A Brief Introduction to Feature Engineering in Python

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One of the most crucial steps in building machine learning models is Feature Engineering, the process of transforming raw data into suitable input features for training models. As we delve into a world that increasingly revolves around data and machine learning, understanding and implementing feature engineering becomes an essential skill. This article will provide a comprehensive introduction to feature engineering in Python, covering its importance, common techniques, and practical examples.

Understanding Feature Engineering

Feature engineering involves creating new features or modifying existing features which might enable the machine learning models to predict the target variables more accurately. It’s a process where you use domain knowledge of your data to create features that make your machine learning algorithms work. If feature selection is the process of selecting the most relevant features from the dataset, feature engineering is the process of creating new features or modifying existing ones to better represent the underlying data.

The Importance of Feature Engineering

The benefits of feature engineering can’t be overstressed. Here’s why:

  1. Better Representation of Data: The performance of a machine learning model not only depends on the model and the algorithm itself, but also largely on how you present the data. Feature engineering can help the algorithm better understand the data.
  2. Improves Model Performance: Good features provide a better starting point for machine learning models, which can lead to models that are more accurate and faster to train.
  3. Enables the Use of Simpler Models: With well-engineered features, simple models can often perform just as well as (or even better than) complex models. Simple models are easier to interpret and less prone to overfitting.

Common Techniques for Feature Engineering

The techniques used for feature engineering often depend on the nature of the data. Here are some common methods:


Imputation is the process of substituting the missing values in your dataset. The SimpleImputer class in the sklearn.impute module can perform this task conveniently.


Binning, also known as quantization, is used for transforming continuous numeric features into discrete ones (bins). These bins sometimes carry more information compared to the original continuous features.

Log Transform

Logarithm transformation (or log transform) is among the most commonly used mathematical transformations in feature engineering. It helps to handle skewed data and after transformation, the distribution becomes more approximate to normal.

One-Hot Encoding

One-hot encoding is a process of converting categorical data variables so they can be provided to machine learning algorithms to improve predictions. OneHotEncoder class in sklearn.preprocessing module can help perform this task.

Polynomial Features

Sometimes, a dataset contains features that are not linearly separable, and it’s beneficial to create interactions among features. PolynomialFeatures class in sklearn.preprocessing module is helpful for creating polynomial features.

Practical Implementation

To illustrate the process of feature engineering, let’s consider a simple example using the Titanic dataset available in seaborn library. In this example, we will perform some feature engineering tasks in Python using pandas and sklearn.

First, let’s load the necessary libraries and the dataset:

import pandas as pd
import seaborn as sns
from sklearn.preprocessing import Binarizer

# Load Titanic dataset
df = sns.load_dataset('titanic')

# Print the first few rows

Next, let’s do some feature engineering.

# Impute missing age values with median
df['age'].fillna(df['age'].median(), inplace=True)

# Create a new feature 'IsAdult' by binarizing 'age'
binarizer = Binarizer(threshold=18)
df['IsAdult'] = binarizer.fit_transform(df['age'].values.reshape(-1, 1))

# Create a new feature 'FamilySize'
df['FamilySize'] = df['sibsp'] + df['parch'] + 1

In this example, we first filled the missing ‘age’ values with the median age. Then, we created a new feature ‘IsAdult’ by binarizing ‘age’. If ‘age’ is greater than 18, ‘IsAdult’ is 1; otherwise, it’s 0. After that, we created a new feature ‘FamilySize’ by adding ‘sibsp’ and ‘parch’ together and adding 1.


Feature engineering is an important aspect of machine learning that has a significant impact on the quality of the model. While it can be a time-consuming and meticulous process, effective feature engineering can provide a competitive edge in achieving superior model performance. A deep understanding of the data, domain knowledge, and creativity are the most important elements in this process.

Remember, feature engineering is more of an art than a science, and the best way to master this skill is by practicing and experimenting with various techniques. There’s always room for innovation and improvement in this area. Good luck with your feature engineering journey!

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