Burn Rate

Surviving NYU's Hardest CS Class: Part II


If you’re lucky, your professor won’t do a lot of assembly. However, sometimes you pull the short straw. Fortunately even when professors do cover assembly, it’s not in a whole lot of depth.

When I had to learn assembly, what I figured out was to not think of assembly as a high level language that you can just skim and understand the gist. Instead, it’s kinda like a really complicated version of the cups and the balls. You have to keep track of how the memory is flowing and which register has which variable. Sometimes the compiler does some tricky sleight of hand and you have to puzzle out what just happened.

Another important thing to remember is that assembly is just another programming language. You can run it, you can generate it, you can debug it, etc. A good way to read assembly is to write some C, compile it with the -S flag and look at the assembly. The Godbolt compiler explorer is a nice interactive tool for this as well.


Start the labs early. I definitely had to use some grace days to submit some of my labs. Even if just the thought of the labs stresses you out, just try to take the smallest peek at the problem statement. Even if it’s just looking at the README and jotting down a couple notes, that’ll go a long long way.

Depending on your professor and their views on collaboration, you might want to work with a partner. Even if your professor doesn’t look kindly on collaborating on code, you can still talk to each other about techniques and ideas.

All the standard advice for hard courses applies. Talk to your professor. Go to tutoring. Go to office hours. Find a study buddy.

Buy a print copy of the textbook. Yeah, it’s likely you won’t read it, but it’s even less likely that you’d read the PDF version. You can’t flip through a PDF and print books don’t have Facebook or Reddit on them to distract you. A good trick is to find international editions of the book. I usually try to find the Indian version, as it’s significantly cheaper (under 20 dollars) and the same exact material.

This is extremely optional and not recommended unless you have the free time, but I’d consider learning a little Rust. Rust is a very interesting systems language that enforces a lot of rules about memory at compile time. It’s kind of like working with an extremely anal programmer who forces you to follow the rules with memory. If you can pick up some Rust, I guarantee you’ll get better at thinking about memory and how to manage it. Plus it’s just a fun language.

Congratulate yourself: you’ve read this advice and are now on the path to passing CSO! Good luck!

— Nicholas Yang

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