What sets apart an average programmer from a good programmer is the ability to write the most optimised codes. For this ability to be developed, one must have a strong foundation in the topic of Data Structures and Algorithms. The importance of mastering this topic cannot be emphasised enough, especially if you aim to get placed at an excellent product-based company.
However, as a beginner, there are sure to be obstacles and confusions on how to get good at data structures and algorithms. This article will address this concern and give you tips on how to master DSA for beginners perfectly.
You can also check out our video on “How I got good at data structures and algorithms”, in which Parikh Jain, Founding Member and Instructor at Coding Ninjas, shares tips that helped him in his journey of mastering Data Structures and Algorithms.
Where to begin?
If you are a beginner and thinking about starting data structures and algorithms, the first thing you need is to have mastered a programming language. Data structures and algorithms are not just theory. You must simultaneously implement your learning in the form of codes while learning data structures. Thus it is crucial to pick one programming language and master it before moving on to data structures.
Which programming language do I pick?
The next concern you might have is which language to pick. To decide this, you must be clear about the fact that a programming language is merely a medium of communication with the computer. The important thing is to stick to one language and master it.
Do not jump boats. This being said, it is true that a majority of competitive programmers use C/C++ because of its unmatchable speed and wide usage. So you will have a wide range of resources to help you if you choose C/C++.
Tips to get better at DSA for beginners
Finally, once you have mastered a programming language, it will be time to dive into data structures and algorithms. Here are some tips and tricks that will help you to maximise your learning of DSA for beginners.
1. Investment of Time
Mastering anything requires patience, discipline and effort. Data Structures and Algorithms is one topic that will need you to invest a reasonable amount of time if you want to get good at it genuinely. As Parikh Jain says in his video, he decided to invest the next eight months in mastering DSA before starting. During these eight months, he only kept his focus on DSA.
Thus, do not keep the mindset that you need to complete it all and be done with it hurriedly. Know that investing your time and energy in this topic will give you the best results and significant advantages throughout your programming career.
2. Have strong fundamentals
I am sure each one of us has heard about this phrase at some point in life – Have strong fundamentals. It might sound cliché, but yields fruit sweeter than ever if adopted in life. “Success lies in a masterful consistency around the fundamentals.”, a quote by Robin Sharma is something I constantly repeat to myself.
So do not hesitate to spend more time clearing your basics because, finally, these are what will set you apart from an average programmer.
3. Don’t be afraid to carry out Dry Runs
Many of us might skip dry runs just because it takes too much time and effort. But as I said, to master DSA, you must prepare to put in significant time and effort. Dry runs refer to going through the whole code taking a starting test case. Understand what happens for i=1, i=2, i=3 and so on for each step.
Take an example and run the code in your head. For this, pen and paper are your best friends. You must carry out dry runs by writing in your notebook. The minimum you can do is to carry out dry runs for two problems from each topic.
This practice will develop your logical thinking in extraordinary ways and help you understand your code better.
4. Slow but effective wins the race
As a beginner, you must not be afraid of spending too much time writing the code. What you must keep in mind is to understand every line of code that you write. When you have just started, it will not be possible for you to write super-optimised code. Thus, initially, you need to learn by writing lots of code slowly. Then, with practice, you will start making observations on how you can make your code more optimised.
So remember, slow but effective wins the race.
5. I, me, myself and DSA [Do not compare with them]
Do not compare yourself with others. You should not be concerned with how much someone else has done or how good he has done it. You should only be concerned with yourself and DSA. Keep your focus on the topic without worrying about whether you are behind others or weaker than them. Give yourself time to master it at your own pace.
The final outcome that we seek is to be a master of DSA for beginners. Comparing with others will only hamper your progress to fulfil this outcome. So remember it is just I, me, myself and DSA until you master it.
6. Take regular breaks
Doing too much at a stretch just lowers your productivity. Know when to say to yourself that you deserve a break. Getting rejuvenated after a long session of hard work is immensely important. Especially while doing advanced topics, make sure you take a break after accomplishing a certain target.
This being said, make sure you don’t elongate your break too much because that will just disrupt your flow and might require you to go through old topics again. Thereby, just putting your earlier investments to waste.
7. Balance between old and new topics.
This might be tricky but is an important practice. Make sure you don’t keep stuck to one topic. You’ve got to keep moving forward. A good way to maintain a proper balance is through evaluating old topics while doing new topics. Once you’ve moved on to another topic, give a test of an older topic. That will help you stay in touch with the syllabus you have completed and result in longer retention.
8. Single source of learning
Get into one boat and stay in it. Don’t step in multiple boats at once. It will only result in a fall. Explore a few sources, choose one and stick to it. You can consider taking one of the innumerable courses available on the internet or you could learn from free resources like YouTube videos.
If you require a clearly defined and structured path, the former is always better. You can also check out Coding Ninjas’ expert-designed courses to learn DSA for beginners and more.
9. Don’t have a placement mindset during the learning phase
We know that the motivation behind learning data structures is getting placed at a good product-based company for most of us. But it is important to forget this while you’re learning. You should not be concerned about which questions are important for which company and so on.
Instead, your focus must stay on getting good at data structures. Only once you’ve mastered it, you can start exploring interview problems and experiences.
10. Stay in touch with DSA
It is important that even after you have entirely mastered DSA, you stay in touch with it. Fix a couple of hours every week that you must dedicate to solving DSA questions. This way you’ll keep getting better at it which will assist you in improving your skills at whatever you choose to do next.
Moreover, the retention will significantly improve. This will be helpful when you revise the concepts later before your interviews.
So here were ten tips which if you follow, will boost your skills at DSA. To get a complete guide on the preparation of DSA for beginners, you can refer to our article on “How to prepare Data Structures for Interviews”.
Frequently Asked Questions
To start learning DSA, first, master a programming language of your choice and then start with understanding the basic concepts while implementing it simultaneously in the form of codes. Opt for a course or some free resources online to get a structured path.
DSA requires a significant investment of time and effort. It can take you anywhere from 4-8 months to truly master it. The important thing is to put in the time and effort.
There are various free resources available on the internet to learn DSA. One of the most referred to is YouTube Videos.
There are many resources available over the internet both free and paid. Opting for proper courses helps you have a structured path to move on and not get distracted. But if you prefer learning from free resources like YouTube videos, that’s up to you.
Platforms like Coding Ninjas offer courses that are expert-designed and give you a curated learning experience. Apart from these, free resources like YouTube videos are always available.
Data structures and algorithms is a concept that helps you produce optimised codes. It helps you learn how to store and organise data in the most optimised manner possible. For this, we study types of data structures like arrays, linked lists, trees, graphs etc. in addition to several algorithms.
In this article, we started with a discussion about how it is vital to master DSA. Next, we moved to plan a path for DSA for beginners. Starting with addressing the confusion about which programming language to pick, we moved to provide you with ten tips to help you get better at DSA.
By Khushi Sharma