Table of Content
In this lesson, you will get to learn and understand what algorithms are, their characteristics, and their importance in software development.
What is an Algorithm?
An algorithm is a set of well-defined instructions to solve a particular problem.
Another common definition is that it is a step-by-step procedure for solving a problem.
An algorithm is not limited to computer science or problem.
There are different sets of instructions for tackling different problems.
Let's see a real-life analogy.
Assume we want to bake a cake.
To bake a cake, we have a set of ingredients and a recipe for baking different flavors of cakes.
These ingredients could be:
These steps to follow in baking a cake can be:
Step 1: Prepare Baking Pans.
Step 2: Allow Ingredients to Reach Room Temperature.
Step 3: Preheat the Oven.
Step 4: Stir Together Dry Ingredients.
Step 5: Combine the Butter and Sugar.
Step 6: Add Eggs One at a Time.
Step 7: Alternate Adding Dry and Wet Ingredients.
Step 8: Pour Batter into Pans and Bake.
We will carefully follow a recipe for the cake we want to bake and execute the steps one by one in a sequence.
The end result, if done correctly, will be the flavor of the cake we intend to make.
Let's extend this to computer programming.
Consider an algorithm to multiply two numbers.
In this case, we refer to the ingredients as inputs while the recipe will be the algorithm and the flavor of the cake we baked is the output.
In this scenario, the inputs will be two numbers: a and b. The algorithm steps include multiplying the numbers provided as inputs using the “*” operator and returning that value. The output is the product of the two numbers.
Inputs: a, b
Step 1: Multiply a and b
Step 2: Return the value in step 1
Output: Product of a and b
So, we have our set of well-defined instructions to solve a particular problem which, in our case, is getting the product of two numbers.
Hopefully, you now understand what an algorithm is.
Characteristics of Algorithm
Here are six characteristics we believe an algorithm should have to be useful:
- An algorithm should be able to take one or more input. In our example, we have two numbers as inputs.
- An algorithm must generate at least one output. In our example, we have their product as the output.
- An algorithm should be unambiguous and clear at every step. In our example, we have two steps. Multiply the numbers using the “*” operator and return the product.
- An algorithm must have a finite set of statements and terminate at some point. It should not run infinitely.
- An algorithm should be language independent. This means that it should be written in such a way that it can be used with different programming languages.
- An algorithm should be effective and not have unnecessary steps or procedure. Every step should have a significant impact on the solution. E.g. there should not be a statement or step that gets the addition of two numbers without the result of that operation being used.
What is the Importance of Algorithms
Algorithms are a very important topic in Computer Science because they help software developers create efficient and error-free programs.
As a developer, algorithms help you learn different techniques to efficiently solve those problems.
One thing to keep in mind is that a problem can be solved in many ways using different algorithms.
Every algorithm comes with its own trade-offs, and some are much better than others when it comes to performance.
In the next lesson, you will learn how to measure the performance of an algorithm to make a proper comparison.
There you have it!
We hope you now know what algorithms are, their characteristics, and their importance in software development.
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