Confused by Algorithms? Introducing ‘Math Speak’: The Secret Language Nobody Told You About - Triplebyte Blog

Joseph Pacheco is a software engineer who has conducted over 1,400 technical interviews for everything from back-end to mobile to low-level systems and beyond. He’s seen every quirk, hiccup, and one-of-a-kind strength you can think of and wants to share what he’s learned to help engineers grow.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://triplebyte.com/blog/confused-by-algorithms-introducing-math-speak-the-secret-language-nobody-told-you-about

Most undergrad algorithms courses have Discrete Math as a prereq.

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These are theoretically meant to be intro courses, but can fall short in explaining the basics of math language. This is the kind of thing Dr. Lamport, quoted in the blog, has been saying for a while. (Here’s more from him on the topic here.) Of course, each school is different, and some out there are certainly getting it right. The author added a blip in the blog re: your comment. Thanks!

What a useless article

Thanks for joining the conversation, Jeff. In this article, we’re aiming to provide some perspective for early engineers and engineers-to-be who want to start thinking about how to tackle algorithms. It’s not intended to be of great help to those who already have a decent amount of experienced in this stuff.

Feel free to add anything helpful you may have to share on the topic. That’s what this community is for!

The title of this article suggests that if you just quickly learn the secret language, you will understand algorithms. The problem is that the ‘secret’ language, yes, mathematics, is a language not unlike any other foreign tongue. It’s one that takes years to learn. A strong background in algebra is a must and learning discrete mathematics, linear algebra, and a bit of intro calculus is highly recommended. Maybe reading and writing mathematical proofs can be dismissed as ‘stuffy’ but you still need to be able to read academic papers like this one about Dykstra’s (<–this is a link) which should be in every dev’s toolkit. While the required depth to get through an Amazon interview is a shallow subset of the field, it’s something that takes great effort to pick up, not something a short fluffy blog post can teach you. It’s not about being excluded by ‘wiz-kids’ (sic), it’s about doing the work to form a solid foundation.

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I don’t think that the title suggests that at all. It looks to me like a topical introduction to an idea that engineers coming out of less traditional backgrounds or less rigorous work expectations, may have been getting by without.

The title of the article is “Confused by Algorithms? Introducing ‘Math Speak’: The Secret Language Nobody Told You About”. I think that it’s worthwhile to digest that in critizing what it implies.

“Confused by Algorithms?” - if not, the article probably isn’t for you.
“Introducing ‘Math Speak’” - this article aims to make the reader aware of something being referred to as ‘Math Speak’. If you are already aware, the article probably isn’t for you.
“The Secret Language Nobody Told You About” - If somebody has told you about it, you probably aren’t the target audience.

Triplebyte is an education-agnostic platform and I think it’s wonderful that they’re providing this kind of insight for self-starters. Many excellent softeware engineers are self-taught and sometimes being told that something is out there to be learned helps a lot.

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Thank you for this excellent post that aims to lower the entry barriers to engineering and (as a side effect) increase diversity.

As the article states, the precision of mathematical notation is essential for communicating CS concepts. Unfortunately, this “math speak” poses an entry barrier to CS, especially to minorities who have heard (or told themselves) that they are not good at math. The author wants to raise awareness of this barrier. Not every experienced (white, male) engineer might be aware of it, as they either did not encounter such a “math speak barrier” or overcame it quickly.

Next time you hear a novice say, “I’d love to build an app that solves XYZ problem in my community, but CS is too hard,” remember that the problem might be the mathematical notation that they encountered in any “Intro to CS.” It will feel like a massive (but necessary) detour to first master Algebra and Calculus. You can help them over the initial hump by “translating” mathematical notation. The post gives valuable examples.

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