Do web developers need to know algorithms?


algorithms

algorithmsThe entire process of web application development is met by so many innovations and advancements in Information Technology. This has everything to do with the increased demand for web applications today. It is safe to say web developers frontend and backend, have more responsibilities to think about these days.

But, you might be asking: do web developers need to know algorithms?

The vast majority of web development does not involve advanced algorithms. You will likely use libraries and frameworks which will do the heavy lifting for you, such as sorting, searching, etc. However, if you want to get into things like AI and machine learning, you certainly need to have solid knowledge of algorithms.

More businesses are embracing the use of Information Technology to handle their business processes; this simply means there is a need for the development of robust and highly effective web applications to meet these demands. As a web application developer, it is ideal to understand the basic building blocks of how your application is going to work once it leaves your development environment and ready for deployment on the client’s computer.

Times have changed and web application development has evolved from the basic use of CSS and HTML to the use of more advanced tools and languages such as JavaScript and web development frameworks like ReactJS. This simply means there are great changes that come every once in a while, which web developers must adapt and grow.

Although frontend and backend development are two different things, there are certain things they have in common. This has to do with learning the right tools and programming languages to get the job done.

Required web development skills

Depending on whether you work as a frontend or backend developer, having a good problem-solving skill is very crucial for you to succeed as a web developer. Keep in mind that this has to do with having a great attitude when it comes to solving real-life problems.

For frontend web application developers, this has to do with using programming languages and frontend development frameworks to bring the best experience to the user of your application.

It is a well-known fact that frontend developers face more challenges in terms of answering user queries since their code feeds the user with the web page they see. For effective frontend development, however, you need to fully understand programming languages such as JavaScript, CSS, and HTML as the building blocks.

If you are interested in backend development, however, it is relevant that you understand tools such as node.js, PHP, Python, and any database management programming language, which will help you deliver your work.

It is important to note that frontend and backend developers must work together to come up with a solution for any given problem. Some developers employ the services of designers, which are often not in the business of writing code, all they do is come up with the right user interface design for your application, pass to frontend developers to implement it in code.

In such a situation, all the team members need to fully understand their roles, as their combined inputs will help in bringing the application to life. Your ability to turn problems into solutions using computer code is very important. This brings us to the question about whether you need to learn algorithms to work as a web developer or not.

Algorithms and Data Structures

Computer Science students are basically expected to have a deep understanding of data structures and algorithms – however, we cannot say the situation is entirely true for web application developers. If we take a look at data structures, we realize that it is the format in which data is stored on a computer system so it can be retrieved and used effectively. Web developers simply make use of data structures directly or indirectly. This means virtually all web applications you see today make use of one form of data structure or the other.

When we understand the importance of having data structures, we can then fully know why it is required or not required for web application developers.

What are data structures?

Apart from being able to store information on the computer, using the right data structure also comes in handy for handling data processing in web applications. When it comes to using data structures in web application development, there are some fundamental terminologies involved. Let us take a look at these.

Implementation: For all data structures, there is an internal structure that is responsible for handling the representation of data. This also supports clear algorithms for interacting with the data structures.

Interface: Another term, which is often used in data structures, is known as interfaces. It is simply a representation of all the operations that are supported by the data structures. This often contains a comprehensive list of all the operations, which includes things such as the return type and the parameters that are supported.

Examples of data structures in JavaScript

Since web application development has evolved to the use of JavaScript and other development frameworks, it is ideal to consider some important data structures that are used in JavaScript and other programming languages.

Stacks

StacksStacks are simply known as Abstract Data Types (ADT). For those who are not familiar with this data structure, it is relevant to know that it gets its’ name from its behavior just like stacks we know – i.e. just like stacking cards on top of one another or plates on your kitchen table.

This data structure simply only allows operation on one side at a time. It is important to note that it uses what is known as Last-In-First-Out or LIFO, this means any element or object that is placed last on the stack is accessed first during retrieval.

When you insert an item into the stack, it is referred to as a PUSH operation, and when you try to retrieve any information, you are doing a POP operation. PUSH and POP are the two most common terms when it comes to operations on the stack data structure.

Queues

QueuesAnother common data structure is the Queue. Although very similar to the stack data structure, it is quite different, in that it allows operation from both sides of the data structure. In this case, one end of the data structure is used for inserting information, while the other is used for retrieving stored information. The technique used by Queue data structure is known as First-In-First-Out, which makes it easy to retrieve any stored data. You can think of this as going through a tunnel, where the first car that gets in goes out first. The major operations on Queue data structures are the queue() and dequeue(), which are used for adding and removing items to the Queue respectively.


Linked lists

Linked ListAs one of the most used data structures, Linked List brings together different data structures, which are connected by a link. There are three basic terminologies used when we consider the Linked Lists data structures, and these are Link, Next and LinkedList. The Link contains the data stored, which is known as the element. Next is simply a link that connects to the next link in a Linked List.


Trees

TreeThe tree data structure is also considered one of the most commonly used data structure. Connections are created between nodes, using edges in the tree data structure. This simply means, just like a real-world tree, there are components such as root, the leaf, subtree, parent node, and child nodes amongst other components.


Graphs

GraphsThe graph data structure gives an image view of objects, which are connected via links. The graph data structure makes use of points, which are simply called vertices. Some other important terminologies used in graphs include path, which is a group of edges that connect vertices together. Adjacency defines nodes that are connected via a single edge


Hash Tables 

HashAnother important data structure that is worth mentioning is the hash table; this data structure keeps information in an associative manner. It is important to note that data is basically stored in the format of arrays. This implies that just like arrays, each value that is stored in the hash table data structure has its unique index, which can be used in accessing the data. In order for you to access the data stored in a hash table, all you need to know is the right index. Using hash tables comes with the advantage of providing fast storage and retrieval of data. When using hash tables, there are three basic operations that can be carried out; the first is the search operation, which is used in searching for an element stored on the hash table.

What are algorithms?

Algorithms can be seen as the procedure or steps that are followed and executed to get the desired output. It is practically impossible to build a functional web application without following and implementing some kind of algorithm. This holds information about the right steps to follow.

Examples of known algorithms in JavaScript

Similar to data structures, there are some common algorithms that are supported by the JavaScript programming language, which can help web application developers get more things done. Let us take a look at some common algorithms supported by most programming languages out there.


Sorting algorithm

SortingAs the name implies, sorting simply deals with the arrangement of data in a specific format, which makes it easy to access. The arrangement of the data is defined by what is known as a sorting algorithm. Sorting simply makes the process of data search a lot easier. This is true because using the right kind of sorting algorithm; you can store the data in a properly sorted manner. Bubble sort and quicksort are basically the most common sorting algorithm types you can find. Bubble sort makes use of comparison technique to compare the elements, which are stored in an adjacent manner. Quicksort sorting algorithm tends to be more effective because it creates smaller arrays, which is based on partitioning.


Searches – Linear search

SearchLinear search deals with the sequential search operation that is carried out on all the stored elements. This search technique has a very simple mode of operation as a sequence is used. Note that the search continues until a match is found. The value of the searched item is returned as soon as a match is found. Most developers because of its speed and simplicity implement linear search.


Brute force

Brut ForceThe brute force algorithm or exhaustive search as it is also called is often used in situations where a solution is needed from a large pool of datasets. Note that this search algorithm is also suited for small datasets. The basic idea is to make use of all the available datasets to get the solution that is required.


Netflix recommendation algorithm

The Netflix recommendation algorithm is seen as one of the most powerful uses of algorithms today. This is so because the company has millions of subscribers from about 190 countries. This makes personalization very important for the developers. Personalization and recommendations are done based on what users have or have not watched in the past.

The need for data structures in web development and computing

The first advantage that data structures bring to the table is speed. This speed has everything to do with the responsiveness of your applications. Using the right kind of data structures and algorithms for your web applications is relevant in order for your app to work effectively.

Another great advantage is in terms of data search capability. Being able to implement the right kind of data structure and algorithm can help you perform data searches within the shortest possible time. Users carry out different kinds of searches every single day, which makes it imperative that web application developers have the right knowledge to be able to implement robust search algorithms in order to make their applications work better.

Web application developers work with clients who send thousands of requests to their applications – these multiple requests can sometimes overwhelm the web server, which might make it break down easily. Your ability to make use of the right data structure as a web application developer will come in handy when trying to build a scalable application. Note that scalability is important when it comes to handling user traffic on your web application.

Algorithms and web application developers

In order for us to understand why web application developers need the knowledge of algorithms, we first need to understand what are algorithms and how they work. As explained earlier in this article, you can think of algorithms as a set of clearly defined instructions, which are usually arranged in a step-by-step manner.

This means each step of an algorithm is preceded by the next, and the final step usually leads to an output. Keep in mind that an algorithm can be used with several programming languages. It is simply important to know how to generate the right kind of algorithm when solving a problem in computing in general or web application development in particular.

Data structures and algorithms work hand in hand because, in order for you to access the content of a certain data structure, you need to be able to write the right kind of algorithm to get the job done. This has to do with your problem-solving skills as a web application developer or a programmer.

Conclusion

Having the right kind of skills for doing your job as web application developer is simply important, this is even more so because you get to work on projects that require some form of critical thinking and analysis, in order for your application to work the way it should. The most important skill, however, is being able to translate your customer’s requirement into the code, which will help in solving their problems.

We cannot run from the fact that there are several web application developers out there, who are successful at what they do, without having expert knowledge on algorithms and data structures. This doesn’t mean knowing some level of algorithm and data structure is a bad idea, it only means you can be a successful web application developer, without having much knowledge of algorithms.

With that being said, it is highly recommended that you familiarize yourself with the workings of data structures and algorithms since you are more likely to work on bigger projects, which might require a deeper understanding of algorithms. Keep in mind that having the knowledge of data structures and algorithms is something that is not peculiar to backend developers alone, even frontend web application developers need to have a good understanding of how data structures and algorithms works on the applications they build.

A great article I found with algorithms shows JavaScript code on how to solve different problems in interviews. A common practice in job interviews is to give the applicant a couple of challenges to see if the person has the skill the company seeks.

Even if you’re not looking for a job, it is great practice. Check it out and try to solve them on your own: http://www.thatjsdude.com/interview/js1.html

To learn more about Algorithms, check out this course on Udemy:

Learning Algorithms in JavaScript from Scratch

 

Rooney

I am a full-stack web developer with over 13 years of experience. I love learning new things and are passionate about JavaScript development both on the front-end and back-end.

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