorts of side-benefits. For example, you'll be able to do more informed debugging and performance optimization.

  • Python Since you'll be writing a compiler in Python, you'll see a lot of advanced Python features in action, being used in a practical context. If looking for an interesting way to take your Python coding skills to the next level, writing a compiler certainly won't disappoint.

  • Deeper Computing Knowledge. The next time you're at a party and two people are about to get into a heated fisticuffs battle over tail-call optimization, you'll be able to step in and break up an ugly scene. Why? Because you took compilers, that's why. You don't need to be a computer science major to take compilers, but when you're done, you might be mistaken for one.

Are You Crazy?

Writing a compiler in only 5 days? Is it even possible? To be sure, compilers is often regarded as one of the most difficult CS courses that one can take. If you take it at a University, you'll probably get a professor who will take you through the infamous Dragon Book, spend a lot of time doing mathematical proofs (e.g., deriving the LALR(1) parsing algorithm), and make the focus of the course on preparing graduate students for future research in programming languages. I have taught that class. This is NOT that class.

Compiler builders working on the last stages of code generation

Instead, this is a compilers course aimed at practioners. As such, the main focus is on coding and software development. Yes, you will learn about important core compiler concepts such as regular expressions, context free grammars, type systems, and programming language semantics. However, instead of doing mathematical proofs involving parsing theory, we'll focus on how you would actually go about implementing a parser and doing things such as writing unit tests for it. These are the sorts of hard problems that you can more immediately apply to your own work afterwards.

To be sure, you will write a lot of code in this course. The course runs for more than 40 hours over five days. The final completed project consists of approximately 3000-4000 lines of Python and is every bit as involved as the project you typically find in a college-level compilers course for computer science majors.

About the Instructor

This course is conducted by David Beazley, author of the Python Essential Reference (Addison-Wesley) and Python Cookbook (O'Reilly Media). Dave has a Ph.D in Computer Science and spent seven years teaching as an assistant professor at the University of Chicago where he previously taught a compiler design and implementation course. Dave is also the creator of SWIG (a C++ compiler for building scripting language extensions) and PLY (Python versions of the Lex and Yacc compiler construction tools).

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