We would fail to write bubble sort on a whiteboard… Should we be proud?

Recently there was very interesting activity on the Twitter where famous programmers just admitted they are very bad at Computer Science (CS) and other fundamental concepts and still doing very well.

Now, this is very interesting. To me, this is just another manifestation, that knowledge has a little value today. Everything can be easily Googled in a very short time. Yes, the search takes some time, but it is much more efficient than trying to learn and remember all the details of CS and technology concepts. And I also admit: I would fail to write bubble sort on a whiteboard and estimate my algorithms’ complexity while being a successful developer for more than a decade now.

But one may come to the (I believe wrong) conclusion that it is ok to be unable to estimate the algorithm’s complexity and not to understand the essence of fundamental algorithms and their complexities. Algorithms are the methods for solving problems of procedural nature while design patterns are the methods to solve software structural problems and I would argue both are the very basics of software engineering. If you do not know these methods, when you are tackling the tough problem, you basically don’t know what you don’t know. You are unable to discover that your problem can be reduced to one of those fundamental problems and there is already an elegant solution to it. I definitely see my ignorance in CS as a problem and I am currently deliberately studying algorithms :-). And also clean code, which I always enjoy learning and practicing.

Here is what John Sonmez experience was after having learned algorithms:

All of a sudden it was like I put on special glasses that let me see the world in a different light and all these problems, all these places where I was like there’s nowhere in the real world where I’m going to use algorithms in my code, bam, it was popping up everywhere. It’s like, “Whoa! Look! Oh, I recognize this. This is like a min-max problem.” Bam! All of these places I started writing really efficient, really good code because I could see the problems.

I can also see the pain when job interviewers start asking puzzles and algorithms stuff. I hate it. If you want a job you are stressed already and now you have to focus, concentrate and tackle the tough problem at the blackboard as if you would do it at your real work! Problem-solving is very creative activity and It can not be done effectively under stress because the brain actually focuses on security aspect first and foremost. I don’t know how to replace this practice, but it is total evil to me. Interviewers, please, don’t do it to us, developers, unless the job requires this type of skill and knowledge. Pretty interesting article on the related topic from Yegor Bugayenko. But since interviewers still continue asking, maybe realizing the importance of fundamentals, we should be prepared!

Hence, if you have some spare time and you have a choice either to learn some new cool JavaScript framework, which will be forgotten in few years or some of the algorithms or design patterns which will serve you throughout all your career, I believe it is better to select last option.


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