What Should I Do First Data Structure or Algorithm?


Heather Bennett

What Should I Do First: Data Structure or Algorithm?

When it comes to learning programming and improving your problem-solving skills, one question that often arises is whether you should focus on learning data structures or algorithms first. The answer may vary depending on who you ask, but in reality, both are important and interconnected concepts in computer science.

Understanding Data Structures

Data structures are the foundation of any program or algorithm. They are essential for organizing and storing data efficiently.

A data structure can be thought of as a container that holds a collection of data elements. It provides a way to organize, access, and manipulate the data.

Data structures can be classified into various types such as arrays, linked lists, stacks, queues, trees, graphs, and more. Each type has its own advantages and use cases.

Importance of Data Structures

Learning data structures is crucial because they determine how efficiently an algorithm can solve a problem. By choosing the right data structure for a given problem, you can optimize the time and space complexity of your solution.

Time complexity: It measures the amount of time an algorithm takes to run based on the input size. Efficient data structures help reduce time complexity by allowing faster access to elements or efficient manipulation operations.

Space complexity: It measures the amount of memory an algorithm requires to execute. Properly chosen data structures can reduce space complexity by minimizing memory usage.

Understanding Algorithms

An algorithm is a step-by-step procedure or set of instructions designed to solve a specific problem or perform a specific task. Algorithms take inputs and produce outputs through a series of well-defined steps.

An algorithm can be implemented using various programming languages, but its efficiency depends on the chosen data structure. Different algorithms have different time and space complexity characteristics, making them suitable for specific scenarios.

Importance of Algorithms

Learning algorithms is essential because they provide efficient solutions to problems. By understanding different algorithms and their trade-offs, you can choose the most appropriate one based on the problem requirements.

Algorithms can be classified into various categories such as searching algorithms, sorting algorithms, graph algorithms, dynamic programming, and more. Each category has its own set of algorithms with different complexities and use cases.

The Interconnection

Data structures and algorithms are interconnected concepts that complement each other:

  • Data structures support algorithms: Choosing the right data structure can significantly impact the efficiency of an algorithm. For example, searching an element in a sorted array is faster than in an unsorted array.
  • Algorithms depend on data structures: Algorithms are designed to be efficient with specific data structures. For example, a tree traversal algorithm is best suited for tree-like data structures.


In conclusion, both data structures and algorithms are vital components of computer science and programming. It is recommended to have a good understanding of basic data structures like arrays, linked lists, stacks, queues before diving into complex algorithms. However, it’s important to keep in mind that learning both concepts go hand in hand and should be done simultaneously to become a well-rounded programmer.

Note: This article assumes a basic understanding of programming concepts like variables, loops, conditionals, functions/methods.

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