15-110: Principles of Computing (Fall 2021)

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Computing can be defined as the study of computational processes that manipulate information. A computational process is one that can be automated, and thus executed by a computer. Therefore, one of the main underlying questions is: what can be (efficiently) automated? This course aims at introducing the science (and the art) of computing to students with little or no prior background in this subject.

Given the great amount of topics involved in computing, the course will focus on a subset of its core aspects, providing a brief, yet substantial introduction to many concepts. The goal is to provide an idea of what can be automated, and how to realize when it is useful (or, most often, necessary) to employ computation and computers to accomplish a complex goal.

The course will take the student along the way that starts from a complex, possibly large problem to solve, and then move step by step to its abstraction, to its formalization into an algorithmic recipe, to the encoding of the algorithm using the constructs of the python language, to the run-time execution and error correction of the programming code, to the efficiency analysis of the developed algorithm and code.

Learning goals

The Python constructs introduced throughout the course include, but are not limited to:




This is a 10 unit course.

Place and time

Sundays and Tuesdays 14:30 to 15:45 Room 2163 lectures
Thursdays 14:30 to 15:45 Room 2163 labs + quizzes

Schedule (Subject to changes)

In the table below, labs are in blue, exams are in red and the next lecture/lab is orange. Green days are in the past, and grey days have no lectures.


Gianni Di Caro (Teacher)

Office: 1007
Office hours: by appointment
E-mail: gdicaro@cmu.edu

Rama Sulaiman (CA)

Office: ARC/Zoom
Office hours:

  • Sundays: 1:00pm - 2:00pm
  • Tuesdays: 12:00pm - 1:00pm
E-mail: rsulaima@andrew.cmu.edu

Danagul Azimzhanova (CA)

Office: ARC/Zoom
Office hours:

  • Tuesdays: 1:00am - 2:00pm
  • Wednesdays: 1:00pm - 2:00pm
E-mail: dazimzha@andrew.cmu.edu

Andrei-Horia Pacurar (CA)

Office: ARC/Zoom
Office hours:

  • Wednesdays: 4:00pm - 5:00pm
  • Thursdays: 4:00pm - 5:00pm
E-mail: apacurar@andrew.cmu.edu

Nadim Bou Alwan (CA)

Office: ARC/Zoom
Office hours:

  • Sundays: 3:30pm - 4:30pm
  • Tuesdays: 1:00pm - 2:00pm
E-mail: nboualwa@andrew.cmu.edu

Temoor Tanveer (CA)

Office: ARC/Zoom
Office hours:

  • Mondays: 5:00pm - 6:00pm
  • Wednesdays: 5:00pm - 6:00pm
E-mail: ttanveer@andrew.cmu.edu

Zhijie Xu (CA)

Office: ARC/Zoom
Office hours:

  • Mondays: 1:00pm - 2:00pm
  • Thursdays: 8:30pm - 9:30pm
E-mail: zhijiex@andrew.cmu.edu


Homework Assignments

Getting the Assignments

The writeup and starter files for each homework assignment can be found on Autolab. Log in with your andrewID, select the course and then the assignment. You can see the pdf with the instructions by clicking on "View writeup". The starter code and template for typing your answers are in a zip file which can be downloaded by clicking on "Download handout". Uncompressing this file will create the directory <asgn>-handout with the starter code. If you need to download these files again, be careful not to overwrite your work!

We strongly suggest that you create one folder for each assignment inside a folder dedicated for this course on your machine. Submissions containing code from previous assignments, or old code from the current assignment will not be reconsidered.

Submitting the Assignments

You need to submit a .py or a zip file containing the completed solution.

The file with your solution needs to be submitted to Autolab. It will immediately run a series of tests on your code and give you a score with some feedback. Make sure to check it! If your code does not pass all tests, you can submit it again until the deadline. You are limited to a total of 10 submissions for each assignment.

The score received on Autolab may not reflect your final score for the assignment, since the course staff will check the code for style and for code similarity between students, to ensure that you are not violating rules of academic integrity.

Quizzes (in-class)

The text with the questions of each Quiz will be available on Canvas. Log in with your andrewID, select the course and then the Quiz assignment. You will find the pdf with the questions. A paper version of the Quiz will be provided in the classroom.

Quizzes must be answered exclusively using pen and paper! You are not allowed to use devices, computers, books, notes, ...

At the end of the time given for answering the questions, you will use your phone to scan your answers on the paper and you will submit on Canvas the scanned document in a pdf format.


Set up your your programming environment by installing the Anaconda distribution (Pyhton 3.8 version):

The download is big, so make sure you are at a place with fast and reliable internet connection. Once installed, you can start the Anaconda-Navigator and launch from there the Spyder editor, which you will use to develop and test your python code.

We will use Piazza for communications and Q&A. You will receive an email to register in the Piazza course board.


You are expected to comply with the university policy on academic integrity (see also The Word and Understanding Academic Integrity).

Collaboration is regulated by the whiteboard policy: you can bounce ideas about a homework with other students, but when it comes to typing it down for submission, you are on your own. You are not allowed to use notes, files, pictures, etc, from any previous discussion nor previous versions of this course.

We will run a program that detects code similarity on all your homework submissions. If students are found to have submitted almost the same code, they will be contacted and this may result on an academic integrity violation report.

An Invitation to Students with Learning Disabilities:

Carnegie Mellon University is committed to providing reasonable accommodations for all persons with disabilities. To access accommodation services you are expected to initiate the request and submit a Voluntary Disclosure of Disability Form to the office of Health & Wellness or CaPS-Q. In order to receive services/accommodations, verification of a disability is required as recommended in writing by a doctor, licensed psychologist or psycho-educational specialist. The office of Health & Wellness, CaPS-Q and Office of Disability Resources in Pittsburgh will review the information you provide. All information will be considered confidential and only released to appropriate persons on a need to know basis.

Once the accommodations have been approved, you will be issued a Summary of Accommodations Memorandum documenting the disability and describing the accommodation. You are responsible for providing the Memorandum to your professors at the beginning of each semester.

Take Care of Yourself:

Do your best to maintain a healthy lifestyle this semester by eating well, exercising, getting enough sleep and taking some time to relax. This will help you achieve your goals and cope with stress.

All of us benefit from support during times of struggle. You are not alone. There are many helpful resources available on campus and an important part of the college experience is learning how to ask for help. Asking for support sooner rather than later is often helpful.

If you or anyone you know experiences any academic stress, difficult life events, or feelings like anxiety or depression, we strongly encourage you to seek support. Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS-Q) is here to help: call 4454 8525 or make an appointment to see the counselor by emailing student-counselling@qatar.cmu.edu. Consider reaching out to a friend, faculty or family member you trust for help.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or in danger of self-harm, call someone immediately, day or night at 5554 7913. If the situation is life threatening, call 999.