Embarrassingly Elaborate Solution to a Codewars Algorithm

I’ve been thinking about writing a post like this for a while but have put it off because, frankly, it’s pretty embarrassing…

Today, I saw a post in the Free Code Camp Forums that made it clear, however, that I’m not the only one that goes through this.  So hopefully this post will encourage other beginners to keep going, even if their code looks terrible in their own eyes…

The purpose of this post won’t be to walk through the algorithms and explain everything that’s going on, but rather to emphasize how different two answers to the same problem can be.

Codewars

Codewars, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is a great way to practice solving algorithm challenges.  It can be pretty humbling at times, though, because after you solve the problem, you have the opportunity to look at other people’s solutions.

So, when you solve what you thought was a difficult challenge, only to see that others have solved it in one or two lines of code, it makes you wonder if you’re writing in the same language.  When you realize you are, you wonder further if this coding thing is really for you…

The upside to this, and, in my opinion, the real strength of Codewars, is that you can learn from these solutions…  I’ve only done a handful of algorithms on this site so far, but I’m going to show my first and last solutions as examples of how things can improve.

My First Codewars Solution

The first algorithm I solved at Codewars was called ‘Decode the Morse code’.  Try not to laugh….

The site’s description of the algorithm is as follows:

So, in thinking about the solution to this algorithm, I immediately pictured various ‘for’ loops to split the Morse code into words, then letters.  Then I could replace the Morse letters for real letters and reassemble the message using more ‘for’ loops.

Here is what I came up with…

I was feeling pretty good about myself (it worked after all!) until I saw some of the top rated solutions…

Here are a couple:

Pretty big difference, huh?  These 3 solutions, put together end to end, took fewer lines than my 1 solution did…

I want to make a couple points about this…

My Latest Codewars Solution

First, if you use these solutions to learn from, you can get more clever with your own solutions, and in the end, make yourself a better programmer.

Here’s an example of an algorithm I submitted a couple days ago.

Algorithm details:

My solution:

Most of the top solutions were variations of this:

Ok, so was this last attempt better??  Sure…  Still room for improvement? You betcha…

Looking through past examples definitely helped me put together a more concise solution for this problem, but I still have a lot to learn…

For instance, looking at the answers to this algorithm reminded me that the array.filter() method doesn’t change the array on which it is called. So, once I filtered the non-zero values into a new array, I still had the original array to work with.  I could have used it again to add the zeros to the end of the new array.

Hopefully, next time I come across a problem like this I’ll remember the more elegant solution.

In my experience, learning a new skill, especially one as difficult as programming, is all about repetition and practice.  So I encourage you (and myself too) to use sites like Codewars to practice these skills over and over.

I also encourage you to take the time to look through other people’s solutions and learn from them.  It’ll probably help with your approach to your next one.

It ain’t necessarily about having the shortest solution…

The second point I want to make is that the shortest solution isn’t necessarily the best solution.

We can argue that ‘for’ loops are actually faster than native functions like array.filter() and array.map(), and they are, but that argument is mostly semantic.  Unless you are writing an application that demands extremely high performance, it is unlikely that the user will see a difference between the two.

I believe, therefore, that prioritization should be placed on the readability of the code you write.

Going through the process of teaching myself how to code, I’ve read many examples of code written by others, and can say for certain that all code is not created equal.

Some code is nicely written and readable…  Other code is like a plate of spaghetti and impossible to decipher.

Let’s go back to the answers to the first algorithm.  My code, while drawn out and overly complicated, is fairly easy to follow.  The last two solutions listed, while being the shortest, are not that easy to read (at least to a newbie like me).

I’d argue that there’s gotta be a happy medium, maybe something like the one written by czyzykowski.  Their solution is logical, modular and very easy to follow.

Feel free to comment below if you disagree, like I said, I’m still new to this, so maybe those last 2 examples are perfectly readable to someone who’s been at this a while.

Bottom Line

I think the takeaway from all this should be – don’t worry if your code looks like a fanewgi wrote it, just keep plugging away…

Read code others have written and keep writing more of your own.  Before you know it, you’ll look back at code you wrote a while ago and realize just how far you’ve come!!

That’s it for now, I hope this helped straighten out the code…

-Jeremy

4 thoughts on “Embarrassingly Elaborate Solution to a Codewars Algorithm”

  1. Hey Jeremy! I found this blog through some google search and I wanted to say that it’s been pretty interesting / insightful to see someone who’s farther along in the FreeCodeCamp program (and general self-taught coding) discuss their trials and tribulations with coding. I had similar issues with the legibility of the top codewars solutions.

    I’m looking forward to seeing more posts!

    1. SpookyVHS, thanks for leaving a comment. It’s great to hear that someone is reading (and hopefully getting something out of) the blog!

  2. This post was very helpful to me. I’m right at the exact point where I could understand the one-line solution to the second problem quite easily after seeing it, but never would have thought of it myself because I hadn’t seen a problem exactly like it before. I probably wouldn’t have thought of a solution as elegant as yours either, to be honest, so it was very informative.

    I had also never seen a problem quite like the Morse Code one (I’m fairly new, I guess) and had never split words into a 2D array of letters. So I thought of a problem for myself to reverse all the words of a sentence in place and solved it. Simple once I saw your example. Thanks.

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