How to get help

This is a university course, so you are expected to attend labs, then use your study and research skills to figure most things out for yourself. But getting very stuck and frustrated is a waste of time.

There are several places to get help with this course:

General computing questions

  1. Look at the links on the class home pages - they'll develop as the course goes on.
  2. Web search. There are a huge number of pages on basic CS and C programming out there, from introductions for absolute beginners to extremely detailed material for experts. Learn to use this resource well.

SFU computer system questions

  1. SFU Computing Science Instructional Labs (CSIL) home page.
  2. Send email to

Questions about your personal computer system

  1. Your personal computer support provider.
  2. Your friends.
  3. Not your professor or TAs: they don't know anything about your computer, and will just tell you to go to the lab instead, where everything is laid on for you. Trouble with your laptop is not an excuse for not making progress on assignments, since everything is available in the lab.

Questions specific to the class

  1. Use the class discussion mailing list - see instructions below - these messages can be read by all students, the TAs and the instructor.
  2. Discuss the issue with a TA at a regular lab session or TA office hours shown on class home page.
  3. If this doesn't resolve the issue, come to the instructor office hours shown on the class home page.

Personal academic problems

Email an instructor directly or come to office hours if posted (see class home page).

Using the class mailing list

You must use the class mailing list to ask questions about the course, assignments, labs, etc. Before posting, check the archive in case your question was already answered.

Do not ask questions that can be answered by reading the web site or project instructions, by asking the person sitting next to you, or by a quick Google search and some reading.

The instructor and TAs will read messages sent to the list, but please help out your classmates by answering questions yourselves. Do not post homework solutions: only general advice should be given.

The instructors will not reply to your mails right away. This strategy has two purposes:

  1. It gives your classmates and TAs a chance to help you out first.
  2. It means we can handle requests in batches to combine similar requests and keep the overhead manageable.

Advice on asking questions by email

Remember that many busy people will get your messages. You are more likely to get helpful responses if you follow the advice below.

This is particularly important when mailing the TAs or instructor directly. Remember, they probably already have an inbox full of questions, and if your mail is rude or doesn't contain enough information it is likely to get very low priority.

Suitable mailing list posts

Unsuitable mailing list posts


A well-known programmer trick is to explain your problem out loud to a teddy bear. The process of setting out a problem clearly to a dumb, non-judgmental assistant can often reveal solutions or new things to check. It can really work. It doesn't have to be a teddy, but if things get really tough you may need a hug.

If you need to ask for help, be polite and informative and remember that your message goes to the entire class.

Richard Vaughan, January 2014, updated January 2015.