Spring 2011

General Information

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): 2010, 2009, 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.

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

Your final 6.033 grade will have the following components:

17.5%DP1 Report (half technical, half writing)
17.5%DP2 Report
20%Technical Section Participation and Weekly Assignments
 5%Writing Section Participation

Note that over a third of your grade comes from written assignments: we expect you to take writing seriously in this class.

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.

A portion of your grade will also be based on your participation in writing tutorials and on your communication and interaction with your writing instructor.

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 graded by both your recitation instructor and the Communication Department, 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 required. 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.

Late Policy

You must hand in assignments when they are due, and you must attend quizzes at the scheduled times. If you feel you have a compelling reason for not handing in an assignment on time, or for not attending a quiz, please talk to your recitation instructor or one of the lecturers in advance. If you miss an assignment deadline, you should still hand in the assignment; we'll give you feedback even though we won't give you credit for your final grade. Furthermore, doing assignments is the best way to prepare for exams and design projects.


You may not collaborate on quizzes. On all other assignments you are welcome to discuss ideas with others, but your writing should be your own and you should 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 Kaashoek and Zeldovich
Writing Program Recitations see schedule see schedule Caulfield, Unger, Volaitis, Melvold, Pepper
Recitation TR, section dependent section dependent Katabi, Lampson, Ports, Strauss
Tutorial F, section dependent section dependent Pesterev, Narula, Raza, Mutiso

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  
Frans Kaashoek 32-G992 x3-7149
Nickolai Zeldovich 32-G994 x3-6005
E-Mail Office Telephone  
Dina Katabi
Butler Lampson
Dan Ports
Jacob Strauss
Teaching assistants
Office hours are held in 32-G950 (the lounge outside the elevators)
E-Mail Office Office Hours
Neha Narula 32-G980 Wednesday 4-5 PM
Syed Raza 32-G950 Wednesday 3-4 PM
Herman Mutiso 32-G950 Tuesday 3-4 PM
Alex Pesterev 32-G980 Tuesday 5-6 PM
Writing program
E-Mail Office Telephone  
Mary Caulfield 12-113 x3-3039
Donald Unger 12-112 x3-3039
Lydia Volaitis 12-112 x3-3039
Janice Melvold 14N-322 x5-5194
Karen Pepper 12-111 x4-2218

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 Writing Recitation instructor will comment on and grade three of your written assignments:
  • Therac-25 written assignment (one-page memo #1)
  • Design proposal for Design Project 1 (DP1 Proposal)
  • Design Project 1 (DP1)
Writing grades will be assigned according to a set of criteria that will be provided as a part of each writing assignment.

The Therac-25 writing grade is advisory; it will not affect your final 6.033 grade.

For design project 1, your recitation instructor and writing instructor will work together to assign your final grade, with approximately equal weight being given to writing and technical portions of the grade. You will be given the opportunity to revise your design project to improve your writing grade, with revisions due approximately one week after the design project is handed back.

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 satisfy the CI-M requirement for you.

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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