I tried to address a question about data structure on Quora. This post is a stand-alone version of the answer I gave.
‘In the beginning’ there was ‘Data Processing’. That is: ‘data’ and ‘process’, expressed in the form of a program. Programs implement algorithms.
In 1976, the practice of ‘Structured Programming’ was trending and a book was written: Algorithms + Data Structures = Programs ( Wikipedia entry)
Processes and their structure + Data and it’s structure = Programs.
If you ignore interactions with the real world, that’s all there is. If you take any working program and ignore the processes and their structure and the raw data, then whatever is left is data structure.
We structure data because the alternative is data sauce, traditionally only ever served with spaghetti code.