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Communications of the ACM

The profession of IT

Systems Abstractions

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Abstractions, the mental constructs that organize thinking to expedite the design and construction of reliable computations, are often heralded as bedrock principles of computational thinking.3 We lamented that the CT curricula for K–12, being intended for beginners, give few hints at the kinds of abstraction that computing professionals use in their work. A step in the direction of exposing more advanced abstractions was taken when the 2021 Turing Award celebrated the programming language and compiler abstractions devised by Alfred Aho and Jeff Ullman.1 In this column, I would like to continue with examples of abstractions that were invented for operating systems and spread into the rest of computing.

Computing professionals invented these advanced "systems abstractions" to deal with large systems that are too big for lone programmers. I begin with some of the important ones from operating systems.


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