Data structures and algorithms are to programming what a keyboard is to a laptop. They’re an essential aspect of the job, and fine-tuning your skills can only benefit you and your career.
It’s common for newbies, and even experienced programmers, to avoid learning data structures and algorithms because they fail to realize the value they hold in real life. When in reality, things like the internet, the human genome project, and self-driving cars all use and depend on algorithms to work!
Not only have we included basic data structures or algorithms courses, but also advanced algorithm courses that take what you’ve learned a step further and focus on key components like graph and shortest-path algorithms, dynamic programming, and spanning trees. Some even help prepare you for tough technical interviews.
If you enjoy solving complex problems, are looking to skill up, or have an interest in understanding how the technology you use works, then keep reading. We’re going to break down the course layout, syllabus, price, and strengths of the best online data structures and algorithms courses.
How to Choose a Data Structures & Algorithms Course
When choosing a data structures and algorithms course, it needs to teach both theory and practical application.
Knowing when to use specific algorithms, and being able to apply them, is just as important as understanding why and how the algorithm or data structure works. Not only does practica — or interactive — learning teach you how to use these skills, it also helps make the course more memorable and easier to understand.
It also doesn’t hurt to find a site with both data structure and algorithms courses, as they often go hand in hand. And if you’re new to these elements, it’ll help in supporting your skillset.
We understand that interactive learning and taking extra courses may not be the choice for you, and that’s why we’ve included a variety of course styles.
1. Qvault — best data structures and algorithms courses overall
- Three entire courses covering different areas of data structures and algorithms
- Interactive — you code and solve real-life data structures and algorithms in each lesson
- Those who prefer lectures may not like the interactive learning
Qvault makes some of the most comprehensive computer science courses around, including three courses covering data structures and algorithms:
Each course is designed around Qvault’s “learn by doing” philosophy, with interactive coding challenges centered around each lesson as you gain in-the-field experience playing around with similar code that you would be faced with in a real-life setting working with data structures and algorithms.
We also have a ranking of the best Python courses to sharpen up on your data structures skills
The diffs show you where you’ve made any mistakes so you can quickly learn from any errors and improve faster, and the interactive coding challenges are interspersed with multiple-choice questions to keep you sharp with your data structures knowledge.
These three courses are part of a wider computer science curriculum that when completed gives you the skills of a full CS grad — and for the low $8 monthly fee you get access to every single Qvault course.
The first course focuses on teaching data structures in Python, with over 75 lessons covering the basics of data structures, stack theory, queues, trees, hash maps, and graphs across 6 modules, or “chapters”.
Qvault then recommends you take their Big O Algorithms course, where you’ll use Go and learn how to test your algorithms for complexity or efficiency throughout the 60+ lessons. The course contains 3 chapters covering Big O, sorting (including bubble sort, merge sort, insertion sort, and quick sort), and NP, or non-deterministic polynomial time, and the traveling salesman problem. If you aren’t confident with Go, Qvault has a Go Mastery course, or check out some other courses we recommend below:
Check out our article ranking the best Go courses
From there, you can take Qvault’s Advanced Algorithms course. You’ll further apply your Python skills with 75+ lessons dedicated to graph theory, advanced searches, dynamic and linear programming, and more.
You get a certificate for every course you complete, and overall Qvault is one of the best ways to learn data structures and algorithms. Start with data structures, and move on to algorithms and advanced algorithms.
2. Coursera – Data Structures and Algorithms Specialization Course
- Free to enroll
- Learn from professors
- Less focus on advanced algorithms
This course from Coursera is a course on Data Structures and Algorithms Specialization from the University of San Diego and HSE University.
The topics include:
- Course 1: Algorithmic Toolbox – Learn basic algorithmic techniques
- Course 2: Data Structures – Understanding how data structures are used in problem-solving
- Course 3: Algorithms on Graphs – Learn about graphs and their properties
- Course 4: Algorithms on Strings – Discover how to use string algorithms
- Course 5: Advanced Algorithms and Complexity – Building knowledge of advanced algorithms
- Course 6: Genome Assembly Programming Challenge
For those looking for purely advanced algorithm help, course 5 will be the course for you. If you’re new to algorithms, or want a refresher on the basics, then this entire program is incredibly useful.
Along with the program’s final project, there are graded tests throughout the specialization if you choose to pay, but all the lessons are lecture-based.
The flexible schedule and course load make it a great choice for beginners and advanced programmers. There’s no casual practice or real-time application as your progress through the lessons though, and you have to pay to get access to any practical material.
3. Udacity – Data Structures and Algorithms “Nanodegree”
- A full overview of data structures and algorithms
- Learn from professionals
- Very expensive, $329 a month
- No flexible schedule
Udacity has one goal in mind, to train students in computer science-related subjects, and get them hired at tech companies. Because of this, they don’t offer individual courses, but instead multi-part “nanodegree” programs in several fields like data science, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence.
The Data Structures and Algorithms nanodegree program is packed with content. It’s 4 parts and takes 4 months to complete, with around 10 hours of weekly work time. You’ll get to work alongside other students, but this also means the program only runs through specific dates.
The prerequisites for the course are knowledge of Python and basic algebra.
You start by doing a Python refresher course, then moves onto data structures. You’ll learn different types of data structures, how to manipulate them, store them, apply the different types, and approach open ended problems.
The third course focuses on basic algorithms, and then the course ends with part four on advanced algorithms. There, it teaches you greedy and graph algorithms and dynamic programming.
You cannot pick and choose what parts of the nanodegree to take, so you’ll have to complete the whole program. Because of this, it’s best for those looking to invest in this program to avoid sitting through potentially unnecessary courses.
Projects are graded and offer practice using the algorithms, but with other courses like Qvault offering the same interactive qualities for cheaper, we felt this was good enough for third place.
4. Udemy – Advanced Algorithms Course
- Fast and efficient course
- Strict focus on advanced algorithms rather than data structures and more basic algorithms
- Great for more experienced coders
- No interactive learning
- Has a steep price point of $84.99
- Less beginner-friendly
Udemy is famous for its diversity of subjects and retail-esque style of online learning.
Imagine ASOS, but for online courses. You can browse through over 150,000 video courses across multiple industries (often paired with amazing discounts), check out new releases each month, and when you’re ready, add the course to your cart and head to check out!
And it’s that easy when it comes to the Advanced Algorithms (Graph Algorithms) in Java course by Holczer Balazs.
Balazs, a physicist, has ingeniously boiled down advanced algorithms concepts into an 11-hour course consisting of 21 sections and 88 lectures in full. A few of the things you’ll learn are graph traversing, like breadth-first and depth-first search, shortest-path algorithms, SCCs, and spanning trees.
Once you purchase the course, you have lifetime access and can work at your own pace. Upon completion, you’ll earn a Udemy certificate for the course.
This course is praised for Balazs’ passion that is evident in his lectures, and his candid style of teaching, but aside from the four mini-challenges, there is little practice and application of the knowledge taught.
Balazs’ course is a great choice for those who prefer lecture-based learning and aren’t interested in taking advantage of other courses.
5. Coursera – University Taught Algorithm Specialization
- University taught courses
- Good for beginners
- Doesn’t focus on data structures
- No practical application included
If you’re looking for a higher education algorithm course, then Coursera is an excellent choice. They offer university-backed courses and certifications without exorbitant university fees.
Like the Algorithms Specialization by Stanford University. This is one of Coursera’s specialization programs. It contains 4 courses that take 4 weeks each to finish. It’s free to enroll, and offers a flexible schedule so you can maintain your deadlines.
If you only want to read through the course, it’s completely free, but if you want to participate in graded assignments and quizzes and receive the certification, you’ll have to pay. But, financial aid is available.
The first course focuses on asymptotic notation and sorting and searching, the second moves on to data structures and graph primitives.
Then, for the last two courses, you learn about advanced algorithms like greedy and short-path algorithms, as well as dynamic programming and strategies for coping with intractable problems.
You can choose to take one course and not the others, but since advanced algorithm concepts are spread throughout, it’s suggested you take them all. It’s also compatible with all programming languages.
This may be a bigger commitment than intermediate or advanced programmers are looking for, but suits beginners who would benefit from a fuller curriculum.
Extra Resources Worth Checking Out To Learn Data Structures and Algorithms
When it comes to online learning, there’s no such thing as too much help!
To stay ahead of the game with no matter which course you take, here are some useful resources to keep in your tabs to help you along the way.
First, we have Khan Academy.
This renowned platform brings free resources to students of all ages, across vast studies, to assist them with their education. Their unit on Algorithms feels more like an online textbook, however, it provides detailed insights and multiple-choice quizzes to help cement the ideas covered.
We certainly wouldn’t recommend this course on its own, but paired with the courses above, it adds extra oomph to your online learning.
Second is Harvard University’s 26-part YouTube Series by Professor Jelani Nelson on Advanced Algorithms. The videos were created in 2016, so some aspects may be outdated, but it’s Harvard and free, so there’s no hurt in exploring the core concepts it has available.
In theory, you could only take these free lectures, as they come with a link to corresponding problems that go with the lectures. But, there’s no interactive teaching, and as we said, it was made five years ago, so the creator may not be active. However, it makes for great study material and alternative explanations that can help secure your understanding of algorithms.
Finally, we have the book Algorithms Unlocked by Thomas H. Cormen. This book goes into the minutiae behind the principles of algorithms and teaches you what they are, how to use them, and how to evaluate them.
This isn’t exactly light reading, but it is an excellent resource for any programmer out there.