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6.033: Computer System Engineering - Spring 2004

General Information

Catalog description // Communication // Grading // Collaboration // Class meetings // Reading materials // Staff // TA office hours // Writing program

MIT catalog description

Prereq.: 6.004 (and, by implication, 6.001 and 6.002)
U (2)

Topics on the engineering of computer software and hardware systems: techniques for controlling complexity; strong modularity using client-server design, virtual memory, and threads; networks; atomicity and coordination of parallel activities; recovery and reliability; privacy, security, and encryption; and impact of computer systems on society. Case studies of working systems and readings from the current literature provide comparisons and contrasts. Two design projects. Students engage in extensive written communication exercises. Enrollment may be limited. 4 Engineering Design Points.

Underground Reviews (require an MIT personal certificate): 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003


For announcements and assignments, the Web is our authoritative form of communication. We expect students to check the 6.033 home page for both news and assignments at least once a week. If you hear a rumor, check it there. If you miss an announcement, it should be in the News Archive.

Grading Policy

Grades in 6.033 are based on three components: section evaluation, design projects, and quizzes. They are weighted as follows:

Final grade = 1/3 Section Evaluation + 1/3 Design Projects + 1/3 Quizzes

Section Evaluation

The section part of your grade reflects your overall level of participation in recitation and tutorial as well as a series of weekly hands-on projects that support recitation. Section instructors will base at least half of the evaluation on your communication skills: oral communication skills as observed in recitation paper discussions in class and written communication skills as evaluated by your instructor and your teaching assistant. (The writing evaluation staff will also report writing grades back to the 6.033 staff, and those grades will also be taken into account.) The remainder of your section grade is based on the quality and enthusiasm of your participation, your understanding of the papers, and on whether you handed in the assignments, since the exercises aid your ability to discuss the papers.

During most weeks, you will be expected to complete a hands-on experiment that requires a computer, usually an Athena workstation, and sometimes using the Web. The idea is to reinforce some of the abstract concepts from the lectures or papers that week and find out how things really work. These assignments generally do not require programming.

Design Projects

In 2004, the design projects will be given more emphasis than in previous years. We're still working out the details, but the final result of each will be an extended paper in which you describe a detailed system design to solve a real-world problem. There will be two design projects, each of which will extend over roughly half the semester. The first will be an individual project; the second will be done in teams of three students from the same recitation.

The first design paper will be forwarded to the Communication Program and graded on writing. The writing grade will constitute 10% of the grade for design project 1; the remaining 90% is determined by the 6.033 staff and is primarily based on the technical content of the paper. The second design paper is graded only by the 6.033 staff.

One of the teaching assistants' primary roles is to tie the design projects into the topics covered in lectures and recitations. Each week, they will be teaching "tutorials" to explain the design projects' requirements and some of the tradeoffs inherent in the projects. Like lectures and recitations, these tutorials are not optional. Students are also welcome to ask questions about the design projects during office hours.

A couple of weeks into each design project, you'll be asked to hand in a short design proposal. We'll evaluate this to make sure you're on the right track and to suggest writing improvements, but it will only count against the project grade if you fail to hand it in. We'll also discuss common mistakes during tutorial.


Two quizzes are held during the term. A third quiz will be scheduled during finals week. Each quiz will focus on a third of the class's material, but keep in mind that later topics in 6.033 build heavily upon the earlier topics. All quizzes count equally towards the final grade.


Note well: although the Final Grade formula appears to be linear, there are two important non-linearities in the 6.033 grade calculation. (1) You must hand in both design projects to pass 6.033. If you don't hand in both of them, you will receive an F for the subject as a whole. (2) If you don't regularly attend recitation and tutorial, you will receive an F for the section evaluation, even if you have faithfully handed in the assignments.


Our policy is simple, based on professional standards: on quizzes you should not collaborate. On all other assignments you are welcome to work with anyone else on ideas and understanding, but your writing should be your own and you should carefully acknowledge all contributions of ideas by others, whether from classmates or from papers you have read.

Class meetings

Lectures will be held on Monday and Wednesday from 2:00 to 3:00 PM in 34-101.

The registrar's schedule reserves Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 2:00 PM for 6.033. Friday sessions will usually be tutorials, but we use some of the Friday hours for lectures by the staff of the M.I.T. Communication Program, and some for quizzes. See the schedule for the exact dates of these events.

    Time Location Instructor TA
Lecture   MW2 34-101 Kaashoek and Balakrishnan
Writing Program lectures F2 34-101 Poe
Recitations: (#1) TR10 34-303 Ernst Strauss
  (#2) TR10 36-155 Madden Hickey
  (#3) TR11 34-302 Dabek Hickey
  (#4) TR11 34-303 Ernst Chen
  (#5) TR11 36-155 Madden Strauss
  (#6) TR12 34-303 Dabek Chen
  (#7) TR1 34-302 Katabi Bicket
  (#8) TR1 34-303 Saltzer Garfinkel
  (#9) TR1 38-136 Karger Lesniewski-Laas
  (#10) TR2 34-303 Saltzer Bicket
  (#11) TR2 36-155 Katabi Lesniewski-Laas
  (#12) TR2 36-112 (note new location) Karger Garfinkel
Tutorials: F138-166Lesniewski-Laas

Reading materials

There are three things you need to have in order to accomplish the reading assignments in 6.033.

  1. Brooks, Frederick P. The Mythical Man-Month, Addison-Wesley, 1995. (ISBN 0-201-83595-9, paperback)
  2. Readings and class notes for 6.033: a packet of stuff available from the EECS instrument room for $27.71. Follow this procedure to get the packet: pick up a coupon sheet (copies handed out at the first recitation and available from the course secretary), fill it in, and take it together with cash or check to the cashier's office, 10-180. They will give you a receipt, which you can exchange for the reading packet in room 38-501 between 10 AM and 8 PM. A paper from this packet will be assigned for each recitation meeting (see the schedule for details). The papers should be read prior to the section meeting. For most lectures we will assign a section of the class notes to accompany the presented material. You will also find the notes helpful in preparing for quizzes.
  3. Coupon: included in the reading list, you will find a coupon for a second installment of notes. We don't know yet if there will be a second installment, but if there is, this coupon will entitle you to pick it up at no extra charge.


Frans Kaashoek 32-G992 x3-7149 kaashoek
Hari Balakrishnan 32-G940 x3-8713 hari
Jerry Saltzer 32-G922 x3-6016 Saltzer
Dina Katabi 32-G936 dina@csail
Frank Dabek 32-G980 x3-7436 fdabek
David Karger 32-G592 x8-6167 karger
Michael Ernst 32-G718 x3-0945 mernst
Sam Madden 32-G938 x8-6643 madden@csail
Teaching assistants
Chris Lesniewski-Laas Minas Morgul-996 x3-0004 ctl
Jacob Strauss 32-G978 ??? jastr
John Bicket 32-G980 x3-7436 jbicket
Jason Hickey 32-G978 ??? jmhickey
Kathryn Chen 32-G935 x3-6015 (?) kchen25
Simson Garfinkel 32-G804 617-876-6111 simsong
Writing program
Mya Poe 14N-233 3-3039 myapoe
Course secretary
Neena Lyall 32-G970A 3-6019 lyall@csail

Course TAs mailing list: 6.033-help
Use this mailing list to contact all the 6.033 TAs.

Course staff mailing list: 6.033-staff
Use this mailing list to contact all the 6.033 staff members.

TA office hours

TAs will also be available by appointment; just email or call us!

When Who Where
Wednesday 1:00 - 2:00 Lesniewski-Laas 32-G9 lounge
Tuesday 2:00 - 3:00 Strauss 32-G978
Tuesday 3:30 - 4:30 Bicket 32-G 980 (check the 9G lounge first)
Monday 1:00 - 2:00 Hickey 32-G 9th floor lounge
Tuesday 1:00 - 2:00 Chen 32-G 9th floor lounge
Wednesday noon - 1:00pm Garfinkel 32-G804

Writing program

Three of your written assignments will be forwarded to the Writing Program for review:

  1. Your Therac-25 written assignment
  2. Design proposal for Design Project 1
  3. Design Project 1

Writing Program comments usually come back about two weeks later and will help you in the next writing assignment. The Writing Program staff will assign a grade to your writing, and your instructor will factor that grade into your Design Project 1 grade and recitation performance grade, as described above under Grading Policy. In addition, the writing evaluator may ask you to revise and resubmit your work.

Communication Requirement

Because 6.033 is a course that asks students to complete substantial written work, it has been designated a communication intensive in the major (CI-M) course by the M.I.T. Communication Requirement. If you need to fulfill the new CI-M requirement, 6.033 will satisfy one of your two CI-M requirements. (You will take your second CI-M, 6.ThT, during your senior year.) You will automatically receive CI-M credit by being are enrolled in 6.033. You do not need to complete additional paperwork.

According to the Communication Requirement webpage 6.033 satisfies CI-M for Course 2A, 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6A, 18-General, 18-Theory, 18-Applied, and 18-C. If you are not in these programs, 6.033 does not currently satisfy the CI-M requirement for you. For further questions, please contact the Office of the Communication Requirement (617) 253-2313, or go to their office at 6-206.

Phase II

If you still fall under the old writing requirement, Phase II, you will complete the same assignments as CI-M students. Your work will be assessed under the Phase II requirement.

Writing practicum

The staff of the Writing Program will offer several sections of a 6.033 writing practicum if you wish additional help with your written work. The writing practicum may be used to complete Phase II. Check out the writing practicum web site for more information.

Questions or comments regarding 6.033? Send e-mail to the TAs at 6.033-help.

Questions or comments about this web page? Send e-mail to 6.033-webmaster.

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