Getting to Know Your Assembler Bootcamp Instructor: Michael Stack

By Andrew Grzywacz

This year’s SHARE Academy: Assembler Bootcamp is fast approaching. With the event just around the corner, we thought you may want to take a moment to get acquainted with one of your instructors: Michael Stack. We asked Michael to share his decades of experience in assembler language, get his thoughts on the field, his roots and what attendees can expect to take away from the bootcamp.

How did the Assembler Bootcamp get started? Where did the idea come from?

Back in 2000, I was at a SHARE meeting with my colleague John Ehrman, also an instructor for the Assembler Bootcamp. We were talking about some of the fundamentals of assembler, both in understanding the language and the roadblocks that have kept a lot of programmers from really grasping it – and why they need to grasp it. And John said, “What we need is an assembler bootcamp.” Having taught assembler language at Northern Illinois University, I thought that this was something I could do! And the more we talked about it, the more we realized the importance that a course like that could have in teaching the fundamentals to SHARE attendees who need them.

What makes assembler language in need of a bootcamp, though? As opposed to other programming languages?

Understanding assembler means understanding what’s happening underneath the hood, so to speak, of the computer. So it’s important to have a low-level, fundamental grasp of it. What makes it uniquely different from, say, C++ is that there are certain constructs in assembler that just don’t exist in other programming languages. It’s not like learning C++ and then carrying over that same knowledge to understanding assembler; there’s little overlap like that. On the other hand, understanding assembler will help you to better and more intuitively grasp constructs in C++ and other languages.

How did you first become interested in or exposed to assembler language?

Back in the fall of 1969, I had gone back to school to finish my B.S. in math. The Math Department was the only department that taught programming languages.  One semester, I had a professor who was a number theorist. He had been conducting his research in number theory using assembler language. So as part of the class, we implemented multi-precise arithmetic algorithms in assembler, which is how I became familiar with it. And then I started attending SHARE meetings just a few years later, in 1973. I remember my first meeting at SHARE because it was just before I got married!

What’s the main takeaway you hope attendees pick up from Assembler Bootcamp?

The main theme to it all – the common thread behind all the lectures, and why we’re doing this in the first place – is to teach assembler fundamentals to mainframe professionals who need to know the language. Learning assembler includes learning computer architecture, and so helps the programmer understand what higher level languages are doing “under the covers.” This has the advantage of making them better programmers in any language they use. So I hope that our attendees come away not only better understanding assembler itself, but understanding how that plays into all languages.

For expert training in Assembler Language from Michael Stack and our instructors, click here to register for SHARE Academy: Assembler Bootcamp. The course will be held on February 28, 2016, as part of SHARE in San Antonio.

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