Lately, I wanted to spend a little bit time on going back to fundamental computer science concepts. Hopefully, I will be able to write about these while I am looking into them in order to offload the knowledge from my brain to the magic hands of the Web :) I am going to start with Graphs, specifically Depth First Traversal (a.k.a. Depth First Search or DFS) and Breadth First Traversal (a.k.a Breadth First Search or BFS). However, this post is only about the definition of Graph and its application in software systems.
What is a Graph?
I am sure you are capable of Googling what a Graph is and ironically maybe that’s why you are reading this sentence now. However, I am not going to put the fancy explanation of a Graph here. Wikipedia already has a great definition on a Graph which can be useful to start with.
Let’s start with a picture:
This is a graph and there are some unique characteristics of this which makes it a graph.
- Vertices (a.k.a. Nodes): Each circle with a label inside the above picture is called a vertex or node. They are fundamental building blocks of a graph.
- Edges (a.k.a. Arc, Line, Link, Branch): A line that joins two vertices together is called as edge. An edge could be in three forms: undirected and directed. We will get to what these actually mean.
At this point you might be asking what is the difference between a graph and a tree? A tree is actually a graph with some special constraints applied to. A few of these that I know:
- A tree cannot contain a cycle but a graph can (see the A, B and E nodes and their edges inside the above picture).
- A tree always has a specific root node, whereas you don’t have this concept with a graph.
- A tree can only has one edge between its two nodes whereas we can have unidirectional and bidirectional edges between nodes within a graph
I am sure there are more but I believe these are the ones that matter the most.
As we can see with the tree example, graphs comes in many forms. There are many types of graphs and each type has its own unique characteristics and real world use cases. Undirected and directed graphs are two of these types as I briefly mentioned while explaining the edges. I believe the best example to describe the difference between them is to have a look at the fundamental concept of Facebook and Twitter.
Application of Graphs
Graphs are amazing, I absolutely love the concept of a graph! Everyone interacts with a system everyday which somehow makes use of graphs. Facebook, Google Maps, Foursquare, the fraud check system that your bank applies are all making use of a graph and there are many, many more. One application of graph concept which I love is a recommendation engine. There are many forms of this but a very basis one is called Collaborative Filtering. At its basis, it works under a notion of “Steve and Mark liked BMW, Mercedes and Toyota, you like BMW and Toyota, and you may like Mercedes, too?”.
There are some really good graph databases with their own query languages as well. One that I love about is Neo4j which uses Cypher query language to make its data available to be consumed. On their web site, there are a few key applications of Neo4j listed and they are fundamentally real world applications of the graph concept.
You can also come across some interesting problems in the space of mathematics which has solutions based on a type of graph like Seven Bridges of Königsberg problem (and I think this problem is the cornerstone in the history of graph theory).
It's very common that you get asked about your proudest achievement. I wanted to put mine here publicly so that I would have a place to direct people to. So, here it is :)
My proudest achievement to this day dates back to 2010. I was working at a local Travel Agency in Turkey while still studying Travel Management at the university and we had a Web site for our customers to book their airport transfers from/to their hotels by paying online. However, the application didn't allow our customers to book additional services with extra cost such as baby booster seat. In addition to this, we were unable to reflect our pricing accurately for particular conditions due to the limitations on the system. At the time, I was working at the reservations and booking department but I had a huge interest on software development, especially on web applications.
Lots of things happened after this and I achieved so much more such as being part of several successful teams to create valuable software products, being published, having the Microsoft MVP award for 5 years in a row, speaking at lots of international conferences, maintaining a successful blog for 7+ years and many more. However, nothing was able to beat that because it was a unique opportunity to be able to fight for something I truly believed in. Besides that, having a true leader as your manager is a unique opportunity. He trusted me and my skills, and when looking back at this now, it's very clear to see that I would never have become a good software developer without this trust and my confident in myself.
What's Your Proudest Achievement?
Well, it's your turn. Hopefully I encouraged you to share yours publicly as well. Please share yours as a comment here, preferably by linking to your blog post which you are about to write :)
If you are a software engineer, this is a very common question you will get to ask yourself a lot. This is going to be especially very frequent if you are being part of the recruitment process in your company. As you may know, I work at Redgate, and we have a good culture for development teams. Besides that, common characteristics of a good engineer with examples and counter examples for each engineering role are defined, too. This is a really good guidance for the employer to reflect their culture for a particular role. It’s also good for the employees to understand where they are on being an effective employee.
I got inspired by this and I wanted to share the list of principals I value and look for within a software engineer. Obvious disclaimer: this is not the list of principals that my employer values even if the most of them are pretty similar. As we got the disclaimer out of our way, let's see these principals:
- Knows the fundamental concepts, data structures and common algorithms rather than only being too good with a programming language or a specific framework w/o understanding the basics. In other words, know the basics and be polyglot.
- Has good communication skills - both verbal and written. Without this, it's impossible to be a good software engineer.
- Being pragmatic - Works incrementally and balances delivering value frequently with delivering high quality.
- Iterates fast - Values Continuous Integration (CI) and Continuous Delivery (CD), makes their code fail fast, enforce consistency and keep master branch releasable. Your release process should as easy as adding a git tag as a valid semantic version.
- Cares for sustainability - Strives for producing code which will sustain for years, even decades. Not one-off, works-now-who-knows-when-it-will-stop-working ones.
- Knows the business - Cares to understand the business domain and strives for establishing an ubiquitous language between the software product team and stakeholders.
- Strives for THE BEST UX - Makes user experience the part of the product completeness.
- Being a team player - Works with their peers, gets/gives code review from/to them. Develops their skills while they are developing their own. Should strive for being transparent to the team all the time.
- Knows the metrics but also has a vision - Should know the metrics and how to get them to make decisions. However, they should have a vision at the same time, too. They should not have the "Let’s ask the users” mindset as the default approach for product feature decisions. Remember, good artists copy; great artists steal! The problem you are trying to solve has been probably solved within the same or a different context. Find that, bend it and apply differently.
- Disagrees and commits when needed - Should not be shy about getting their opinions out and pursue them. However, they should also know that a decision has to be made, and when that’s the case, they should commit fully and try to get the best out of it even if it’s not the decision they wanted to see.
- Values open source and contributing back to software community - Has a blog, gives talks at conferences or user groups, contributes back to open source projects. Simply shares what they are proud of with others openly.
There are probably more but these are the most important ones that I care about and value at a very high level. However, I wonder what yours are, too. Therefore, please share them with me here by send me a comment.