July 26, 2016

SDET Prep: Insertion Sort and Learning By Video

This blog post is part of a series as I research how to move from Automation Development to being a Software Developer in Test. These next few posts will deal with algorithms.

When I find my programming skills are a bit rusty from disuse, I find watching educational videos on the internet is the next best thing to face-to-face instruction in a classroom.

With online lessons, I can repeat an example as many times as I want, rewind the lesson, and I can pause the screen to type out the code they are using, playing around with it immediately -- the best way to learn code.

Within the last couple of blog posts, when we started talking about measuring the efficiency of algorithms using Big-O notation, I displayed Eric Drowell's Big-O Complexity Chart of commonly used sorting algorithms.

We are going to cover three of those sorting algorithms in a bit more detail: Insertion sort, mergesort, and quicksort, starting with Insertion sort.

As a reference, we'll use lessons from Khan Academy, and from Harvard's CS 50.

What is Khan Academy?

When Sal Khan started tutoring his cousins remotely back in 2004, placing lessons on YouTube, he left the setting of the video as public. He started comments from the general public about how much they loved his courses. Sal built a company around that concept.

Hear Sal talk about how he started Khan Academy in his TED talk back in 2011:

Khan Academy is free to join, funded by donations. Need to study concepts you once knew back in high school but have forgotten? Khan Academy is a good refresher.

What is Harvard's CS 50?

Harvard created an Introduction to Computer Science course for edX they named after their on-campus course, CS 50, "an introduction to the intellectual enterprises of computer science and the art of programming".
"CS50 is an introduction to computer science and programming. The first eight weeks are spent coding in C, developing a foundation in basic programming tools and concepts (e.g., loops, data structures, memory management). The remaining weeks are intensive immersions into web programming and databases, covering HTML, CSS, PHP, Javascript, and SQL". - Quora

You can find its courses either on the edX site, or floating around on its YouTube Channel.

Khan Academy: The Insertion sort algorithm

Let's say you have a list in Python:
[7, 3, 1, 2, 4, 6]

Going by the video, the list is sorted like so:

Initial: [7, 3, 1, 2, 4, 6]

Step 1: [3, 7, 1, 2, 4, 6]
Step 2: [1, 3, 7, 2, 4, 6]
Step 3: [1, 2, 3, 7, 4, 6]
Step 4: [1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 6]
Step 5: [1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7]

Need more help visualizing this?

Harvard CS50: Visualizing Insertion Sort

If you need more help visualizing this, how about Harvard's CS50.tv video from Tommy, using Styrofoam cups?

Here is a copy of the pseudocode they are using:

 for i = 1 to n - 1
   element = array[i]
   j = i
   while (j > 0 and array[j - 1] > element
        array[j] = array[j - 1]
        j = j -1
    array[j] = element

Need more information?

How about another Harvard CS50 Video, this time with Doug Lloyd?

Insertion Sort:

In insertion sort, the idea of the algorithm is to build your sorted array in place, shifting elements out of the way if necessary to make room as you go.

In pseudocode:

Call the first element of the array "sorted".
Repeat until all elements are sorted:
  • Look at the next unsorted element. 
  • Insert into the "sorted" portion by shifting the requisite number of elements. 

Khan Academy: Insertion Sort in Python

But how would you implement this in Python?

Of the top of his head, Sal Khan writes the following code, noting that it is not the best way to solve this problem.


 def insertion_sort(list)
     for index in range(1,len(list)):
          value = list[index]
          i = index - 1
          while i > 0
               if value < list[i]:
                   list[i+1] = list[i] #shift number in slot i right to slot i+1
                   list[i] = value # shift value left into slot i
                   i = i - 1

>>> a = [7, 1, 3, 5, 9, 2, 3]
>>> insertion_sort(a)
>>> print(a)
[1, 2, 3, 3, 5, 7, 9]

Khan Academy: More Detail

Khan Academy's Computer Science course on Insertion Sort has a tutorial that walks you through an insertion sort, showing you the pseudocode on the algorithm, then performs a proof demonstrating that the worst case is O(n ^2) with a best case of O(n).

Joe James: Insertion Sort

Insertion Sort in Java Let's take a look at another example, Joe James' Java: Insertion Sort sorting algorithm.


Joe James, in his example, takes a list of numbers: [5, 8, 1, 3, 9, 6]

Sort Item 0: Item 0 is already "sorted", since all items to the left are smaller.
Sort Item 1: We see that it is an "8". Let's have that be a "Key Value".

Is the Key Value less than Item 0?

  • Is 8 < 5? 
  • No, so Item 1 can be considered sorted. 
Sort Item 2: Key Value = "1".

  • Is Key Value Less than Item 1? 
  • Is k < 8? 
  • Yes, so 8 and 1 is swapped. 
  • Is k > 5? 
  • Yes, so 1 and 5 is swapped. 

... This continues for the rest of the numbers.

How would we code this?

Joe uses:

  • i for the outer loop, incrementing the index by 1
  • The variable "key" for the key value 
  • j for the inner loop which is shifting to the left.

public int[] insertionSort (int[] list) {
   int i, j, key, temp;
   for (i=1; i < list.length; i++) {
       key = list[i];
       j = i -1;
       while (j >=0 && key < list[j]) {
          temp = list[j];
          list[j] = list[j +1];
          list[ j+1] = temp;
   return list;

... Watch enough videos of a subject, material such as JavaPoint's version of Insertion Sort becomes easier to understand! http://www.javatpoint.com/insertion-sort-in-java

public class InsertionSortExample {  
   public static void insertionSort(int array[]) {  
      int n = array.length;  
      for (int j = 1; j < n; j++) {  
         int key = array[j];  
         int i = j-1;  
         while ( (i > -1) && ( array [i] > key ) ) {  
            array [i+1] = array [i];  
         array[i+1] = key;  
    public static void main(String a[]){    
        int[] arr1 = {9,14,3,2,43,11,58,22};    
        System.out.println("Before Insertion Sort");    
        for(int i:arr1){    
            System.out.print(i+" ");    
        insertionSort(arr1);//sorting array using insertion sort    
        System.out.println("After Insertion Sort");    
        for(int i:arr1){    
            System.out.print(i+" ");    

Happy Testing!

-T.J. Maher
Sr. QA Engineer,

// BSCS, MSE, and QA Engineer since Aug. 1996
// Automation developer for [ 1.5 ] years and still counting!
// Check out Adventures in Automation and Like us on Facebook!
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