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Programming Primer: A Short Introduction to Computer Science

Short name: PP1
SITS code: BUCI057N0
Credits: Non-credit bearing
Module leader: Keith Mannock
Lecturer(s): Keith Mannock
Online material:

Module outline

  • This course is for candidates already accepted onto our MSc programmes.
  • This "primer" course will act as a "jump-start" into your studies (if you weren't that comfortable with the notes or the admission test then this is probably an appropriate course to take).
  • If you are an MSc IT student and wish to take modules from the CS or DS programmes as one of your optional modules, then you will need to pass the test that runs at the end of this course.
  • The module is run in a "blended" style where the cohort reads materials in advance of the class and then most of the face-to-face session is devoted to exercises, questions, and clarification of the materials. Each session, apart from the first one, has homework that consolidates the materials covered in the session and prepares the student for the following session.
  • The programming language used for this course is Python.

Please be aware that this module requires an intensive study period and needs considerable effort outside of the scheduled sessions.

Learning Outcomes

To provide an introduction to the content of the Computer Systems, Fundamentals of Computing, and Programming modules, from the MSc Computer Science and MSc Data Science programmes.


Dates for 2020-21

  1. Monday 7th September
  2. Wednesday 9th September
  3. Friday 11th September
  4. Monday 14th September
  5. Wednesday 16th September
  6. Friday 18th September
  7. Monday 21st September
  8. Wednesday 23rd September
  9. Friday 25th September

All sessions run from 6 pm—8:30 pm. The location of all sessions in rooms 404/405 in the main Birkbeck building.


The syllabus is provisional and is adapted dynamically to cope with the varying requirements of the student cohort.

  • A (very) brief intro to Computer Science and Data Science
  • edit-compile-run; types, variables & assignment
  • Virtual Machines (very simple overview - something like the materials in the Computer Systems module)
  • The building blocks of programs
  • Input and output
  • Conditionals, while and for loops
  • Expressions
  • Functions (methods)
  • More on Strings and things
  • Arrays
  • Functions (static methods): signatures, arguments, local variables
  • A refresher on basic arithmetic and simple set operations
  • Counting in number bases: octal, hex, binary
  • Computer architecture (CA) and Operating system (OS) overview
  • Simple searching and data structures
  • Consolidation and review


An offer to study on one of our Postgraduate Masters programmes.

Timetables, locations and term dates

Programme specific timetables are listed in the handbooks available for each programme. Please consult the relevant programme page.

Enrolled students can find their personal teaching timetable and the location of classes on their My Birkbeck profile.


None—but exercises are provided and it is recommended that the student complete them.


End of module test if you are an MSc IT student and wish to take optional modules from the MSc CS or MSc DS programmes of study.

Recommended reading

Notes and lab worksheets will be available for the course and are included in the course fee.

The recommended programming text depends on the programme of study you wish to undertake.

For prospective Data Science students:

For prospective Computer Science students:

which is the text "Python for Everybody" is based on.

We will provide supplementary materials as required.