Spring 2009

General Information

FAQ // Section Assignments // Reading Materials //
Catalog description
// Announcements // MIT Web Certificates // Grading // Collaboration // Class meetings // Staff and Office Hours // Writing program // Spring 2008 Class Materials (opens in new window)

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): 2008 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004, 2003, 2002, 2001, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1997, 1996


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 regularly, every couple of days. If you hear a rumor, check it there. If you miss an announcement, it should be in the News Archive.

MIT Web Certificates

Access to a number of documents on the course web site is restricted to its students, using MIT Web Certificates. Protected documents include some of the reading materials with copyright restrictions, and the recitation/tutorial assignments.

Grading Policy

You will receive two grades: one from the writing program (your writing grade) and one from the 6.033 staff (your 6.033 grade), which are combined in a final grade as follows.

Your final grade is your 6.033 grade unless you received lower than a B for your writing grade. If you receive lower than a B, your final grade will be your 6.033 grade but dropped by one letter grade.

Your 6.033 grade is based on three components: section evaluation, design projects, and quizzes. They are weighted as follows:

6.033 grade = 25% Section Evaluation + 35% Design Projects + 40% 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 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

The final result of each of the two design projects 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, as described in the section on writing requirements.

One of the teaching assistants' primary roles is to tie the design projects into the topics covered in lectures and recitations. On most Fridays, 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 mandatory. Students are also welcome to ask questions about the design projects during TA 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. Both design project proposals will be forwarded to the writing program, and be graded according to the description in the writing requirements section.


Two quizzes are held during the term. A third quiz (1.5 hours in length) 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. The quizzes count as follows: 12.5% quiz, 12.5% quiz 2, and 15% quiz 3.


Please note well: Although the formula to calculate your final 6.033 grade appears to be linear, there are some important non-linearities in the calculation. These non-linearities are the three ways in which you can be sure of getting an F in 6.033:

  1. Traditional method (which actually is the result of the linear formula mentioned above): Provide convincing evidence, in the form of exceptionally low or missing grades on quizzes and other assignments, that you have gotten little or nothing out of the subject. Note that 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.
  2. Fail to turn in Design Project #1 by the last day of class.
  3. Fail to turn in Design Project #2 by the last day of class.


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 Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:00pm-3:00pm in 32-123. Recitations are on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 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.

Session Time Location Instructor
Lecture MW2-3 32-123 Morris and Madden
Writing Program Recitations see schedule see schedule Caulfield, Unger, tba
Recitation TR, section dependent section dependent Girod, Jackson, Newton, Zeldovich
Tutorial TR, section dependent section dependent Badirkhanli, Benjamin, Reid, Dowgun

These four types of sessions are all required. For the first recitation, attend whichever one you want. After that, you will be assigned a permanent recitation.

For details about your recitation and tutorial time and place, consult the recitation and tutorial assignments.


E-Mail Office Telephone  
Robert Morris 32-G972 x3-5983
Sam Madden 32-G936 x3-3147
Lewis Girod 32-G918 x3-0960
Daniel Jackson 32-G704 x8-8471
Ryan Newton 32-G890 x3-7375
Nickolai Zeldovich 32-G994 x3-6005
Teaching assistants
        Office Hours
James Cowling (Head TA) 32-G908 x3-6015 by request
Tural Badirkhanli     Mon 5-6pm, 32-G9 lounge
Zev Benjamin     Wed 3-4pm, 32-G9 lounge
Elizabeth Reid     Tues 1-2pm, 32-G9 lounge
Neil Dowgun     Thurs 4-5pm, 32-G9 lounge
Writing program
Mary Caulfield 12-113 3-3039
Donald Unger 12-112 x3-3039
Course secretary
Neena Lyall 32-G970 x3-6019

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

Communication Intensive Recitations

MIT faculty and department members believe that students in any field should learn to write prose that is clear, organized, and eloquent, and to marshal facts and ideas into convincing written and oral presentations.

MIT implemented the Communication Requirement in 2000 in response to alumni feedback. Alumni said that they had received an outstanding technical education at MIT but needed more training in writing and speaking to succeed in their professional careers.

The 6.033 faculty have worked with the MIT Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) program for more than 10 years to design 6.033 writing and speaking assignments. We have chosen assignments that are similar to the kinds of writing you will do in the engineering workplace: memos, proposals, design reports, and design presentations.

To assist you in preparing for the written assignments, several of the Friday recitations will focus on communication instruction. At these recitations, you will receive advice on how to write your one-page assignments, DP1 proposal, and DP1 from a Writing Recitation instructor. Attendance to the writing recitations will be included in your final overall recitation grade.

Your 6.033 CI Grade: Your Writing Recitation instructor will comment on and grade four of your written assignments:

  • Therac-25 written assignment (one-pager #1)
  • X-windows written assignment (one-pager #2)
  • Design proposal for Design Project 1 (Dp1 Proposal)
  • Design Project 1 (Dp1)

The grades assigned by the writing program will follow the descriptions given on this page

The Therac-25 writing grade will not be factored into the average for the writing component of your grade. The writing grades, Dp1 proposal, and Dp1, as well as attendance at the writing recitation sections will constitute your 6.033 writing grade, as follows:

  • Attendance (including appointments): 20%
  • Therac-25 paper: [grade noted, but not calculated in average]
  • X Windows: 20%
  • DP1-Proposal: 20%
  • DP1-Full paper: 40%

If your average writing grade is below a B, your final grade for 6.033 will be reduced by 1 letter grade.

With permission of your Writing Recitation instructor, you may revise your assignments to improve your grade. If you miss agreed appointments with your instructor, your revisions may not be accepted.

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.

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. For further information about Phase II, please contact Dr. Perelman at 617.253.3375.

Writing Prizes

The EECS department hands out a few awards for excellent papers for design project 1. Outstanding Design Projects are nominated by technical and/or writing faculty. Every submitted design paper is eligible for an award; the final decision is made by the 6.033 and writing staff based on both technical content and writing quality.

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

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