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Data Structures and Algorithms are generally considered two of the hardest topics to learn in Computer Science. They are a must-have for any programmer. I don’t mean to scare you, but it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to master these topics. That said, how long does it take?

If you spend about 3 to 4 hours a day learning and understanding data structures and algorithms, it might take you about 6 to 8 weeks to learn. However, there is no specific timetable for how long you will be able to learn data structures and algorithms since it still depends on you and your pacing.

learning data structures

In this article, we’ll take you through some commonly asked questions and then provide you with some fantastic courses and programs that will help you create a solid background in algorithms and data structures.

Is it hard to learn data structures and algorithms?

We live in a day and age where the digital world very much controls most of the different day-to-day processes that we have in our normal lives.

Of course, the way the digital world is governed is through the use of computers that they themselves are programmed using data structures and algorithms that are created by humans. But what are data structures and algorithms?

Basically, if you want to get something done by a computer, the one thing you need to do is to find a way to teach the computer how to get that thing done.

That is where algorithms come into play as they are basically there to explain to the computer what to do using step-by-step tasks that the computer will automatically follow when certain conditions are met.

They are basically instructions such that, when the computer sees that a condition was met for a certain instruction, it will follow the corresponding instructions for that condition.

Algorithms and data structures are basically the foundation of the digital world as they are what allow computers to function.

The algorithms are there to tell the computer what to do while the data structures work hand in hand as they store and organize data that will be used by various algorithms.

There are even some cases where the algorithms are so closely reliant on data structures.

So, now that you know the basic gist of what data structures and algorithms are, you may wonder if learning these topics and developing the skill to be good at data structures and algorithms is challenging.

Well, to be frank, the truth is that learning data structures and algorithms is actually hard.

The reason why this topic can be quite challenging is that you need to have a basic knowledge of computer science and programming.

You need to start from the bottom first before you get to learn more about the advanced parts of how to do basic programming.

If you are basically starting from scratch, it would be very difficult for you to try to learn data structures and algorithms when you don’t know the first thing about the fundamentals of programming.

Another reason learning data structures and algorithms can be quite challenging is that it also boils down to how good you are at solving problems yourself and how you can connect the dots backward when you pinpoint certain problems.

Even if you know all the basic codes and have the fundamental and advanced programming skills needed to learn data structures and algorithms, you might still end up struggling if you don’t have the necessary skills at solving problems.

You need to understand the real-life applications of the codes or the algorithm for you to find workarounds that can help make learning this topic easy for you.

Another challenge is that you need to develop your skills in coding as well.

Coding shouldn’t be too difficult if you understand the basics of how to do it but it can be pretty challenging for first-time coders who are yet to learn how to use programming languages such as C++, Java, and Python.

Most of these languages are taught in basic computer science courses but there are some that may have forgotten how to use them or are simply not skilled at using the different codes in these languages.

Of course, you also need to learn and understand the concepts of data structures and algorithms to actually know how to use them.

Fundamentals such as time and space complexity analysis, big O notation, recursion, basic data structures such as arrays, matrices, linked lists, stacks, queues, trees, and basic algorithms such as searching algorithms and sorting algorithms are things you need to master before you actually get to understand more about data structures and algorithms.

So expect that learning data structures and algorithms will be challenging for those who are starting from scratch.

Even those who already have the fundamental skills may struggle to learn data structures and algorithms if they don’t understand the basic gist or if they lack the necessary problem-solving skills.

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That’s why learning data structures and algorithms might not be for everyone, but you can still learn these topics as long as you dedicate yourself by starting all the way from the bottom while steadily moving your way up to the more advanced skills and concepts.

How long does it take to learn data structures and algorithms?

For those who are interested in learning data structures and algorithms, it can be possible for you to learn these topics in 6 to 8 weeks if you dedicate at least 3 hours of studying and practicing on a daily basis.

That is, of course, if you are dedicated and disciplined enough to actually set aside 3 to 4 hours of daily reading, studying, and practicing just to learn and become good at data structures and algorithms.

However, the advice of most experts is that you should never give yourself a timetable to learn certain topics such as data structures and algorithms, especially if you are someone starting from scratch.

Instead, pacing yourself is the key here because you need to make sure that you understand all of the concepts of how data structures and algorithms work so that you can steadily move on from learning one skill to another.

And for those who are basically starting from scratch, you need to dedicate some time to learning how to code and use different programming languages while also taking on different programming challenges that can help improve the way you solve and troubleshoot problems.

Understanding basic coding is what will ultimately equip you with the knowledge and skills you need to learn data structures and algorithms.

And once you have learned and practiced how to code using different programming languages and by solving programming challenges and problems, you might be ready enough to learn data structures and algorithms.

That said, if you are a newbie who is yet to equip yourself with prior knowledge of programming, data structures, and algorithms, you need to temper your expectations because it might take more than a few months for you to learn these topics even if you are dedicated enough.

It is better to pace yourself than to rush the process unless you are trying to meet a deadline.

But remember that data structures and algorithms are usually one entire course for computer science majors.

That means that you would have to make sure that you properly equip yourself with the basics first before you actually try to learn these topics.

And learning the basics will certainly take up time, especially if you are starting out from nothing.

learning data structures

What is the best way to learn data structures and algorithms?

Still, even though it might take up time and a lot of effort for you to learn data structures and algorithms, there are time-efficient and effective ways you can use to learn these topics.

This can be great for those who are pressed for time and are trying to meet a certain deadline to learn data structures and algorithms.

That said, here are some good tips that may be able to help you learn data structures and algorithms fast and effective enough:

  1. Grasp the basics and make sure that you understand them well enough before you try to learn the more advanced concepts and topics.
  2. Try to understand how data structures and algorithms work by knowing what happens and knowing what their purposes are. If you don’t know their purpose and what happens in data structures and algorithms, it might be nearly impossible for you to learn them.
  3. Learn how algorithms work by working out the different steps involved in algorithms. Try to use examples that are meant for beginners.
  4. Understand the importance of complex analysis when it comes to data structures and algorithms.
  5. Enroll yourself in different online courses that are not only there to help you understand the basics but also teach you the ins and outs of data structures and algorithms.
  6. If you are starting from scratch, enroll in online courses for basic programming first. You can also take different programming challenges that can help improve your coding skills and problem-solving abilities.
  7. Try taking on different problem-solving challenges that are meant for developing your skills and understanding of data structures and algorithms.
  8. Do not hesitate to try to read tutorials on how to solve different programming challenges that you can’t understand. Reading the tutorials will allow you to understand the step-by-step process in solving these problems so that you can implement the same process later when you encounter similar problems.

If you are looking for some great online learning platforms, here are the ones we recommend:

    1. CourseraAlgorithms SpecializationData Structures and Algorithms SpecializationAlgorithms, Part IAlgorithms, Part II
    2. MIT Open CoursewareIntroduction to Algorithms
    3. Khan AcademyAlgorithms
    4. UdacityIntro to AlgorithmsIntro to Data Structures and AlgorithmsData Structures and AlgorithmsIntroduction to Graduate AlgorithmsComputability, Complexity & Algorithms
    5. edXAlgorithms: Design and Analysis, Part 1Algorithms: Design and Analysis, Part 2Algorithms and Data StructuresAlgorithmic Design and TechniquesAlgorithm Design and AnalysisGraph Algorithms

You can also use visualizing platforms to understand more about how algorithms work. Here are some of our recommendations:

  1. Data Structure Visualization
  2. VisuAlgo
  3. Animated Algorithms

And if you want to take on some different programming challenges, try these out:

  1. Project Euler
  2. HackerRank
  3. CodeChef
  4. Coderbyte
  5. Exercism
  6. Codewars
  7. LeetCode

Conclusion

Learning data structures and algorithms isn’t supposed to be something that’s easy. It isn’t also something that won’t take up time for you to learn.

If learning data structures and algorithms or even programming, in general, was something that is easy and quick to do, then everyone would be doing it.

However, by equipping yourself with the basics while also putting in the necessary time and effort to develop the necessary skills and to understand how these concepts work, you may be able to learn data structures and algorithms in due time.

Just make sure that you are pacing yourself the right way and that you are not rushing the process. After all, learning something will always take time.