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Use manual sanity checks in data pipelines. When optimizing data processing systems, it’s easy to stay in the “binary mindset” mode, using tight pipelines, efficient binary data formats, and compressed I/O. As the data passes through the system unseen, unchecked (except for perhaps its type), it remains invisible until something outright blows up. Then debugging commences. I advocate sprinkling a few simple log messages throughout the code, showing what the data looks like at various internal points of processing, as good practice — nothing fancy, just an analogy to the Unix head command, picking and visualizing a few data points. Not only does this help during the aforementioned debugging, but seeing the data in a human-readable format leads to “aha!” moments surprisingly often, even when all seems to be going well. Strange tokenization! They promised input would always be encoded in latin1! How did a document in this language get in there? Image files leaked into a pipeline that expects and parses text files! These are often insights that go way beyond those offered by automatic type checking or a fixed unit test, hinting at issues beyond component boundaries. Real-world data is messy. Catch early even things that wouldn’t necessarily lead to exceptions or glaring errors. Err on the side of too much verbosity.
Micha Gorelick (High Performance Python: Practical Performant Programming for Humans)