Do I have to be Good at Algorithms to get a Computer Science Degree?

The use of algorithms in computer science may frighten away students who want careers in computing. After all, they are complex and involve using many math skills. Do you really have to understand algorithms to get degrees in the computer science field? To answer the question we need to understand what an algorithm is.

Algorithms are Simply Steps to Solving a Problem.

You can think of it as a “recipe.” When you make your famous banana bread, for example, you first mash the bananas. Then you combine the dry ingredients and mix them with the wet ingredients and finally put the batter into a pan and slip it into the oven at 350 degrees for however long it takes to bake it. That is a simple algorithm in simple English. Now, if you had a robot that would bake your bread, you would repeat these steps to it, but you would write them in the language that computers understand. Computers speak math. You would have to construct a mathematical sequence that would impart the directions for baking banana bread. That sequence is a more complex algorithm. If you wanted not only to bake the bread, but also to wrap it for retail sale and pack a set number of loaves into a case, you would write a longer set of instructions that might result in a combination of algorithms.

Algorithms are Used to Solve Problems more Efficiently.

Suppose you wanted to make a bread using cherries instead of bananas. You could spend hours trying different combinations of ingredients until you found one that worked, or you could remember your banana bread recipe and figure out how to adapt it for cherries. In fact, once you know the banana bread recipe you can make many different fruit breads. The Stack Exchange website points out that once you know established algorithms for computing tasks, you can use them to solve problems or to find glitches in programs more efficiently and in less time. You do not have to design your own solutions “from scratch.” If there is not an algorithm for your problem, it is helpful to understand how to write them so that you can invent a solution others will use.

Can I get a Computing Job Without Knowing how to Use Algorithms?

Some computer programmers and scientists estimate you use algorithms for only about one per cent of your work time. The amount of time you spend with the codes depends upon what your job is. “Skorks.com” says that computer scientists are “as much mathematicians as they are technologists.” In fact, they maintain that computer professionals have and use 31,337 math skills in the performance of their jobs. Programmers, though, will use algorithms more than developers, whose main skill, aside from a basic knowledge of computing, is communication. The problem is that you may not use algorithms all the time, but when you need one to solve a problem, it is critical to know them. That is why some major corporations like Google build algorithm questions into their tests and interviews. You actually may not be able to get a good computing position without the skill.

Computers “speak” math. In order to communicate with them you must speak their language, and understand how to phrase directions and make requests in language they understand. Algorithms are part of that language. You may not use them all the time, but an understanding of algorithms in computer science is imperative for computing professionals and therefore a part of degrees in the field.