Test-data management  support in Test Automation Development

Data is centric in testing of several applications because data is critical to organizations. Businesses are becoming more data-driven, and hence it is imperative that as Automation Test developers, the value of the test-data is understood and  completely harnessed during Test Automation development. The test-data involved in both Manual/Automation testing encompasses the test-data inputs, test-data outputs, and the test-data flow.

TestProject.io is the world’s first free cloud-based, community-powered test automation platform which caters to this important aspect of Test Automation development. The tool successfully adheres to the importance of keeping test-data centric in Automation Test solutions.

To start with, organizing and managing test data is very easy in TestProject. We are aware that as an application gets bigger and more tests are added, test data management becomes more difficult. This tool allows easy and clear management of the elements, tests, parameters by helping the Automation Test Developer associate data, be as an input or output in the UI as follows:

The tool makes the tests maintainable by allowing the Test data to be easily added, deleted, modified  making it  flexible in the perspective when business  requirements change. It also allows test data to be associated with Web, Android and iOS apps, allowing several types of input – web pages, JSON, PDFs etc. The test data can be also tested on several browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Edge, Internet Explorer.

TestProject enables easy collaboration in a test automation team- by allowing/dis-allowing sharing of the test cases, test data etc as and when applicable. Eventually the team has shareable test repository which can be easily managed and controlled.

Sharing of parameters is available in levels –Test level and Project level. For example,

Hence, because of this, the test data can be easily re-usable, without having to mention the same test data repeatedly in some cases.

TestProject also has a “Secret Parameter” feature built in the smart test recorder that allows storing sensitive test data in an encrypted state.

There are also powerful Addons available in TestProject that can help the Automation Developers complete their tasks easily and quickly .For example, there are several  Random Data Generator Addons available. ‘Random Login Credentials Addon’ is one such Addon which generates random credentials to be entered for several tests.  Similarly, there are many more Random data generators available, such as for generating random dates, character/word/number etc as per several requirements. This definitely makes the job of an Automation developer much easier, and helps save time.

In TestProject, we can choose the input data source to be the default input parameters or to be associated with the data- driven method as follows :

The Data-driven Testing method of testing is necessarily important in cases when the coverage of any data variable comes into picture. We are aware that Data driven tests are tests that run multiple times, but with different values for some of the variables in the test. For example if you wanted to test that the username field on a login page could handle several different types of inputs you could create a separate test for each input, or you could use a data driven tests to drive the same login test multiple times, but just using a different username input each time. We are aware that Data-driven Testing is a very good approach if you have huge volumes of data to be tested for the same scripts.

One such support for Data driven testing in this tool is the Parameterization of variables. Once the parameters are added, like in the screenshot below, the parameter can be navigated to and picked for use.

In order to run a ‘Data-driven’ test, the Automation Developer would need to associate the test with various Data Sources. One such example is as follows, where the Developer can associate the test with the input CSV data source as follows:

Since it supports Data-driven test development, it results in stronger Test Coverage. That is, large volume of data can be managed and executed thereby improving regression testing and better coverage.

Speaking about data sources, TestProject also provides addons that help to work with several database as PostgreSQL, MySQL, MSSQL, Db2, Oracle. The tool can be easily linked with the databases by providing details as:

All this also shows the fact that the tool clearly separates the test cases and the test data and hence allows testers to test their applications using different data values and parameters without the need for changing test script/cases. While making a change in data sets such as addition, or deletion, doesn’t have implication with test cases.

Also, once the test is generated by the Automation developer, it can be viewed both in the ‘Manual Test’ view or the ‘Test document’ view. In both cases, once either of the options are chosen and they are downloaded, the test data is clearly mentioned in their respective columns in the documents.

For example, the ‘Manual Test’ document that gets generated automatically shows the Test Data used as,

And, the ‘Test’ document that gets generated automatically shows the Test Data’s default values used as,

While assesing the test results,  the tool clearly gives details on failures, helping the automation developer to easily debug the issue/ decide to open a defect. For example, the details are clearly showed as :

TestProject.io tool can also be easily integrated with many other tools, such as Jenkins, qTest, Slack etc, and the testcases/test data etc are easily synced during this association. Example, in the cases of Jenkins, we can associate the build step by linking it with the TestProject data source as follows:

Eventually, TestProject has emerged as a powerful test Automation framework, having very attractive features especially to the fact that it imparts the value of Test-data being centric in the  Automation Test tasks. Along with the fact that the tool supports the ideology of having the test-data to be the driving base to the whole Test Automation framework process, it  also enables sharing and syncing with other teams and tools during the development, management and execution of the Test Automation Solution.

Article series: 5 Clean Coding Tips – 5.Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes

This is the fifth of the article series “5 tips for clean coding” to follow as soon as you’ve made the first steps into your coding career, in this article series. Read the introduction here, to find out why it is important to write clean code if you missed it.

It might be a bit repetitive to bring up how important the readability of the code is, let’s do it anyway. In the majority of the cases you are writing for others, therefore you need to put yourself in their shoes to be able to assess how good the readability of your code is. For you, it all might be obvious because you wrote it. But it doesn’t have to be easy to read for someone else. If you have a colleague or a friend that has a bit of time for you and is willing to give you feedback, that is great. If, however, you don’t have such a person, having a few imaginary friends might be helpful in this case. It might sound crazy, but don’t close this page just yet. Having a set of imaginary personas at your disposal, to review your work with their eyes, can help you a lot. Imagine that your code met one of those guys. What would they say about it? If you work in a team or collaborate with people, you probably don’t have to imagine them. You’ve met them.

The_PEP8_guy – He has years of experience. He is used to seeing the code in a very particular way. He quotes the style guide during lunch. His fingers make the perfect line splitting and indentation without even his thoughts reaching the conscious state. He knows that lowercase_with_underscore is for variables, UPPER_CASE_NAMES are for constants and the CapitalizedWords are for classes. He will be lost if you do it in any different way. His expectations will not meet what you wrote, and he will not understand anything, because he will be too distracted by the messed up visual. Depending on the character he might start either crying or shouting. Read the style guide and follow it. You might be able to please this guy at least a little bit with the automatic tools like pylint.

The_ grieving _widow – Imagine that something happens to you. Let’s say, that you get hit by a bus[i]. You leave behind sadness and the_ grieving_widow to manage your code, your legacy. Will the future generations be able to make use of it or were you the only one who can understand anything you wrote? That is a bit of an extreme situation, ok. Alternatively, imagine, that you go for a 5-week vacation to a silent retreat with a strict no-phone policy (or that is what you tell your colleagues). Will they be able to carry on if they cannot ask you anything about the code? Review your code and the documentation from the perspective of the poor grieving_widow.

The_not_your_domain_guy – He is from the outside of the world you are currently in and he just does not understand your jargon. He doesn’t have to know that in data science a feature, a predictor and an x probably mean the same thing. SNR might shout signal-to-noise ratio at you, it will only snort at him. You might use abbreviations that are obvious to you but not to everyone. If you think that the majority of people can understand, and it helps with the code readability keep the abbreviations but just in case, document/comment them. There might be abbreviations specific to your company and, someone from the outside, a new guy, a consultant will not get them. Put yourself in the shoes of that guy and maybe make your code a bit more democratic wherever possible.

The_foreigner– You might be working in an environment, where every single person speaks the same language you speak, and it happens not to be English. So, you and your colleagues name variables and write the comments in your language. However, unless you work in a team with rules a strict as Athletic Bilbao, there might be a foreigner joining your team in the future. It is hard to argue that English is the lingua franca in programming (and in the world), these days. So, it might be worth putting yourself in the_foreigner’s shoes, while writing your code, to avoid a huge amount of work in the future, that the translation and explanation will require. And even if you are working on your own, you might want to make your code public one day and want as many people as possible to read it.

The_hurry_up_guy – we all know this guy. Sometimes he doesn’t have a body or a face, but we can feel his presence. You might want to write a perfect solution, comment it in the best possible way and maybe add a bit of glitter on top but sometimes you just need to give in and do it his way. And that’s ok too.

References:

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_factor

Article series: 5 Clean Coding Tips – 4. Stop commenting the obvious

This is the fourth of the article series “5 tips for clean coding” to follow as soon as you’ve made the first steps into your coding career, in this article series. Read the introduction here, to find out why it is important to write clean code if you missed it.

Everyone will tell you that you need to comment your code. You do it for yourself, for others, it might help you to put down a structure of your code before you get down to coding properly. Writing a lot of comments might give you a false sense of confidence, that you are doing a good job. While in reality, you are commenting your code a lot with obvious, redundant statements that are not bringing any value. The role of a comment it to explain, not to describe. You need to realize that any piece of comment has to add information to the code you already have, not to double it.

Keep in mind, you are not narrating the code, adding ‘subtitles’ to python’s performance. The comments are there to clarify what is not explicit in the code itself. Adding a comment saying what the line of code does is completely redundant most of the time:

A good rule of thumb would be: if it starts to sound like an instastory, rethink it. ‘So, I am having my breakfast, with a chai latte and my friend, the cat is here as well’. No.

It is also a good thing to learn to always update necessary comments before you modify the code. It is incredibly easy to modify a line of code, move on and forget the comment. There are people who claim that there are very few crimes in the world worse than comments that contradict the code itself.

Of course, there are situations, where you might be preparing a tutorial for others and you want to narrate what the code is doing. Then writing that load function will load the data is good. It does not have to be obvious for the listener. When teaching, repetitions, and overly explicit explanations are more than welcome. Always have in mind who your reader will be.

Article series: 5 Clean Coding Tips – 3. Take Advantage of the Formatting Tools.

This is the third of the article series “5 tips for clean coding” to follow as soon as you’ve made the first steps into your coding career, in this article series. Read the introduction here, to find out why it is important to write clean code if you missed it.

Unfortunately, no automatic formatting tool will correct the logic in your code, suggest meaningful names of your variables or comment the code for you. Yet. Gmail has lately started suggesting email titles based on email content. AI-powered variable naming can be next, who knows. Anyway, the visual level of the code is much easier to correct and there are tools that will do some of the code formatting on the visual level job for you. Some of them might be already existing in your IDE, you just need to look for them a bit, others need to be installed. One of the most popular formatting tools is pylint[i]. It is worth checking it out and learning to use it in an efficient way.

Beware that as convenient as it may seem to copy and paste your code into a quick online ‘beautifier’ it is not always a good idea. The online tools might store your code. If you are working on something that shouldn’t just freely float in the world wide web, stick to reliable tools like pylint, that will store the data within your working directory.

These tools can become very good friends of yours but also very annoying ones. They will not miss single whitespace and will not keep their mouth shut when your line length jumps from 79 to 80 characters. They will be shouting with an underscoring of some worrying color and/or exclamation marks. You will need to find your way to coexist and retain your sanity. It can be very distracting when you are in a working flow and warnings pop up all the time about formatting details that have nothing to do with what you are trying to solve. Sometimes, it might be better to turn those warnings off while you are in your most concentrated/creative phase of writing and turn them back on while the dust of your genius settles down a little bit. Usually the offer a lot of flexibility, regarding which warnings you want to be ignored and other features. The good thing is, they also teach you what are mistakes that you are making and after some time you will just stop making them in the first place.

References:

[i] https://www.pylint.org/

Einführung in die Welt der Autoencoder

An wen ist der Artikel gerichtet?

In diesem Artikel wollen wir uns näher mit dem neuronalen Netz namens Autoencoder beschäftigen und wollen einen Einblick in die Grundprinzipien bekommen, die wir dann mit einem vereinfachten Programmierbeispiel festigen. Kenntnisse in Python, Tensorflow und neuronalen Netzen sind dabei sehr hilfreich.

Funktionsweise des Autoencoders

Ein Autoencoder ist ein neuronales Netz, welches versucht die Eingangsinformationen zu komprimieren und mit den reduzierten Informationen im Ausgang wieder korrekt nachzubilden.

Die Komprimierung und die Rekonstruktion der Eingangsinformationen laufen im Autoencoder nacheinander ab, weshalb wir das neuronale Netz auch in zwei Abschnitten betrachten können.

 

 

 

Der Encoder

Der Encoder oder auch Kodierer hat die Aufgabe, die Dimensionen der Eingangsinformationen zu reduzieren, man spricht auch von Dimensionsreduktion. Durch diese Reduktion werden die Informationen komprimiert und es werden nur die wichtigsten bzw. der Durchschnitt der Informationen weitergeleitet. Diese Methode hat wie viele andere Arten der Komprimierung auch einen Verlust.

In einem neuronalen Netz wird dies durch versteckte Schichten realisiert. Durch die Reduzierung von Knotenpunkten in den kommenden versteckten Schichten werden die Kodierung bewerkstelligt.

Der Decoder

Nachdem das Eingangssignal kodiert ist, kommt der Decoder bzw. Dekodierer zum Einsatz. Er hat die Aufgabe mit den komprimierten Informationen die ursprünglichen Daten zu rekonstruieren. Durch Fehlerrückführung werden die Gewichte des Netzes angepasst.

Ein bisschen Mathematik

Das Hauptziel des Autoencoders ist, dass das Ausgangssignal dem Eingangssignal gleicht, was bedeutet, dass wir eine Loss Funktion haben, die L(x , y) entspricht.

L(x, \hat{x})

Unser Eingang soll mit x gekennzeichnet werden. Unsere versteckte Schicht soll h sein. Damit hat unser Encoder folgenden Zusammenhang h = f(x).

Die Rekonstruktion im Decoder kann mit r = g(h) beschrieben werden. Bei unserem einfachen Autoencoder handelt es sich um ein Feed-Forward Netz ohne rückkoppelten Anteil und wird durch Backpropagation oder zu deutsch Fehlerrückführung optimiert.

Formelzeichen Bedeutung
\mathbf{x}, \hat{\mathbf{x}} Eingangs-, Ausgangssignal
\mathbf{W}, \hat{\mathbf{W}} Gewichte für En- und Decoder
\mathbf{B}, \hat{\mathbf{B}} Bias für En- und Decoder
\sigma, \hat{\sigma} Aktivierungsfunktion für En- und Decoder
L Verlustfunktion

Unsere versteckte Schicht soll mit \latex h gekennzeichnet werden. Damit besteht der Zusammenhang:

(1)   \begin{align*} \mathbf{h} &= f(\mathbf{x}) = \sigma(\mathbf{W}\mathbf{x} + \mathbf{B}) \\ \hat{\mathbf{x}} &= g(\mathbf{h}) = \hat{\sigma}(\hat{\mathbf{W}} \mathbf{h} + \hat{\mathbf{B}}) \\ \hat{\mathbf{x}} &= \hat{\sigma} \{ \hat{\mathbf{W}} \left[\sigma ( \mathbf{W}\mathbf{x} + \mathbf{B} )\right]  + \hat{\mathbf{B}} \}\\ \end{align*}

Für eine Optimierung mit der mittleren quadratischen Abweichung (MSE) könnte die Verlustfunktion wie folgt aussehen:

(2)   \begin{align*} L(\mathbf{x}, \hat{\mathbf{x}}) &= \mathbf{MSE}(\mathbf{x}, \hat{\mathbf{x}}) = \|  \mathbf{x} - \hat{\mathbf{x}} \| ^2 &=  \| \mathbf{x} - \hat{\sigma} \{ \hat{\mathbf{W}} \left[\sigma ( \mathbf{W}\mathbf{x} + \mathbf{B} )\right]  + \hat{\mathbf{B}} \} \| ^2 \end{align*}

 

Wir haben die Theorie und Mathematik eines Autoencoder in seiner Ursprungsform kennengelernt und wollen jetzt diese in einem (sehr) einfachen Beispiel anwenden, um zu schauen, ob der Autoencoder so funktioniert wie die Theorie es besagt.

Dazu nehmen wir einen One Hot (1 aus n) kodierten Datensatz, welcher die Zahlen von 0 bis 3 entspricht.

    \begin{align*} [1, 0, 0, 0] \ \widehat{=}  \ 0 \\ [0, 1, 0, 0] \ \widehat{=}  \ 1 \\ [0, 0, 1, 0] \ \widehat{=}  \ 2 \\ [0, 0, 0, 1] \ \widehat{=} \  3\\ \end{align*}

Diesen Datensatz könnte wie folgt kodiert werden:

    \begin{align*} [1, 0, 0, 0] \ \widehat{=}  \ 0 \ \widehat{=}  \ [0, 0] \\ [0, 1, 0, 0] \ \widehat{=}  \ 1 \ \widehat{=}  \  [0, 1] \\ [0, 0, 1, 0] \ \widehat{=}  \ 2 \ \widehat{=}  \ [1, 0] \\ [0, 0, 0, 1] \ \widehat{=} \  3 \ \widehat{=}  \ [1, 1] \\ \end{align*}

Damit hätten wir eine Dimensionsreduktion von vier auf zwei Merkmalen vorgenommen und genau diesen Vorgang wollen wir bei unserem Beispiel erreichen.

Programmierung eines einfachen Autoencoders

 

Typische Einsatzgebiete des Autoencoders sind neben der Dimensionsreduktion auch Bildaufarbeitung (z.B. Komprimierung, Entrauschen), Anomalie-Erkennung, Sequenz-to-Sequenz Analysen, etc.

Ausblick

Wir haben mit einem einfachen Beispiel die Funktionsweise des Autoencoders festigen können. Im nächsten Schritt wollen wir anhand realer Datensätze tiefer in gehen. Auch soll in kommenden Artikeln Variationen vom Autoencoder in verschiedenen Einsatzgebieten gezeigt werden.

Article series: 5 Clean Coding Tips – 2. Name Variables in a Meaningful Way

This is the second of the article series “5 tips for clean coding” to follow as soon as you’ve made the first steps into your coding career, in this article series. Read the introduction here, to find out why it is important to write clean code if you missed it.

When it comes to naming variables, there are a few official rules in the PEP8 style guide. A variable must start with an underscore or a letter and can be followed by a number of underscores or letters or digits. They cannot be reserved words: True, False, or, not, lambda etc. The preferred naming style is lowercase or lowercase_with_underscore. This all refers to variable names on a visual level. However, for readability purposes, the semantic level is as important, or maybe even more so. If it was for python, the variables could be named like this:

It wouldn’t make the slightest difference. But again, the code is not only for the interpreter to be read. It is for humans. Other people might need to look at your code to understand what you did, to be able to continue the work that you have already started. In any case, they need to be able to decipher what hides behind the variable names, that you’ve given the objects in your code. They will need to remember what they meant as they reappear in the code. And it might not be easy for them.

Remembering names is not an easy thing to do in all life situations. Let’s consider the following situation. You go to a party, there is a bunch of new people that you meet for the first time. They all have names and you try very hard to remember them all. Imagine how much easier would it be if you could call the new girl who came with John as the_girl_who_came_with_John. How much easier would it be to gossip to your friends about her? ‘Camilla is on the 5th glass of wine tonight, isn’t she?!.’ ‘Who are you talking about???’ Your friends might ask. ‘The_Girl_who_came_with_John.’ And they will all know. ‘It was nice to meet you girl_who_came_with_john, see you around.’ The good thing is that variables are not really like people. You can be a bit rude to them, they will not mind. You don’t have to force yourself or anyone else to remember an arbitrary name of a variable, that accidentally came to your mind in the moment of creation. Let your colleagues figure out what is what by a meaningful, straightforward description of it.

There is an important tradeoff to be aware of here. The lines of code should not exceed a certain length (79 characters, according to the PEP 8), therefore, it is recommended that you keep your names as short as possible. It is worth to give it a bit of thought about how you can name your variable in the most descriptive way, keeping it as short as possible. Keep in mind, that
the_blond_girl_in_a_dark_blue_dress_who_came_with_John_to_this_party might not be the best choice.

There are a few additional pieces of advice when it comes to naming your variables. First, try to always use pronounceable names. If you’ve ever been to an international party, you will know how much harder to remember is something that you cannot even repeat. Second, you probably have been taught over and over again that whenever you create a loop, you use i and j to denote the iterators.

It is probably engraved deep into the folds in your brain to write for i in…. You need to try and scrape it out of your cortex. Think about what the i stands for, what it really does and name it accordingly. Is i maybe the row_index? Is it a list_element?

Additionally, think about when to use a noun and where a verb. Variables usually are things and functions usually do things. So, it might be better to name functions with verb expressions, for example: get_id() or raise_to_power().

Moreover, it is a good practice to name constant numbers in the code. First, because when you name them you explain the meaning of the number. Second, because maybe one day you will have to change that number. If it appears multiple times in your code, you will avoid searching and changing it in every place. PEP 8 states that the constants should be named with UPPER_CASE_NAME. It is also quite common practice to explain the meaning of the constants with an inline comment at the end of the line, where the number appears. However, this approach will increase the line length and will require repeating the comment if the number appears more than one time in the code.

How Important is Customer Lifetime Value?

This is the third article of article series Getting started with the top eCommerce use cases.

Customer Lifetime Value

Many researches have shown that cost for acquiring a new customer is higher than the cost of retention of an existing customer which makes Customer Lifetime Value (CLV or LTV) one of the most important KPI’s. Marketing is about building a relationship with your customer and quality service matters a lot when it comes to customer retention. CLV is a metric which determines the total amount of money a customer is expected to spend in your business.

CLV allows marketing department of the company to understand how much money a customer is going  to spend over their  life cycle which helps them to determine on how much the company should spend to acquire each customer. Using CLV a company can better understand their customer and come up with different strategies either to retain their existing customers by sending them personalized email, discount voucher, provide them with better customer service etc. This will help a company to narrow their focus on acquiring similar customers by applying customer segmentation or look alike modeling.

One of the main focus of every company is Growth in this competitive eCommerce market today and price is not the only factor when a customer makes a decision. CLV is a metric which revolves around a customer and helps to retain valuable customers, increase revenue from less valuable customers and improve overall customer experience. Don’t look at CLV as just one metric but the journey to calculate this metric involves answering some really important questions which can be crucial for the business. Metrics and questions like:

  1. Number of sales
  2. Average number of times a customer buys
  3. Full Customer journey
  4. How many marketing channels were involved in one purchase?
  5. When the purchase was made?
  6. Customer retention rate
  7. Marketing cost
  8. Cost of acquiring a new customer

and so on are somehow associated with the calculation of CLV and exploring these questions can be quite insightful. Lately, a lot of companies have started to use this metric and shift their focuses in order to make more profit. Amazon is the perfect example for this, in 2013, a study by Consumers Intelligence Research Partners found out that prime members spends more than a non-prime member. So Amazon started focusing on Prime members to increase their profit over the past few years. The whole article can be found here.

How to calculate CLV?

There are several methods to calculate CLV and few of them are listed below.

Method 1: By calculating average revenue per customer

 

Figure 1: Using average revenue per customer

 

Let’s suppose three customers brought 745€ as profit to a company over a period of 2 months then:

CLV (2 months) = Total Profit over a period of time / Number of Customers over a period of time

CLV (2 months) = 745 / 3 = 248 €

Now the company can use this to calculate CLV for an year however, this is a naive approach and works only if the preferences of the customer are same for the same period of time. So let’s explore other approaches.

Method 2

This method requires to first calculate KPI’s like retention rate and discount rate.

 

CLV = Gross margin per lifespan ( Retention rate per month / 1 + Discount rate – Retention rate per month)

Where

Retention rate = Customer at the end of the month – Customer during the month / Customer at the beginning of the month ) * 100

Method 3

This method will allow us to look at other metrics also and can be calculated in following steps:

  1. Calculate average number of transactions per month (T)
  2. Calculate average order value (OV)
  3. Calculate average gross margin (GM)
  4. Calculate customer lifespan in months (ALS)

After calculating these metrics CLV can be calculated as:

 

CLV = T*OV*GM*ALS / No. of Clients for the period

where

Transactions (T) = Total transactions / Period

Average order value (OV) = Total revenue / Total orders

Gross margin (GM) = (Total revenue – Cost of sales/ Total revenue) * 100 [but how you calculate cost of sales is debatable]

Customer lifespan in months (ALS) = 1 / Churn Rate %

 

CLV can be calculated using any of the above mentioned methods depending upon how robust your company wants the analysis to be. Some companies are also using Machine learning models to predict CLV, maybe not directly but they use ML models to predict customer churn rate, retention rate and other marketing KPI’s. Some companies take advantage of all the methods by taking an average at the end.

Matrix search: Finding the blocks of neighboring fields in a matrix with Python

Task

In this article we will look at a solution in python to the following grid search task:

Find the biggest block of adjoining elements of the same kind and into how many blocks the matrix is divided. As adjoining blocks, we will consider field touching by the sides and not the corners.

Input data

For the ease of the explanation, we will be looking at a simple 3×4 matrix with elements of three different kinds, 0, 1 and 2 (see above). To test the code, we will simulate data to achieve different matrix sizes and a varied number of element types. It will also allow testing edge cases like, where all elements are the same or all elements are different.

To simulate some test data for later, we can use the numpy randint() method:

The code

How the code works

In summary, the algorithm loops through all fields of the matrix looking for unseen fields that will serve as a starting point for a local exploration of each block of color – the find_blocks() function. The local exploration is done by looking at the neighboring fields and if they are within the same kind, moving to them to explore further fields – the explore_block() function. The fields that have already been seen and counted are stored in the visited list.

find_blocks() function:

  1. Finds a starting point of a new block
  2. Runs a the explore_block() function for local exploration of the block
  3. Appends the size of the explored block
  4. Updates the list of visited points
  5. Returns the result, once all fields of the matrix have been visited.

explore_block() function:

  1. Takes the coordinates of the starting field for a new block and the list of visited points
  2. Creates the queue set with the starting point
  3. Sets the size of the current block (field_count) to 1
  4. Starts a while loop that is executed for as long as the queue is not empty
    1. Takes an element of the queue and uses its coordinates as the current location for further exploration
    2. Adds the current field to the visited list
    3. Explores the neighboring fields and if they belong to the same block, they are added to the queue
    4. The fields are taken off the queue for further exploration one by one until the queue is empty
  5. Returns the field_count of the explored block and the updated list of visited fields

Execute the function

The returned result is biggest block: 4, number of blocks: 4.

Run the test matrices:

Visualization

The matrices for the article were visualized with the seaborn heatmap() method.

Article series: 5 Clean Coding Tips – 1. Be Consistent

This is the first of the article series “5 tips for clean coding” to follow as soon as you’ve made the first steps into your coding career, in this article series. Read the introduction here, to find out why it is important to write clean code if you missed it.

Consistency is THE rule to follow if you want to make your code clean and increase readability. Not to make it sound desperate, but honestly, whatever you decide to do when it comes to the coding style, just be consistent. Whether you agree with any standards, formatting styles or don’t even know them, just be consistent. Don’t ever allow inconsistency to sneak into your script or your project. This will only bring confusion, disorientation, chaos and general misery.

The rules for how exactly keep your code clean and organized visually might differ slightly depending on the situation you find yourself in. The PEP 8 rules can be ambiguous in some places and leave room for interpretation. For example, the question, whether you use single or double quotes to denote a string, is open. It is possible, that your work environment already has a standard and you just need to comply with that. No room to show off your highly unique take on it, sorry. However, if you are working on your own and there is no one to roll their eyes looking at your messed-up code, you need to decide for yourself. Once you do, again, be consistent at the level of the script, project, your work in general. Otherwise, it will look messy, patchworky and simply unprofessional.

People famously are quick to ascribe intentionality, even to thermostats[i]. They will assume that the details of how you wrote your code are intentional. They will try to figure out why you are doing one thing in some places and a different thing in other places. If those differences came from you being careless and have no meaning behind them, the reader of your code will waste a lot of time trying to figure it out and end up frustrated. Remember the first few snippets of python code you have ever seen? Maybe you saw some code with double quotes and some with single quotes. You were green, knew nothing and quite possibly thought that they both have different meanings and you spent time trying to figure out why on earth in some places there is a single quote and in other double-quotes.

If those altruistic arguments do not really convince you, let’s see how consistency can serve to your own benefit. First, that outsider, who is looking at your code and is trying very hard to figure out what on Earth is going on, might be you. It might sound crazy, and it is, indeed, quite sad, but most likely, after 6 months of not looking at your code you will no longer remember what you did there if it is not documented well. Documenting in a homogenous way can take some time and some effort. Nevertheless, in general, code gets read many times after it has been written. When in doubt, sacrifice some of your writing time to increase readability and minimize the reading time later. It will pay off in the long run.

Having a set of rules at your disposal can make your work faster. You will avoid arguing with yourself about which option is the best one: mean_income, income_mean or income_avg. You can avoid making loads of small decisions as you write your code by making a set of global rules. In that way, you can allocate your energy and resources into solving the real problem. Not the how-do-I-format-this? one.

It is not necessary that you make all those grand decisions right now. You also don’t have to make them for life, it’s ok to change your mind eventually, so don’t feel overwhelmed. But once you’ve learned this and that, spent a little time coding, have a good long look at your sprouting habits and decide what you are going to do about splitting those lines and stick to it!

References:

[i] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_stance

Article series: 5 Clean Coding Tips

This series of articles will cover 5 clean coding tips to follow as soon as you’ve made the first steps into your coding career, with the example of python.

At the beginning of your adventure with coding, you might find that getting your code to compile without any errors and give you the output that you expect is hard enough. Conforming to any standards and style guides is at the very bottom of your concerns. You might be at the beginning of your career or you might have a lot of domain experience but not that much in coding. Or maybe until now you worked mostly on your own and never had to make your code available for others to work with it. In any case, it is worth acknowledging how crucial it is to write your code in a concise, readable and understandable way, and how much benefits it will eventually bring you.

The first thing to realize is that the whole clean coding concept has been developed for people, your fellow travelers, not for the computers. The compiler doesn’t care how you name your variables, how you split your lines or if everything is aligned in a pretty way. You could even write your code as a one gigantic, few-meters-long line, giving the interpreter just a signal – a semicolon, that the line should be split, and it will execute it perfectly.

However, it is likely that, the deeper you are into your career, the more people will have to read, understand and modify the code that you wrote. You will write code to communicate certain ideas and solutions with other people. Therefore, you need to be sure, that what you want to communicate is understandable, easy and quick to read. The coding best practice is to always code in a clean way, treating the code itself and not just the output as the result of your work.

There usually are fixed rules and standards regarding code readability. For python, it is the PEP 8[i]. Some companies elaborate on those standards where the PEP 8 is a bit vague or leaves room for interpretation. The exact formatting styles might differ at Facebook, Google[ii] or at the company you happen to work for. But before you get lost in the art of a perfect line splitting, brackets alignment technique, or the hopeless tabs or spaces battle, have a look at the 5 tips in the upcoming articles in this series. They are universal and might help you make your code, less of a chaotic mess and more of blissful delight.

List of articles in this series:

  1. Be consistent
  2. Name variables in a meaningful way
  3. Take advantage of the formatting tools
  4. Stop commenting the obvious
  5. Put yourself in somebody else’s shoes
References:

[i] https://www.python.org/dev/peps/pep-0008/
[ii] http://google.github.io/styleguide/pyguide.html