Course Goals

This course should develop students' sense of what really happens when software runs — and that this question can be answered at several levels of abstraction, including the hardware architecture level, the assembly level, the C programming level, and the Java programming level. The core around which the course is built is C, assembly, and low-level data representation, but this is connected to higher levels (roughly how basic Java could be implemented), lower levels (the general structure of a processor), and the role of the operating system (but not how the operating system is implemented).

For (computer science) students wanting to specialize at higher levels of abstraction, this could, in the extreme, be the only course they take that considers the “C level” and below. However, most will take a subset of , , , etc.

For students interested in hardware, embedded systems, computer engineering, computer architecture, etc., this course is the introductory course after which other courses will delve both deeper (into specific topics) and lower (into hardware implementation, circuit design, etc.). Of particular interest are , , , and .

Course Themes

The course has three principal themes:

  • Representation: How different data types (from simple integers to arrays of data structures) are represented in memory, how instructions are encoded, and how memory addresses (pointers) are generated and used to create complex structures.
  • Translation: How high-level languages are translated into the basic instructions embodied in process hardware with a particular focus on C and Java.
  • Control Flow: How computers organize the order of their computations, keep track of where they are in large programs, and provide the illusion of multiple processes executing in parallel.

Course Objectives

At the end of this course, students should:

  • understand the multi-step process by which a high-level program becomes a stream of instructions executed by a processor;
  • know what a pointer is and how to use it in manipulating complex data structures;
  • be facile enough with assembly programming (x86-64) to write simple pieces of code and understand how it maps to high-level languages (and vice-versa);
  • understand the basic organization and parameters of memory hierarchy and its importance for system performance;
  • be able to explain the role of an operating system;
  • know how Java fundamentally differs from C;
  • be more effective programmers (more efficient at finding bugs, improved intuition about system performance).

Course Syllabus

Approximate list of topics:

  • Memory and data representation
  • Number representation for integers and floats
  • Machine code and the C programming language
  • x86-64 assembly language
  • Procedures and stacks
  • Arrays and other data structures
  • Memory and caches
  • Operating system process model
  • Virtual memory
  • Memory allocation
  • Implementation of high-level languages (e.g. Java)

Note that even more important than the topics at various levels of abstraction is the connection between them: students should get an informal sense of how Java could be translated to C, C to assembly, and assembly to binary.

Course Components

The course consists of the following elements:

  • Lectures: There will be 29 lecture meetings held via Zoom. Students will be expected to attend lectures synchronously using Zoom or watch recordings of lectures afterwards. We will make use of PollEverywhere for activities during lecture. Students who are not able to attend at the scheduled lecture times will still be able to get credit for PollEverywhere activities done during lecture.
  • Online Assignments (Homework): There are 23 homework assignments, one roughly every lecture, that will generally be due two lectures later. Homework is done online via Gradescope.
  • Programming Assignments (Labs): There are 6 total labs, due roughly every other week. The CSE VM will have access to the necessary tools. We will use these assignments to reinforce key concepts and will strive to have them be as practical as possible.
  • Reading: We will assign readings and homework problems from the course textbook that correspond to lecture topics. Note: We will be using the (North American) 3rd edition. (list of changes from 2nd edition 2011, Errata) While normally I have a copy of our text on reserve at the Engineering library, this quarter I have requested that an electronic version be on reserve but have not heard back about that. There is a 180 day digital rental available for $34.99 from the UW Bookstore. Additionally, you may find a good C programming language reference quite useful. Examples are Kernighan and Ritchie, The C Programming Language, 2nd edition and Harbison and Steele, C: A Reference Manual, 5th edition.
  • Unit Summaries: For 20sp, instead of two exams, we will have four "Unit Summaries" that are meant to replace the review, summarizing, and reflecting that studying for exams provides. These will be take-home assignments that will be due at four different points in the quarter.

We will try to ensure that the workload is typical for a 4-credit course, namely, 9-12 hours per week outside of the lectures. If we do not succeed, please let us know in whichever way you feel the most comfortable (in-person, email, ) and explain which parts of the course are causing you to spend too much time non-productively.

We have structured the course so that spending a few hours per day will maximize your efficiency. You will work this way in the real world – you cannot cram a three-month design assignment into the last night – so you may as well work this way now. Plus, you will understand the material better. If you leave an assignment for the day before it is due you will not have time to ask questions when (not if) the software misbehaves.


Grading Policies

We will compute your course grade approximately as follows (percentages may be modified):

  • Homework: 30%
  • Labs: 45%
  • Unit Summaries: 15%
  • Participation: 10%


Part of your grade will be determined by your participation in various parts of the course. One goal for 20sp is to provide opportunities to participate in the course asynchronously both for students who may be in a different time zone, and to give everyone more flexibility during these challenging times. In our on-line format for 20sp, we imagine folks will be making more use of our Piazza message board. We will look at participation on Piazza in terms of not only asking questions, but also importantly: answering questions, as well as reading posts from others. We will be be using PollEverywhere for activities during lecture. Students who are not able to attend lecture will still be able to submit answers to PollEverywhere questions asynchronously.

Lecture Polling

You will receive credit for voting on multiple choice questions in lecture. This quarter we will be using , which will be attached to your UWNetID. Make sure you first register your account and then all you will need is an Internet-enabled device during lecture! There is a mobile app available as well. More information can be found at .

These questions are designed to give you a chance to check your understanding of the material by applying it on-the-spot, as well as an opportunity to interact with your classmates. We think attending lecture and answering the questions during lecture is the best way to learn, but we will provide an opportunity for students who cannot attend lecture to get credit for these questions.

Extra Credit

We will keep track of any extra credit items you complete on labs. You won't see these affecting your grades for individual labs, but they will be accumulated over the course and will be used to bump up borderline grades at the end of the quarter.

The bottom line is that these will likely have NO effect on your overall grade (and only a small amount if you are on a borderline). You want to be sure you have completed the non-extra credit portions of the lab in perfect form before attempting any extra credit. They are meant to be fun extensions to the assignments, so if you complete some extra credit it *may* positively impact your overall grade.

Assignment Policies

All assignment submission deadlines have an implied "and zero seconds" attached to them. This means that if your clock reads the deadline time (e.g. "11:59"), then your assignment is late! In addition, online submission can be fickle, so we highly recommend making partial submissions as you go and not waiting until the last (literal) minute to submit.

  • Online assignments (homework) are autograded via Gradescope and late submissions are NOT allowed. You are allowed an unlimited number of attempts for each quiz and you will receive credit for every question that you answer correctly.
  • Programming assignments (labs) are submitted by uploading files to Gradescope assignments. Late lab submissions are subject to the lab late day policy described below. Note that you will sometimes need to submit the same file(s) to the separate extra credit assignments if you would like to have those graded. Labs are graded by a combination of grading scripts and TAs.

Late Day Policy

While turning in assignments on time is the best way to stay on top of the material and on schedule, we realize that 20sp is not a usual quarter and we all may face unexpected challenges. This quarter we are giving each student a total of 7 late days for the entirety of the quarter to utilize on labs and unit summaries (NOT homeworks) should the need arise. Please do not use these casually, as they are meant to provide a buffer to help you get over unexpected events.

  • A late day is defined as the 24 hour period after an assignment's due date: num_late_days = ceil(hours_late / 24).
    • An exception is made for weekends, which count as a single late day. That is, if an assignment is due at 11:59pm on Friday, submitting before Sunday at 11:59pm counts as using only ONE late day (submitting by 11:59pm on Monday would count as using TWO late days).
    • For 20sp: Memorial Day (May 25) will be considered part of the previous weekend. Thus submitting Lab 4 before Monday May 25 at 11:59pm counts as using only ONE late day (submitting by 11:59pm on Tuesday May 26 would count as using TWO late days).
  • All lab and unit summary submissions will close two late days past the original due date. (e.g. If a lab or unit summary is due on a Friday, the last day it will be accepted is Monday at 11:59pm.) No labs or unit summaries will be accepted after two late days past the original due date.
  • For 20sp:
    • Lab 5: A maximum of one late day may be applied to Lab 5. Submitting Lab 5 by Sunday June 7 at 11:59pm will count as using one late day. Lab 5 submissions will close and Lab 5 will NOT be accepted after Sunday June 7 at 11:59pm.
    • Unit Summary 4: Unit Summary 4 may NOT be submitted late.
  • There is no bonus for having leftover late days at the end of the quarter.

What happens if I have used up all my late days? You may still submit any lab or unit summary up to two late days past the original due date (except Lab 5 and Unit Summary 4 as noted above). However, for each late day you use that exceeds the total late days given to you, you will be penalized 20% of your score on one of the items that you submitted late. The penalties will be applied in a manner that maximizes your overall grade (i.e. minimizes your total penalties).

Solutions and Regrades

  • Homework: Solutions will not be provided. Since you are allowed multiple attempts, make sure to go to office hours or talk to classmates if you feel stuck. Tip: Answers will be visible within Gradescope after the due date only to those who have attempted the homework. Please be sure you at least attempt each homework so you can learn from the correct answers.
  • Labs: Solutions will not be provided. Most labs will include testing tools to allow you to evaluate whether or not your solution is likely working. Your lab grades will provide comments for any portion deemed incorrect.

Learning from our mistakes is often one of the most memorable ways of learning and the staff is not immune from making them, too! If you have a question about a graded assignment, please don't hesitate to ask a staff member about it during their office hours or via private post on Piazza. If, after discussing your question, you feel that your work was misunderstood or otherwise should be looked at again to see if an appropriate grade was given, we ask that you submit an electronic regrade request via the interface, which will open and close automatically. Note that when an assignment is regraded, the entire work will be regraded. This means that while it is possible to regain some points, it is also possible to lose points.

  • Homework regrades: These are autograded, but if you believe there might be an error in our answers, please email the instructor or make a private post on Piazza.
  • Lab regrades: Make sure to include a short summary describing why your work should be looked at again.

Academic Conduct

In general, we encourage collaboration, but there is a very fine line between collaboration and cheating. We can learn a lot from working with each other and it can make the course more fun, but we also want to ensure that every student can get the maximum benefit from the material this course has to offer. Keep in mind that the overall goal is for *YOU* to learn the material so you will be prepared for work, job interviews etc. in the future. Cheating turns the assignments into an exercise that is a silly waste of both your time and ours; save us both by not doing it.

Permitted collaboration:

  • Homework: Collaboration and discussion is encouraged (find a homework group!), but you are responsible for understanding the solutions on your own.
  • Labs: Collaboration should be restricted to high-level discussion (i.e. ideas only). A good rule of thumb is that you should never show your own code while helping another student (viewing their code is highly discouraged, as it often leads to problematic situations).

Cheating consists of sharing code or solutions to assignments by either copying, retyping, looking at, or supplying a copy of a file. Examples include:

  • Coaching a friend to arrive at a solution by simply following your instructions (i.e. no thinking involved). An example is helping a friend write a program line-by-line.
  • Copying code from a similar course at another university or using solutions/code on the web, including GitHub.
  • Communicating your solution with another student via electronic or non-electronic means.

Cheating is a very serious offense. If you are caught cheating, you can expect a failing grade and initiation of a cheating case in the University system. Cheating is an insult to the instructor and course staff, to the department and major program, and most importantly, to you and your fellow students. If you feel that you are having a problem with the material, or don't have time to finish an assignment, or have any number of other reasons to cheat, then talk with the instructor. Just don't cheat.

If you are in doubt about what might constitute cheating, send the instructor an email describing the situation and we will be happy to clarify it for you. For more information, you may consult the department's .

Zoom and Privacy

This course is scheduled to run synchronously at your scheduled class time via Zoom. These Zoom lecture sessions will be recorded. The recording will capture the presenter's audio, video and computer screen. Student audio and video will be recorded if they share their computer audio and video during the recorded session. The recordings will only be accessible to students enrolled in the course to review materials. These recordings will not be shared with or accessible to the public. Note: Quiz Sections and Office Hours will be held over Zoom but NOT be recorded.

The University and Zoom have FERPA-compliant agreements in place to protect the security and privacy of UW Zoom accounts. Students who do not wish to be recorded should:

  • Change their Zoom screen name to hide any personal identifying information such as their name or UW Net ID, and
  • Not share their computer audio or video during their Zoom sessions.

Disability Resources

The is a unit within the Division of Student Life and is dedicated to ensuring access and inclusion for all students with disabilities on the Seattle campus. They offer a wide range of services for students with disabilities that are individually designed and remove the need to reveal sensitive medical information to the course staff. If you have a medical need for extensions of assignment deadlines, these will only be granted through official documentation from DRS. Browse to to start the process as soon as possible to avoid delays.

You can refer to the university policies regarding for more information.

Religious Accommodations

Washington state law requires that UW develop a policy for accommodation of student absences or significant hardship due to reasons of faith or conscience, or for organized religious activities. The UW's policy, including more information about how to request an accommodation, is available at . Accommodations must be requested within the first two weeks of this course using the .

Extenuating Circumstances and Inclusiveness

We recognize that our students come from varied backgrounds and can have widely-varying circumstances. If you have any unforeseen or extenuating circumstance that arise during the course, please do not hesitate to contact the instructor in office hours, via email, or private Piazza post to discuss your situation. The sooner we are made aware, the more easily these situations can be resolved. Extenuating circumstances include work-school balance, familial responsibilities, military duties, unexpected travel, or anything else beyond your control that may negatively impact your performance in the class.

Additionally, if at any point you are made to feel uncomfortable, disrespected, or excluded by a staff member or fellow student, please report the incident so that we may address the issue and maintain a supportive and inclusive learning environment. Should you feel uncomfortable bringing up an issue with a staff member directly, you may consider sending or contacting the .