Shaunak Deshpande
Shades of code


Shades of code

How Quitting Data Structures & Algorithms Improved My Life

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How Quitting Data Structures & Algorithms Improved My Life

Shaunak Deshpande's photo
Shaunak Deshpande
·Sep 11, 2022·

6 min read

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Table of contents

  • Gripes with the system
  • The road less taken
  • Faith
  • Captain of your fate

In midtown Manhattan, between 7th Avenue/53rd Street and 5th Avenue/53rd Street Station, lies the Museum of Modern Art. On the fifth floor of the museum you'll find one of the most revered pieces of art in the entire world;

starry night.jpg

Vincent van Gogh's "The Starry Night" always manages to fill me with a sense of tranquility and oneness with the present moment. For this reason, it is my favorite piece of art.

A few articles ago, I mentioned how I decided to not study Data structures and algorithms, which is the staple when it comes to interviews for technical roles. It seems like a pretty radical decision, because that it is the first thing that's tested whenever you apply for a role. Let me tell you the reasons behind this.

Gripes with the system

India, like most South-East Asian countries, is a rather cautious country. If you don't walk the route taken by those before you, a nosy uncle and aunty will run towards you at the speed of light to talk to your parents about keeping you in line. They want you to study hard, get good grades, get either a government job or a fat corporate package, get married, have kids, work till you're 60 and die peacefully in your sleep. While they have good intentions (generally), it gets real annoying real fast.

I've always liked to build and tinker with stuff. It could be making physical things, like toy models, or getting obsessed with finding Shiny Pokémon in Fire red. The Indian Education system✨ has absolutely nothing when it comes to building. No making projects, no playing around with stuff, no tinkering, building. It's just one exam after the other.

The average STEM student is first told to get good marks in 10th grade (as it is very important!). Then get good marks in 12th Grade (They ask that in interviews, you know!!). Make sure you score well in your Engineering entrance examination (IITians get lofty compensation packages!!!). Tiring as all hell.

After all this, I made it into an engineering college, excited to FINALLY build stuff, when I found out that there's one more roadmap left to follow, preached by YouTubers, influencers and seniors everywhere.

  • Learn a programming language
  • Study Data structures and algorithms
  • Grind LeetCode till your brain explodes
  • Study Computer Networks, Object oriented programming, Databases & Operating systems
  • If you've got any time (and life) left, maybe do some Open source or build your own projects.

A thousand more hoops to jump through before you can create something you're proud of. I understand that getting a job is important, and I like money just as much as the next guy, but when do you actually get to build?!?! Optimizing my life to get the perfect FAANG salary just wasn't cutting it for me.

The road less taken

One more depressing offshoot of the Indian Education System✨ is the fact that it doesn't give you the confidence to figure things out on your own. In 10th grade it's, listen to your teachers like an obedient child. In engineering entrance prep it's, make sure your physics, Chem and Maths is strong. And in engineering it's someone telling you the 30 different things you need to do to get a job.

So if you're an Indian student like me, I might be the first to tell you this, but I want you to know this, You have the ability to figure things out on your own . Let that sink in for a second.You don't need roadmaps to crack a job. You don't need to take directions from someone else. You have it inside you to figure out your own path. It may look different from what other people have done. It might not pay off as fast as them. The first few tries won't work out. But the confidence that you'll get from figuring stuff out on your own will stay with you forever. That confidence is more valuable than any amount that FAANG pays you.

All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost; The old that is strong does not wither, Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken, A light from the shadows shall spring; Renewed shall be blade that was broken, The crownless again shall be king. -J.R.R Tolkien


Quitting DSA was a rather liberating experience. It took off a lot of weight off my shoulders. Programming became fun and Building projects was exciting again. Surprisingly, letting go of effort to start working led to a more effortless journey to getting a job. I developed a feeling of non attachment with the outcome of my interview, which helped me stay calm throughout my journey.

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.

-Alan Watts

All that being said, I understand how privileged I am that I can choose not to worry about my finances. You are the best judge of your situation, so please don't feel pressured by my story. I'm not recommending that you quit DSA, I'm just calling to the person inside you who has the courage to walk their own path. Also, if you want to know more about my Interview story, you can read it here.

Captain of your fate

When you google "Software Developer Roadmap" on google, you'll get 89 million results in 0.36 seconds. There's clearly a lot of people who want to get there, and rightfully so. SWE is financially rewarding, cushy (but not easy), and largely stable. I'm one of them, so please understand that I'm not being judgmental when I say this:

Maybe you won't make it, but maybe that's okay. Michael Phelps won't have 28 Olympic medals if he chose to follow the regular path. We wouldn't know H. Pylori bacteria causes stomach ulcers and cancer if it wasn't for Barry Marshall, who drank a culture of the bacteria and developed ulcers himself to prove himself. To walk the path someone else has taken is to reject your own path. It's a subconscious signal that you don't believe you're headed towards greatness. Maybe you won't become an SDE. But our world needs artists, designers and chefs just as much. You can always set a destination and swim to a point, but to reach somewhere you've never even thought of, you have to let go of control, and flow with the water.

Letting go of some of our systems and instincts to get control, trying to make the world exactly as we like it, trying to avoid all the things we dislike … and instead, relaxing, accepting, even surrendering to the uncertainty and fluidity of this world.
Leo Babauta

Van Gogh worked as a language teacher, a preacher, and a missionary before realizing his true purpose as an artist in 1880. Van Gogh decided that his mission from then on would be to bring consolation to humanity through art. Things didn't work out for Van Gogh, as he painted Starry night while being in a mental asylum and died penniless soon after. His work caught steam only after his death, inspiring millions worldwide.

I don't know how Van Gogh felt about himself when he died. I can tell you this though, there's at least one soul, two centuries and a few thousand miles away, that he managed to console through his art.

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