Graduate Algorithms – Experience

I completed Graduate Algorithms course (CS 8803) as part of my OMSCS program during Fall 2018. It was an interesting and really informative course.

The main topics covered in the course include dynamic programming; divide and conquer, including FFT; randomized algorithms, including RSA cryptosystem and hashing using Bloom filters;  graph algorithms; max-flow algorithms; linear programming; and NP-completeness.

Course website

Of these, I had not studied FFTs and max-flow algorithms during my undergrad. Also, though I had studied basic DP (dynamic programming) in my undergrad (KnapSack, Matrix multiplication etc.) and had prepared some more for tech interviews, I had never really had a rigorous formal training on DP before. This course had sufficient course work (home-works and exams) with the focus on building that DP intuition that I really liked.

The course text was Algorithms by Dasgupta, Papadimitriou and Vazirani. It is a really good, concise introduction to most advanced algorithm topics. It is especially good as a textbook for colleges because you can realistically expect students to read from cover to cover unlike say Introductions to Algorithms by Cormen, which is better suited as a long term reference manual. My one gripe with the course was that it did not cover the last chapter from Dasgupta, on Quantum Computing.

The course grading breakdown was as follows:

  • Homeworks: 5%
  • Project: 10%
  • Midterms: (two) 25% each
  • Final exam: 35%

The midterms and final exam were closed book 3-hour exams. The bulk of the grade (85%) was from these. There were 8 home-works, spaced roughly once a week which added up to just 5%. These usually involve 4-5 questions which would require you to write your solution in pseudo-code (only in case of DP) or in plain English. One might think that doing the home-works is just not worth the effort. However, I cannot over emphasize how important and helpful to the exams these were.

Another thing that I am ever grateful to the homeworks is for introducing me to Latex. Till now, though I had heard that Latex is pretty good for writing technical documents, I never really had a good use-case or forcing function to make me learn it. The HWs usually involved formulas, bigO complexities, pseudo-code, matrices etc. This gave me a really good opportunity to learn Latex. Its amazing!

While we are on the topic of Latex, if it is something that interests you, may I suggest the Emacs plugin for Latex? I used the Spacemacs latex layer. Among other things, it provides previewing the rendered doc in Emacs itself (SPC m p p)!

The TAs and the Professor were prompt on answering queries on Piazza and office hours. The grading turn-around times were also really fast. Overall, I really enjoyed the course. My ratings:

  • Difficulty: 4/5
  • Rating: 4.5/5

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