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Variables

Variable names should reveal intent

We will read more code than we will ever write. It's important for our code to express intent so that our readers don't have to waste mental effort to figure out puzzles.

One common culprit in data science code is dataframes. Every dataframe is named as df. In software programming, it's an unusual (and bad) practice to embed information about variable types in the variable name (e.g. we would probably never write string = 'Hello friends'. Instead, we would write greeting = 'Hello friends').

Bad:

df = pd.read_csv('loans.csv')

_df = df.groupby(['month']).sum()
__df = filter_loans(_df, month=12)

# let's try to calculate total loan amount for december
total_loan_amount = __df... # wait, should I use df, _df or __df?

Good: One rule of thumb on how to name dataframes is to think about what is in each row. For instance, if each row in my dataframe is a loan, then the dataframe is a collection of loan entries. Hence, we could call the dataframe loans.

loans = pd.read_csv('loans.csv')

monthly_loans = loans.groupby(['month']).sum()
monthly_loans_in_december = filter_loans(monthly_loans, month=12)

# let's try to calculate total loan amount for december
total_loan_amount = monthly_loans_in_december.sum()

Use meaningful and pronounceable variable names

Bad:

ymdstr = datetime.date.today().strftime("%y-%m-%d")

Good:

current_date: str = datetime.date.today().strftime("%y-%m-%d")

Use the same vocabulary for the same type of variable

Bad: Here we use three different names for the same underlying entity:

get_user_info()
get_client_data()
get_customer_record()

Good: If the entity is the same, you should be consistent in referring to it in your functions:

get_user_info()
get_user_data()
get_user_record()

Avoid magic numbers and magic numbers

Bad:

# What the heck is 86400 for?
time.sleep(86400);

Good:

# Extract magic number as a variable
SECONDS_IN_A_DAY = 86400

time.sleep(SECONDS_IN_A_DAY)

Use variables to keep code "DRY" ("Don't Repeat Yourself")

DRY stands for "Don't Repeat Yourself". If you find yourself changing the same thing in multiple places, then that thing which you're changing is a candidate for refactoring.

Bad: Notice how amount is duplicated in multiple places. If the column name in the data should change (e.g. to literally_anything), then we would need to waste effort in finding and replacing amount in multiple places.

loans = loans.fillna({'amount': 0})
loans.groupby(['amount']).mean().sort_values(by='amount')

Good: Now, should the amount column need to be changed, we can change it in one place:

target_column = 'amount'

loans = loans.fillna({target_column: 0})
loans.groupby([target_column]).mean().sort_values(by=target_column)

Use explanatory variables

Bad:

address = 'One Infinite Loop, Cupertino 95014'
city_zip_code_regex = r'^[^,\\]+[,\\\s]+(.+?)\s*(\d{5})?$'
matches = re.match(city_zip_code_regex, address)

save_city_zip_code(matches[1], matches[2])

Not bad:

It's better, but we are still heavily dependent on regex.

address = 'One Infinite Loop, Cupertino 95014'
city_zip_code_regex = r'^[^,\\]+[,\\\s]+(.+?)\s*(\d{5})?$'
matches = re.match(city_zip_code_regex, address)

city, zip_code = matches.groups()
save_city_zip_code(city, zip_code)

Good:

Decrease dependence on regex by naming subpatterns.

address = 'One Infinite Loop, Cupertino 95014'
city_zip_code_regex = r'^[^,\\]+[,\\\s]+(?P<city>.+?)\s*(?P<zip_code>\d{5})?$'
matches = re.match(city_zip_code_regex, address)

save_city_zip_code(matches['city'], matches['zip_code'])

Avoid mental mapping

Don’t force the reader of your code to translate what the variable means. Explicit is better than implicit.

Bad:

seq = ('Austin', 'New York', 'San Francisco')

for item in seq:
    do_stuff()
    do_some_other_stuff()
    # ...
    # Wait, what's `item` for again?
    dispatch(item)

Good:

locations = ('Austin', 'New York', 'San Francisco')

for location in locations:
    do_stuff()
    do_some_other_stuff()
    # ...
    dispatch(location)

Don't add unneeded context

If your class/object name tells you something, don't repeat that in your variable name.

Bad:

class Car:
    car_make: str
    car_model: str
    car_color: str

# usage:
car = Car()
car.car_make
car.car_model
car.car_color

Good:

class Car:
    make: str
    model: str
    color: str

# usage
car = Car()
car.make
car.model
car.color
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