What is a computer?

Evan Kimbrell
A free video tutorial from Evan Kimbrell
Founder of Sprintkick | Ex-VC | Ex-startup founder
4.5 instructor rating • 22 courses • 569,759 students

Learn more from the full course

Pre-Programming: Everything you need to know before you code

Increase your chance of success learning to code and communicating with other developers

06:16:07 of on-demand video • Updated January 2021

  • Better understand the fundamentals of how programming works
  • Understand the fundamentals of how computers work and how that relates to modern web technology
  • Choose what programming language and path they want to pursue in their career
  • Understand and apply the 8 basic concepts of programming
  • Evaluate, install, and modify any content management system
  • Understand world technology trends like responsive design, pair programming, PaaS systems, and the growth of APIs
  • Make a decision about what technology and ecosystem interests you
  • Correctly understand and apply the concept of a programming framework
  • Call out your friends for not knowing the difference between a framework, library, and IDE (they'll love you)
  • Communicate with others about technology in a way that doesn't immediately give away your inexperience
  • Impress your friends during drinks with random factoids about Bill Gates & Steve Jobs
  • Finally understand the reason Comcast keeps billing you $29.99
English Hey hey hey, we're back. Ok, so in this lecture, we're going to start with the most basic question of them all. What is a computer? Ok, stay with me here, I know it can sound really simplistic, but trust me, it really actually matters because most people have way too narrow of an idea of what computers actually are, and if you want to learn more advanced concepts, you have to start with the correct way of thinking about technology. Ok, so most people, when they hear the word "computer," they're going to think of a laptop, or an iPad, or some type of personal computer, like a desktop. Some people, like your parents, when asked if a MacBook is a computer, would respond "No, it's a laptop". And that's fine, but it's really not just the thing you run Windows 8 or Mac OS X on. A computer is actually, it's literally anything that computes. It's a thing that can determine an amount or a number given certain rules. That is the dictionary definition of a computer straight out of Webster's. So yes, your MacBook laptop is a computer, but technically so is your calculator. Watches, wearables, cash registers, even that RFID badge you use to get in and out of work, these are all technically computers. Unless you're driving something from the roaring twenties, your car engine probably has a computer that monitors its performance and makes whatever adjustments it thinks are necessary. If you want to get into the details of that one, it's actually called an engine control unit, or an engine control module, and yes, it's responsible for that "check engine" light you really wish would just go away. Your brain technically is kind of like a computer, too. Go ahead, add some numbers in your head, if it came out correct or slightly different, congratulations, you are a machine! Now that's the absolute simplest way you can understand what a computer is, but a more practical way of understanding it is that it's any machine designed to solve problems * And that's what I do, I solve problems * automatically. Computers will solve all of the problems within certain parameters that you give to them. They will solve a math problem, but they won't solve a problem like the SWAT team on your roof. To help stick this point kind of home, here's an actual true fact. Early on, before we even knew what a computer was, as we commonly know it, the word "computer" was actually created to describe people, so people who solved mathematical problems, technically it was used in the military for artillery, and their job was, as to artillery, to fire, constantly keep running numbers for the next round of artillery shells. Then humans figured out how to build machines to do all of that stuff for them in a way that was more truly automatic, and voila, we are now better at killing each other with large guns and also keeping records of how much cash we blow in the process. ...America. Ok, so do you see how the word "computer" is actually pretty massive in scope, and there are basically computers all around you, everywhere you go? Waiting to download your soul, so they can live forever and feel love. So that's it. A computer is something that takes instructions and can run a calculation to give you a solution, and understanding it like that, here are instructions, here is a process, and here is an output, is the first step in understanding what it is that programmers do. So to recap, computers, they're all around you, they solve problems, and also, don't ignore that "check engine" light on your dash. All right, see you in the next lecture!