Puzzles, especially programming related ones, can be very useful to hone one’s problem-solving skills. This has been known for a while among coders, who often have to come up with their own solutions to problems that lend themselves to analytical solutions. Since data science often involves similar situations, it is useful to have this kind of experiences, albeit in moderation.
Programming puzzles often involve math problems, many of which require a lot of specialized knowledge to solve. This sort of problems, may not be that useful since it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need that knowledge in data science or any other applied field. Number theory, for example, although very interesting, has little to do with hands-on problems like the ones we are asked to solve in a data science setting.
The kind of problems that benefit a data scientist the most are the ones where you need to come up with a clever algorithm as well as do some resource management. It’s easy to think of the computer as a system of infinite resources but that’s not the case. Even in the case of the cloud, where resource limitations are more lenient, you still have to pay for them, so it’s unwise to use them nilly-willy unless you have no other choice.
Fortunately, there are lots of places on the web where you can find some good programming challenges for you. I find that the ones that are not language-specific are the best ones since they focus on the algorithms, rather than the technique.
Solving programming puzzles won’t make you a data scientist for sure, but if you are new to coding or if you can use coding to express your problem-solving creativity, that’s definitely something worth exploring. Always remember though that being able to handle a dataset and build a robust model is always more useful, so budget your time accordingly.
Zacharias Voulgaris, PhD
Passionate data scientist with a foxy approach to technology, particularly related to A.I.