From Prototype to Production: Coding Best Practices

In this quickly-changing digital world full of growing data, many small businesses can benefit from tools that help simplify programs. Check out these five tips to keeping it simple.

 

We live in an era of unprecedented automation and rapidly expanding data. In 2019 alone, the internet generated 2.5 billion bytes of data every day, but only about .5% of that data was meaningfully analyzed. This data deluge, combined with the want to derive more value ever faster, has many companies beginning to explore new ways to tame the uncertainty of this rapidly growing digital world. These changes have driven unprecedented growth in high-level programming, with Python programming language seeing a historic 7% increase in use during 2019 alone. 

With this growth comes opportunities, but also challenges. Although Python and other languages offer incredible flexibility in a package anyone can learn, their presence has led to the rise of “incidental programmers”—people who programs for their job, but for whom programming is not primarily their job. For these individuals, the incredible initial value of automation can easily turn sour, as the challenges of engineering a solution scale with its size. And so many companies get stuck somewhere in the middle, using adequate solutions to automate their most painful tasks, but struggling to scale past small scripts and solutions. 

RELATED: What makes a well-rounded data science team?

But there is a way forward. 

The struggles that many small and medium-sized businesses face in fully leveraging programming are the same struggles that software engineers have had to conquer over the last 50 years. And luckily for us, there is much documentation to work from—a set of “tips and tricks,” as it were—for engineering a solution that will not only solve the problem, but that can scale with your team as you grow. By learning from what software engineers use to develop complex applications, we can intelligently apply the tools and techniques most likely to simplify our lives. 

What follows is a list of some of the most common tools and principles to keep our programs simple as they grow: 

As the creator of Python, Guido Van Rossum, said himself, “Code is read much more often than it is written.” This may not be true of all code, but for business functions you do over and over again, you will spend far more time reading and debugging than you will writing code. And for that, standards matter.

So how do we make sure we’re writing good code? I’d recommend reading some guides, but the easiest way is to install a linter—a tool that analyzes source code to flag programming errors and bugs. Basic linters check for simple readability issues like PEP8 standards violations, while more advanced ones can even identify bugs in your code before you compile. And given that you’ll likely spend more time debugging than programming, small reductions in bugs can have huge impacts on the hours needed for a project.

Although most of us will rigorously test our outputs before release, these tests take time, and can only catch bugs that we remember to look for. For code that is relatively stable, automated testing can ensure that changes to unrelated parts of the program don’t introduce errors into the output without you knowing it. 

As we all know, a lack of consistent version control can turn even the best project into a wasteland of unwieldy filenames and abandoned files—and can make it hard to track down feature-breaking bugs. A VCS like Git, hosted on a remote server like Bitbucket, allows us to track, manage and approve changes as they occur—and before insane file-structures and avoidable bugs infest the codebase. 

Bonus feature: Continuous Integration and Deployment (CI/CD) tools can allow you to automate all of the above process, so that a simple command can set off automated linting, testing, and notify a colleague to review the changes. The time savings can be immense, and solutions are inexpensive and widely available.

Each of these tasks doesn’t simply improve the “purity” of your codebase; each translates into time, money and sanity saved for everyone on your team. Coding standards make reading code easy, which saves time debugging, onboarding new employees, and facilitates collaboration. Linters can help nudge you to conform to those standards, makes it easier to understand and debug code when you come back to it later. Automated tests speed up testing and ensure that our code acts the way we think it should, reducing debug and downtime significantly. And finally, version control systems allow not only the security of an offsite backup, but many levels of verification and error-checking, which means fewer bugs for you and your team, a faster development process, and a demonstrably more robust engineered solution.

RELATED: Check out more from Pandata.

At Pandata we take these lessons to heart and are always working to better align data science and data engineering. This dual emphasis on efficient prototyping and scalable solutions ensure that our models stay clean and robust while our development stays agile.

Chris Brace is a Data Analyst at Pandata.

 
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  • Next up: 4 Steps to Complete a Whole-Building Retrofit
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  • 4 Steps to Complete a Whole-Building Retrofit

    You know your building has energy efficiency needs, but like most small business owners, you likely don’t know where to start. An energy assessment often identifies many opportunities for savings, ranging from low to no cost to capital intensive. However, to reach deeper energy savings, and not bite off pieces at a time, we recommend a whole building retrofit and not fearing a comprehensive approach. 

    You know your building has energy efficiency needs, but like most small business owners, you likely don’t know where to start. An energy assessment often identifies many opportunities for savings, ranging from low to no cost to capital intensive. However, to reach deeper energy savings, and not bite off pieces at a time, we recommend a whole building retrofit and not fearing a comprehensive approach.

    Figuring out where to start when considering a whole-building retrofit can be daunting. But if you break the process down into steps, a roadmap to total energy efficiency becomes clearer. With that in mind, here are 4 steps you need to take to maximize the energy efficiency of your building

    Step 1: Review the projects

    Reviewing the building as a whole should be your starting point. Think about areas or processes you can quickly make more energy efficient. To help you achieve the greatest possible savings and efficiency, you’ll need to combine the low hanging fruit you’re already aware of with the more inclusive retrofits that will be identified through an energy assessment.

    Step 2: Do the math

    Cost effectiveness is the key phrase to keep in mind during a retrofit project. The initial payback for a lighting project in your building can be extremely quick, oftentimes within a single year. But what deeper energy savings  could you leverage with this quick payback from the lighting? Instead of simply completing the lighting project and being done, you could have bundled the lighting with the HVAC retrofit you need and lowered your overall payback by combining the two projects. If you had only completed the lighting project because of its shorter payback, your building would have missed out on the energy savings it could’ve captured by also completing a HVAC project. Not only have you missed the immediate savings, but you might also have to deal with an emergency replacement of your HVAC system that may prove to be much more costly than if it would have been completed with other energy efficiency projects in your building. Don’t wait until the equipment fails to upgrade which will cost you more, but rather incorporate the upgrade into the overall scope of work to reap greater benefit now.

    Shorter payback retrofits can also help to lower the total payback of your project if your building does not have the proper infrastructure for these deeper retrofits. If you need building improvements to be able to handle your new HVAC system or need insulation to make the improvements as effective as possible, the savings from your lighting project can help make payments toward these higher priced retrofits.

    Step 3: Change the behavior

    You might also be able to better fund your project by making operational or behavioral changes for the energy usage within your building. Nearly 60% of the energy conservation measures identified through COSE’s Energy Audit Program were lighting or operational measures. These simple changes can instantly add dollars to your business’ budget, and these extra savings can greatly reduce the payback for your whole building energy efficiency project.  

    Step 4: The solar solution

    Having a comprehensive approach for your whole building can also provide you the savings to move beyond energy efficiency to generate power by installing solar panels. If your building would be ideal for completing a solar project, retrofitting your whole building to be energy efficient is the first step before considering this option. Not only does the ability of your building to support solar matter, but it is also critical to understand possible tax credits, your utility rates, and possible solar incentives you could receive from completing this project. By taking advantage of these three resources, the positive cash flow generated from a solar project can greatly increase.

    By tackling your energy efficiency needs project by project, you’ll be costing yourself greatly in energy savings in the long run. Not only will you be losing savings by the day, but you might be forced with emergency replacements you won’t be able to fund with your energy savings as you haven’t captured these dollars yet. Further, you’ll add the energy savings to your bottom line all at once, rather than only capturing a percentage of your potential over time. Completing your whole building project equals dollars being added to your bottom line. Completing your energy project piece by piece leads to the possible dollars you could’ve captured quickly drifting away to the utilities.  

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  • Next up: Completing your Entire Energy Efficiency Project with Urgency
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  • Completing your Entire Energy Efficiency Project with Urgency

    After having your building’s energy efficiency audited, it is important to be proactive and thorough about completing your energy efficiency project. Waiting to complete your project and only having a piecemeal approach can reduce your possible savings!

    After having your building’s energy efficiency audited, it is important to be proactive and thorough about completing your energy efficiency project. Waiting to complete your project and only having a piecemeal approach can reduce your possible savings!

    It is estimated that by waiting one year to complete your energy efficiency project, the project cost will increase by about 3% and energy prices will also increase by about 3%. For a $10,000 energy efficiency project, the value of completing the project immediately would be about twice as much than if the project were postponed just one year. This specific example would have been worth about $6,300 in positive cash flow after 4 years if it were completed immediately, but only worth about $3,000 if it were postponed a year!

    Not only does the cost of waiting directly impact your energy bills as well as the value of your project, it also has negative effects on other aspects of your business that could have been improved with those extra savings. By not capitalizing on the opportunity to free up dollars in your budget, other areas of your business that could have used those dollars also suffer.

    Not only must you be proactive about completing your project, but you must also be diligent about completing the bundle of conservation measures which offer a good balance of savings and payback period. By focusing on these grouped measures, you can improve the efficiency of your entire building. It’s important to not be dissuaded from some measures with longer payback periods. Often times if these measures are ignored, large percentages of possible savings can be lost. However, these high price tags can be mitigated by bundling long payback measures with quick payback measures to create a complete project.

    Throughout the audits completed by the COSE Energy Program, nearly 60% of all suggested energy conservation measures were lighting improvements or operational adjustments. Operational, or behavioral, conservation measures includes changes such as adjusting the set point temperatures for heating and cooling, more closely monitoring electricity usage by using power strips or unplugging equipment that is not in use, and other measures similar in nature. These changes may provide around 10-20% of your possible energy savings, but these dollars are pure savings as they require no investment. The most common conservation measures for lighting were to replace older, less efficient fixtures with LED fixtures, which can be 10 times more efficient! The payback periods for these types of measures are very short, sometimes even instant.

    These lighting and operational changes also provide positive cash flow from energy savings. You could simply complete these low hanging fruit measures of your project, but what about your vintage HVAC system that needs an overhaul? Or the insulation that could be added to reduce energy costs?

    By only completing the low hanging fruit which could be around 60% of your energy project, you are ignoring the other 40% of the measures that you could complete to save the most energy! By not completing this other 40% of measures, you could be missing out on nearly the same amount of your possible energy savings!

    By completing your lighting and operational upgrades, you can use these savings to fund your HVAC or insulation improvements. By taking the long term approach to your project, you’ll prevent your business from leaving any energy savings potential on the table! This means more dollars being shifted from your energy costs to other aspects of your business, such as marketing or employee compensation, especially when employees contribute to and enhance the energy savings!

    In order to achieve the greatest savings potential for your business’ energy portfolio, you must focus on the project as a whole, as well as be swift in your completion. By either not completing the whole project or only doing it in phases over a long period of time, or delaying in your completion all together, you are leaving large percentages of possible energy savings on the table!

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  • Next up: Congrats to Local Tech: Inc. 5000
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  • Congrats to Local Tech: Inc. 5000

    Inc. Magazine recently released its Inc. 5000 list, great to see so many awesome companies from the Northeast Ohio on the list. All told, fifty-three companies from NEO are on the list, more than Columbus and Cincy, which is cool.

    Inc. Magazine recently released its Inc. 5000 list, great to see so many awesome companies from the Northeast Ohio on the list. All told, fifty-three companies from NEO are on the list, more than Columbus and Cincy, which is cool.

    Also cool is that about a quarter of the companies from NEO are tech. And cooler still, of those thirteen companies, ten (77%!) are members of NEOSA. Draw your own conclusions.

    Congrats to these local tech companies for making the list:

    • LDR Interactive
    • Mongoose Metrics*
    • Insight2Profit*
    • LeanDog*
    • Vox Mobile*
    • Asurint*
    • Insight2Profit*
    • Thunder::Tech*
    • Epiphany Management Group
    • Fathom*
    • The T1 Company
    • Hyland Software*
    • Boundary Systems*

    The complete list is here and Cleveland Metro companies are here.

     Well-done, tech!


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  • Next up: Congrats to OHTec Members on the Cool Tech List
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  • Congrats to OHTec Members on the Cool Tech List

    We’re all in favor of just about anything that helps promote local tech so we’re glad to support the Inside Business Cool Tech Awards for the past couple of years. And we’re very proud to note many of this year’s Cool Tech honorees are members.

    We’re all in favor of just about anything that helps promote local tech so we’re glad to support the Inside Business Cool Tech Awards for the past couple of years.

    And we’re very proud to note many of this year’s Cool Tech honorees are members:

    • 1 EDI Source, Inc.
    • BlueBridge Networks
    • Dakota Software
    • Decision Desk
    • Findaway World
    • Lean Dog
    • Metisentry
    • OEC
    • OnShift
    • Realeflow
    • Recess Creative
    • Streamlink Software
    • Beegit
    • Surgical Theater
    • Vertix

    Other members winning accolades include:

    • BoxCast – coolest tech start up
    • DXY Solutions – coolest innovation
    • Mark Woodka, CEO – OnShift, coolest tech leader

    The awards dinner will be held on Tuesday, November 10 at Music Box Supper Club; details are here.

    Congratulations on this recognition; keep up the good work and keep making us all proud of tech in the CLE!


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  • Next up: connecTel: Get to Know Your New GCP Member Benefit
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  • connecTel: Get to Know Your New GCP Member Benefit

    The Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) and connecTel are pleased to announce a partnership that provides GCP members with exclusive access to a complete suite of telecom solutions.

    connecTel represents more than 150 telecommunications vendors, from major players such as AT&T, Verizon and Spectrum, to smaller, regionally-based providers specializing in hosted/cloud products, SIP, IT support, cabling and more.

    The new partnership between GCP and connecTel opens up a wide range of affordable products and services to help GCP members be smarter about their telecommunications as connecTel becomes an extension of GCP members’ existing IT team. connecTel’s team works together with small-, mid-size and large businesses to source and customize voice, Internet, data and wireless services to deliver solutions at the lowest possible cost.

    This new partnership will allow companies to leverage their GCP membership to gain access to exclusive benefits.

    “All GCP members will receive a free bill review of all voice, data, & cellular bills as part of our partnership with the GCP,” according to Scott McKinney, President/Shareholder of connecTel.

    connecTel’s robust suite of product offerings and services include:

    • Voice: Core services, such as local dial tone, long distance, international, toll-free and sundry usage plans.
    • Consulting and auditing: Consulting and auditing benefits range from bill auditing, RFP development, and contingency/shared savings pursuit of credits.

    • Hosted and cloud services: On-demand access to a cloud provider’s servers.

    • Mobility management services: A turnkey solution for all things mobile, including administering devices and carrier accounts, help desk support for end users, definition of mobile best practices, security and more.

    • Internet: Services include dial-up, broadband and dedicated wireless connectivity provided over copper, fiber, coaxial cable or wireless transfer medium.

    • Mobile device management: Expert insight on such things as product choice, cost savings, deployment options and security requirements specific to each organization’s unique needs and concerns.

    • Data services: Comprising all WAN types and provided over copper, coaxial cable and wireless transfer medium.

    • Long-term partnership: connecTel’s benefits don’t end with these services, however. connecTel acts as a long-term partner dedicated to troubleshooting, handling service problems and continual cost cutting.

    And another benefit: whether it’s for a two-person, or 20,000-person business, connecTel is a long-term partner focused on trouble shooting, solving service problems and continual cost-cutting.

    “Our goal is to be a trusted telecommunications partner and to become a dedicated extension of your team,” says Jeff Nemcek, President of connecTel Wireless.

    Learn more about how connecTel’s telecom solutions can free your team up to focus on what matters most: your business. Visit connecTel’s site by clicking here.


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