Learning Objectives | Course Structure | Recitation + Tutorial Schedule | Grade Breakdown + Late Policy | Grade Components | Collaboration Policy | Staff Contact

6.033 Learning Objectives

After 6.033, the students will be able to design their own distributed systems to solve real-world problems. The ability to design one's own distributed system includes an ability to argue for one's design choices.

This primary objective is supported by a few others:

Because 6.033 is a CI-M class, students will also learn to communicate in forms that are common in the field of computer systems. This includes written design reports, oral presentations, and peer review. The communication instruction also supports the primary learning objective of designing systems. In the real world, we design systems in teams, and communication of many forms (written, oral, etc.) is part of that process.

Prerequisites: 6.004 and 6.009
Units: 5-1-6
Requirements satisfied: CI-M for Course 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-P, and 18-C

Textbook: 6.033 uses Saltzer and Kaashoek's
Principles of Computer System Design: An Introduction (Morgan Kaufmann 2009). The text supplements the lectures and recitations; it should be your first resource when you are confused by a lecture topic, or want more information. If you notice errors of any kind in the 6.033 text, from minor typos to major blunders, please report them by e-mail to saltzer@mit.edu and kaashoek@mit.edu.

You can find PDFs with corrections to the printed and online textbook here. A more up to date version of the Part II errata is here.

Course Structure and Philosophy

6.033 has three components: lectures, recitations, and tutorials. Each are integral to the class, and each serve a different purpose. We are intentional about using active learning techniques across all components of the class, as we have found them to improve participation and engagement. You can read more about that here and here, if you're interested.


Lectures are held on Mondays and Wednesdays from 2:00pm-3:00pm. They will be broadcast live on zoom, and recordings will be posted later in the day for those who cannot attend live. The lectures are designed to teach students the technical details necessary to design their own systems and to put those details in larger contexts: both the contexts of a specific area of systems as well as systems in general.

This type of material appears in lectures because that's what lectures are good at: giving a higher-level context for the details of the class.


Recitations are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays (schedule below). We will assign you a permanent section during the first week of class.

Recitations are designed to give students a chance to practice their system-analysis and oral communication skills. Each recitation revolves around a particular paper in systems. Through reading these papers, students get a better sense of how communication in the field is done. Recitations are discussion-based; students get practice analyzing, critiquing, and communicating about systems.

Writing Tutorials

Writing tutorials are held on Fridays (schedule below). We will assign you timeslot during the first week of classes.

Most of these tutorials will teach the communication theory and practices of this course, and assist you in preparing for the assignments, particularly the design project. You'll become fluent in a variety of communication genres, develop strategies and skills needed to present technical concepts to different audiences, learn how to use writing to develop and deepen your technical understanding—and get specific, directed instruction on writing and presenting your 6.033 assignments.

Equal Access

The staff of 6.033 is committed to the principle of equal access. We encourage you to meet with Dr. LaCurts to discuss your disability-related needs, including accommodations which you may need in order to fully access this course.


6.033 consists of three components: technical material, communication/system design and analysis, and participation. Each of these components comprises roughly one third of your grade, according to the following breakdown:

35%:Technical Material
30% for Exams (two @ 15% each)
5% for Hands-ons
40%:Communication + System design and analysis
5% for the DP prep assignment
10% for DP preliminary report + DP presentation
20% for DP report
5% for the DP peer review
20% for recitation participation
5% for communication participation
You must complete all team design project assignments (preliminary report, presentation, final report) in order to pass 6.033. If you do not, you will automatically receive an F.

Grade Components

Each assignment supports the objectives of 6.033 in various ways.

Technical Material

Exams: One exam is held during the term. A second exam will be scheduled during finals week. Each exam will focus on half of the class' material, but keep in mind that later topics in 6.033 build heavily upon the earlier topics. The exams will test material from lectures, recitations, and the assigned reading, and let us test whether students have mastered the technical material.

Hands-ons: During some weeks, you will be expected to complete a hands-on experiment that requires a computer and sometimes the Internet. These assignments reinforce some of the abstract concepts from the lectures or papers that week, and let you find out how things really work.

Communication + System design and analysis

The 6.033 staff have worked with the MIT Writing, Rhetoric, and Professional Communication (WRAP) program for more than ten 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: preliminary reports, final reports, and presentations. Communication assignments are designed to help you conceptualize and develop the design project.

Design Project

The primary assignment in 6.033 is the design project (DP). This project is where the students get to design their own system, which is the primary objective of this course.

The DP requires you to develop a detailed system design to solve a real-world problem. This project will extend over most of the semester, and will be done in teams of three students, all of whom attend the same writing tutorial (with exceptions only for extenuating circumstances). Real-world systems are not built individually; it's always a team effort. Part of the DP is to learn to work productively and effectively in this setting. We will give you tools for doing so in the writing tutorials.

The DP consists of multiple deliverables: a prep assignment, preliminary report, oral presentation, final report, and peer review. The Design Project page gives more detail about the DP deliverables, team assignments, etc.


Recitation Participation

Our recitations are discussion-based, and we expect you to be engaged and participate. Participating in a recitation means:

We will assign the participation grade at the end of the semester. So that you know where you stand throughout the class, we will you three preliminary participation grades (one about a quarter into the semester, one about halfway through, and one three quarters into the semester). We know that getting graded on participation can be stressful in some ways, so we've put together some more details to explain more about our philosophy and how you'll be graded.

Communication Participation

A portion of your participation grade will also be based on your participation in writing tutorials and on your understanding of communication concepts and skills, as demonstrated by your work on the design project and evaluated by your communication instructor.

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

Late Policy

If you're unable to hand in an assignment on time, or unable to attend an exam, please talk to Dr. LaCurts. We'll work with you and S3 to come up with a plan. Note that some of the design-project materials have their own late policy, which will be explicitly posted on each assignment.

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 project. Unless otherwise specified, assignments are due at 5:00pm on their assigned due-date (hands-ons are due at 11:59pm).

Recitation + Tutorial Schedule

Your recitation and tutorial sections will be assigned during the first week of class. Please don't email us asking if you can be in a specific section! We will send you an email to ask for your schedule input.

Recitation Schedules

All recitation sections meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The times specified are in the Eastern timezone.

Time Recitation # Instructor TA
8:00am-9:00am 1 Mark Day Avital Baral
9:00am-10:00am 2 Mark Day Avital Baral
3 Henry Corrigan-Gibbs Amir Farhat
10:00am-11:00am 4 Henry Corrigan-Gibbs Amir Farhat
5 Karen Sollins Yunyi Zhu
6 Howard Shrobe Felipe Monsalve
11:00am-12:00pm 7 Karen Sollins Amir Farhat
8 Howard Shrobe Felipe Monsalve
9 John Feser Rachel Wei
10 Mohammad Alizadeh Yunyi Zhu
12:00pm-1:00pm 11 John Feser Rachel Wei
12 Mohammad Alizadeh Yunyi Zhu
13 Sam DeLaughter Nick Kaashoek
1:00pm-2:00pm 14 Sam DeLaughter Nick Kaashoek
15 Mike Cafarella Christabel Sitienei
2:00pm-3:00pm 16 Mike Cafarella Christabel Sitienei
17 Farnaz Jahanbakhsh Wesley Woo
3:00pm-4:00pm 18 Farnaz Jahanbakhsh Wesley Woo
19 Hari Balakrishnan Ming Wang
4:00pm-5:00pm 20 Hari Balakrishnan Ming Wang
7:00pm-8:00pm 21 Larry Rudolph Phi Xu
8:00pm-9:00pm 22 Larry Rudolph Phi Xu

Tutorial Schedules

All tutorial sections meet on Fridays at the specified time.

Time Tutorial # Instructor
8:00am-9:00am 1 Jessie Stickgold-Sarah
9:00am-10:00am 2 Atissa Banuazizi
1:00pm-2:00pm 3 David Larson
4 Juergen Schoenstein
5 Keith Clavin
6 Laura McKee
7 Michael Trice
8 Amy Carleton
9 Rebecca Thorndike-Breeze
2:00pm-3:00pm 10 Michael Trice
11 Amy Carleton
12 Rebecca Thorndike-Breeze
13 Andreas Karatsolis
14 Thomas Pickering
15 Michael Maune
3:00pm-4:00pm 16 Mary Caulfield
17 Michael Maune
18 Linda Sutliff
7:00pm-8:00pm 19 Michael Maune


You may not collaborate on exams. On hands-ons, it's okay to discuss ideas with your classmates, but you should not be collaborating on the actual answers. Take the UNIX hands-on for example: it's okay to talk to your classmates about what pipes are, it's not okay to work together to come up with a command that gives a long listing of the smallest give files in the /etc directory whose name contains the string ".conf", sorted by increasing file size (i.e., the solution to one of the first questions).

On all writing 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.


To contact the course staff as a whole, please use Piazza unless you need to email a staff member individually. You can post a private question on Piazza if you do not want your communication to be visible to the other students in the class.

Role Name Email
Lecturer Katrina LaCurts
Recitation Instructors Mohammad Alizadeh
Hari Balakrishnan
Henry Corrigan-Gibbs
Michael Cafarella
Mark Day
Samuel DeLaughter
John Feser
Farnaz Jahanbakhsh
Larry Rudolph
Howard Shrobe
Karen Sollins
WRAP Instructors Atissa Banuazizi
Amy Carleton
Mary Caulfield
Keith Clavin
Andreas Karatsolis
Dave Larson
Michael Maune
Laura McKee
Thomas Pickering
Juergen Schoenstein
Jessie Stickgold-Sarah
Linda Sutliff
Rebecca Thorndike-Breeze
Michael Trice
Avital Baral
Johnny Bui
Amir Farhat
Nick Kaashoek
Evan Kim
Felipe Monsalve
Christabel Sitienei
Ming Wang
Rachel Wei
Wesley Woo
Phi Xu
Yunyi Zhu
Jay Lang
Joshua Lee
Meenal Parakh
Katherine Xiao
Yang Yan