COM SCI 180

Introduction to Algorithms and Complexity

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Mark Burgin Full Profile > 3.7 Overall 2.3 Easiness 3.0 Workload 3.7 Clarity 4.0 Helpfulness
TL;DR This instructor is horrible. If you can, please avoid him at all cost. At least for his CS 180. ================================================... (Summer Quarter 2016)
Mark Burgin See Full Profile

Overall 3.7 Easiness 2.3 Workload 3.0 Clarity 3.7 Helpfulness 4.0

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TL;DR
This instructor is horrible. If you can, please avoid him at all cost. At least for his CS 180.
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1. Lectures
His lecture is unorganized. He always uses confusing notations to cover algorithms, and he never gives us an example to actually apply those algorithms. A lot of students stopped attending lectures because literally it's a waste of 2 hours. He already skipped a lot of materials (possibly due to time constraints) but he is willing to talk about why Noble prize does not include Math for 20 minutes.
2. Materials covered
He skipped a lot of materials. I have a list of comparison of materials covered.
The second column comes from Majid. The third column is available at math department's website: https://www.math.ucla.edu/ugrad/courses/math/182
Dr. Burgin
1.1, 1.2
2.1, 2.2, 2.4
3.1,3.2, 3.5, 3,6
4.1 (part of)
5.1, 5.4
6.1, 6.4 (part of)
7.1, 7.2, 7.5, 7.7
8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4
Majid
1.1
2.1, 2.2, 2.4
3.1, 3.2, 3.5, 3.6
4.1, 4.2, 4.4, 4.5, 4.6, 4.7, 4.8
5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4
6.1, 6.2, 6,4, 6.5, 6.6, 6.8
7.1, 7.2, 7.5, 7.8, 7.9
8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4
Math Department
1.1, 1.2
2.1, 2.2, 2.4
3.1-3.5
4.1, 4.4, 4.5
5.1, 5.2, 5.3, 5.4
6.1, 6.4, 6.5, 6.6
7.1, 7.2, 7.7, 7.9, 7.10, 7.11
8.1, 8.2, 8.3, 8.4?
As you can see, he skipped so many from greedy algorithms and dynamic programming. He also did not cover very important concepts like DAGs until the last lecture. He probably wouldn't cover that at all if no one complained about it to the cs department.
Every time I ask senior students or full-time staffers about algorithms, they always ask me to practice on greedy and dynamic programming. Majid also covered a lot about greedy algorithms and dynamic programming. It is frustrating to see an instructor skipping most widely used types of algorithms in an "introduction to algorithm" class.
I understand that it is an 8-week class and due to time constraint we are not expected to cover as much as a 10-week class. However, he occupied full two hours for every lecture and he was willing to spend 20 minutes (and did not even finish) talking about why Noble prize does not have Math. I do think covering more materials is more important than telling an anecdote. Also, math 182 only has 3 hours in a week, and Majid only covers 1.5 hours max in each lecture.
If we calculate the time here: 20 lectures in a regular quarter for CS 180; Deduce 1 Holiday and 1 midterm -> 18 lectures. Time = 18 * 1.5 = 27 hours.
Then we covert this to get a feel about summer classes: 27 / 2 = 13.5 lectures. In total, we have 8 * 2 = 16 lectures. There is one lecture for midterm and one lecture for final. Then we have 14 lectures.
13.5 < 14
This is simple math. Time should not be an excuse for skipping that many materials.
Also, it's fine if he actually teaches us how those algorithms that he covered work, but the fact is no one understands what he is doing.
Moreover, I have to thank our TAs for covering important topics that Dr. Burgin skipped and for all the interview advices.
3. Homework
3.1 Coverage
There are three homework sets. There are 3 problems (really easy) in homework 1 to practice chapter 1.1 and 2.4. There are 3 problems (really confusing) in homework 2 to practice 4.1, 3.2, 6.4 respectively. There are 2 problems (one really confusing, one really easy) in homework 3 to practice 6.1, 7.1.
As you can see, we do not have enough exercises and he skipped divide and conquer completely.
3.2 Homework specification
The phrasing of homework is really confusing. I understand that he is not a native English speaker, but at least he should specify key things to do homework, right?
For example, in homework 3, problem 1:
Is it a single simple cycle?
Are the weights nonnegative?
We have to ask him after class since his office hours are right after class. For students who have a class right after CS 180, it's unfortunate. If you have those clarifications, please send us emails or post clarifications on piazza, OK??? The whole class are bewildered and have no idea about what homework questions try to ask.
TAs Office Hours are totally useless since TAs, too, have no idea about what his problems mean.
3.3 Homework grading and hand-back
The homework won't be given back to us. We have to ask him to see our homework score one by one, and correct grading issues if possible (actually there are always grading issues due to miscommunications between Dr. Burgin and TAs). Again, students who have a class right after this one really don't have a way to see homework scores and reasons for points taken off.
He made an announcement on week 7 Wednesday about handing back homework and midterms, but the fact is nothing changed. We still need to line up to see our homework and midterms. In fact, I have never been able to see my homework 1 till now.
3.4 Homework solutions
No homework solution is released. If we didn't know how to do those questions before due date, we still don't know how to do them now. In my humble opinion this is not the right way to help students learn materials.
4. Exams
He posted HW2 on July 16th and asked us to do it to prepare for the midterm on July 20th. However, when we have questions about HW2, he wouldn't answer. I went to both TA Office Hours on July 18th and July 19th. Both of them said they had no idea about how to do those HW questions.
On the midterm, there are two really similar questions to ones in HW2. OK, I guess he didn't want to answer those questions because two of them were on the midterm. After the midterm, we asked him about solutions to the midterm, and he said in class "I won't give you answers since you still have HW2."
I am totally confused. An instructor released a homework for students to prepare for the midterm and did not give students solutions to that homework, and then refused to give students solutions to the midterm because the homework used prepare for the midterm was not due yet.
The grading is also ridiculous. The TA for section 1B, Jae, was in the same room when we took the midterm, and Dr. Burgin said that we did not need to prove any property of DFS / BFS. However, Jae took off 2 points for anyone not proving one property of DFS / BFS. He was there when we took the midterm. I have no idea about why he did that. If I had not chosen to skip my M51A lectures to see my midterm, I would have lost those 2 points for ever. 2 points are a huge difference for a non-curved class like this.
The final consists of 3 problems.
1. Knapsack problem. Note he only covered a less generalized version of knapsack problem: subset sum.
2. Network flow. Really easy problem. Just give a counter example.
3. Greedy with exchange argument. I know how to prove using exchange argument, but Dr. Burgin never covered this in his class and majority of students have no clue about how to use exchange argument.
If anyone sit through any other professor's lecture, he or she will be able to do these three problems correctly. However, if you only attended Dr. Burgin's lectures and never really spend time reading necessary chapters from the book, then good luck on your exams.
This class is a total disaster. I paid for nearly 2000 dollars to learn nothing. I have never seen anything more ridiculous in my two years here at UCLA. If you can, please avoid him at all cost. At least for his CS 180.
Grade distribution:
Here is the result from a piazza poll:
A total of 47 vote(s)
17 (36% of users) A
14 (30% of users) B
11 (23% of users) C
3 (6% of users) D
2 (4% of users) Other

Summer Quarter 2016
Eliezer Gafni Full Profile > 1.5 Overall 1.5 Easiness 1.3 Workload 1.7 Clarity 1.8 Helpfulness
Gafni is an incredibly difficult lecturer, in the sense that at the end of each lecture, you feel like you've just wasted 2 hours. Yes, the material is ... (Feb. 26, 2014)
Eliezer Gafni See Full Profile

Overall 1.5 Easiness 1.5 Workload 1.3 Clarity 1.7 Helpfulness 1.8

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Gafni is an incredibly difficult lecturer, in the sense that at the end of each lecture, you feel like you've just wasted 2 hours. Yes, the material is hard, but if you're learning one problem for two hours when instead you could learn it in 5 minutes from wikipedia, it's just frustrating. Teaching by getting the students to come up with the answers themselves is fine, but if you just straight up don't know how to do it and end up spending 30 minutes trying to get them to say something inconsequential, then you need to figure something out. Also, after many years of having less than half the class show up, you figure he'd realize that he's doing something wrong...

Feb. 26, 2014
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Raghu Meka Full Profile > 3.5 Overall 2.1 Easiness 2.1 Workload 3.5 Clarity 3.5 Helpfulness
Meka went through most of the topics on his iPad and Apple Pencil, which basically is an advanced white board. He will post the transcripts immediately ... (Winter Quarter 2017)
Raghu Meka See Full Profile

Overall 3.5 Easiness 2.1 Workload 2.1 Clarity 3.5 Helpfulness 3.5

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Meka went through most of the topics on his iPad and Apple Pencil, which basically is an advanced white board. He will post the transcripts immediately after the class. In general the course is very well organized. There are 3 exams (including the final), which are all roughly equally weighted and are not accumulative. Really necessary to point out that a lot of the comments on Bruinwalks are not fair at all. He is a great professor if you want to take 180 with him.

Winter Quarter 2017
Adam Meyerson Full Profile > N/A Overall N/A Easiness N/A Workload N/A Clarity N/A Helpfulness
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Rafail Ostrovsky Full Profile > 1.9 Overall 1.4 Easiness 1.2 Workload 1.6 Clarity 1.8 Helpfulness
I think both Rafi and Mehka, (180 professors with really bad initial reviews) have gotten a lot better. I've only heard from friends talking about Mehka... (Spring Quarter 2017)
Rafail Ostrovsky See Full Profile

Overall 1.9 Easiness 1.4 Workload 1.2 Clarity 1.6 Helpfulness 1.8

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I think both Rafi and Mehka, (180 professors with really bad initial reviews) have gotten a lot better. I've only heard from friends talking about Mehka, but my experience with Rafi has been fairly positive

Course Breakdown was 15% HW, 40% Midterm, 45% Final. At tenth week, he opted to allow for the midterm to be dropped and the final to be weighted 85% depending on which benefited you more.

I enjoyed Ostrovskys lectures, but I'm aware I'm in the minority. I also know he can sometimes drone on for a long time on tangents. To me, however, he has a clear passion for the material and a silly nerdy sense of humor about it that is entertaining enough to get you through the worst of it. He'll also go fairly slow on concepts, so you can afford to space out in certain discussions.

In terms of difficulty, it's a bit nerve wracking to have two tests determine your grade. However, he does a good job not killing you with what he has on the exams. The algorithm design questions are similar in level to medium level leetcode questions and his proofs check for an overall understanding of the material rather than regurgitation. Studied a lot for the midterm and not as much for the final and did well on both. He will definitely curve you up if you need it.

At the end of the day, I think Ostrovsky is a good professor. Sometimes he can be dry as a lecturer, but follow the book and the TA's and you should be okay. My TA was Arman K who I would recommend since he cleared up a lot of little issues I had when learning. I would definitely take this course again.

Spring Quarter 2017
Majid Sarrafzadeh Full Profile > 3.9 Overall 1.9 Easiness 2.2 Workload 3.9 Clarity 3.5 Helpfulness
Highly recommend him for 180. And this is one of the CS classes that will actually matter when you go to interviews or go into the real world. It's pret... (June 24, 2011)
Majid Sarrafzadeh See Full Profile

Overall 3.9 Easiness 1.9 Workload 2.2 Clarity 3.9 Helpfulness 3.5

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Highly recommend him for 180. And this is one of the CS classes that will actually matter when you go to interviews or go into the real world. It's pretty useful and very interesting.

He gives a lot of helpful examples during lecture and explains them pretty well. However, he doesn't write on the board as often as he should, so pay attention and listen carefully. You MUST go to lecture because he will often give away at least one answer or hint to the exam.

There are weekly homework assignments from the book. They are usually very difficult and very time consuming (although not as time consuming as typical coding project since you are only assigned a few problems). The graders during my quarter were also very tough, at least in the beginning, but the professor seemed to imply that this is not usually the case. Do not copy answers from the "unofficial" PDF solutions manual that some students have. You will get caught. And the answers aren't always right or clearly written anyway. It will do you a great amount of good to try to do the answers yourself or with a group. Having friends in this class is probably crucial because it helps to brainstorm ideas while answering homework or explaining concepts and algorithms when studying. I think this is a big reason why I did well in the class.

Exams are not too difficult as long as you review all of the major topics covered in class. Make sure you know how the major algorithms work and their time complexities. A good way to do this is take notes while reading the book. The book is very crucial in this class and is actually very helpful. He also draws many of his questions from previous exams, so if you can get your hands on those, you'll be good. Thankfully, the graders are pretty lenient on exams (i.e. you don't have to prove everything super thoroughly etc.)

The biggest problem with this class for me was the TA, Sanjam. However, it is likely that you won't have him as your TA since it was his first time TA-ing the class and pretty much everyone disliked him. He was extremely unhelpful and inefficient in passing back homework. I could go on a completely different rant about him, but I won't because this is an evaluation for Sarrafzadeh. Just be careful if you get Sanjam as your TA. Don't even bother going to discussion.

All in all, I felt like this class was very useful and interesting. Sarrafzadeh is also a fair examiner and a rather engaging lecturer (although I can't say I didn't fall asleep in class). As someone else said, he's very nice about questions and doesn't mind re-explaining concepts. Take him for CS 180!

June 24, 2011
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Michael Shindler Full Profile > N/A Overall N/A Easiness N/A Workload N/A Clarity N/A Helpfulness
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