A key benefit of Julia
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A key benefit of Julia is the ability to write code which looks similar to the mathematical representation of an algorithm, with simple and expressive syntax, while still being performant.
Additionally, Julia accepts UTF8 encoded Unicode characters as variable names, so if a paper defines some quantity, \( \boldsymbol{\mu}_i \), then essentially the same Unicode representation, 𝛍ᵢ, could be used in the code.^{1}
Although it may seem minor, there’s a certain pedagogical advantage to having such a close match.
When reading through the code of a package for computing a statistical estimator, it’s easier to parse
𝚲ᵢ' * 𝐖ᵢ * 𝐮ᵢ * 𝐮ᵢ' * 𝐖ᵢ * 𝚲ᵢ
than
t(Lambda_i) %*% W_i %*% u_i %*% t(u_i) %*% W_i %*% Lambda_i
when the equivalent equation in the accompanying paper is
.
Now, I don’t recommend replacing all your descriptive variable and function names with fancy Unicode characters, but sometimes it does make sense to use the same mathematical symbols. The Julia code below demonstrates this point by defining a function to compute standard errors and a hypothesis test from Wooldridge (1999). The comments provide a mapping to definitions in the paper which share notation with the code.
import StatsFuns.chisqcdf;
using LinearAlgebra;
poisfe_test = function(y, id, X, qcmle_coefs)
# No "hats" on variables are used for brevity.
# We are already dealing with estimated quantities.
β = qcmle_coefs # Estimated parameters, p.79
K = length(β) # Number of parameters, p.79
all_ids = unique(id)
N = length(all_ids) # Number of groups, p.83
# Initialize arrays described later
𝐊 = zeros(Float64, K, K)
𝐀 = zeros(Float64, K, K)
𝐁 = zeros(Float64, K, K)
𝚲 = Array{Array{Float64}}(undef, N)
𝐖 = Array{Array{Float64}}(undef, N)
𝐮 = Array{Array{Float64}}(undef, N)
# Particular functional form (Poisson), p.79
μ = function(𝐱ᵢₜ, β)
return exp(𝐱ᵢₜ ⋅ β)
end
for i=1:N
this_index = searchsorted(id, all_ids[i])
T = length(this_index)
yᵢ = y[this_index] # Tx1 vector of outcomes, p.79
𝐱ᵢ = X[this_index, :] # TxK matrix of indep vars, p.79
nᵢ = sum(yᵢ) # Scalar sum of outcomes, p.79
𝛍ᵢ = similar(yᵢ) # Tx1 vector of conditional means, p.82
for t in 1:T
𝛍ᵢ[t] = μ(𝐱ᵢ[t, :], β)
end
Σ𝛍ᵢ = sum(𝛍ᵢ) # Scalar sum of conditional means, p.82
𝐩 = 𝛍ᵢ / Σ𝛍ᵢ # Tx1 vector of "choice probabilities," p.79 (2.5)
# 𝚲ᵢ (TxK) is the derivative of 𝐩 wrt β; p.86
𝚲ᵢ = similar(𝐱ᵢ)
for k in 1:K
last_term = 0
for s in 1:T
last_term += 𝐱ᵢ[s, k] * 𝐩[s]
end
for t in 1:T
𝚲ᵢ[t, k] = 𝐩[t] * (𝐱ᵢ[t, k]  last_term)
end
end
𝐖ᵢ = Diagonal((1 ./ 𝐩)) # TxT, p.82
𝐮ᵢ = yᵢ  nᵢ * 𝐩 # Tx1, p.82
# Each group's 𝚲ᵢ, 𝐖ᵢ, and 𝐮ᵢ are stored in an array of arrays for
# later computation of a hypothesis test, p.86
𝚲[i] = 𝚲ᵢ
𝐖[i] = 𝐖ᵢ
𝐮[i] = 𝐮ᵢ
𝐊 += 1/N * 𝚲ᵢ' * (nᵢ * 𝚲ᵢ) # p.86 (3.16)
𝐀 += 1/N * nᵢ * (𝚲ᵢ' * 𝐖ᵢ * 𝚲ᵢ) # p.83 (3.9)
𝐁 += 1/N * 𝚲ᵢ' * 𝐖ᵢ * 𝐮ᵢ * 𝐮ᵢ' * 𝐖ᵢ * 𝚲ᵢ # p.83 (3.10)
end
𝐀⁻¹ = inv(𝐀)
se_rob = broadcast(sqrt, diag((𝐀⁻¹ * 𝐁 * 𝐀⁻¹) / N )) # p.83, (3.11)
# Test of the conditional mean specification (3.1) with the null
# hypothesis (3.14), p.85
𝐫 = Array{Float64, 2}(undef, N, K) # p.86, (3.17)
for i=1:N
𝐫[i,:] = 𝐮[i]' * (𝚲[i]  𝐖[i] * 𝚲[i] * 𝐀⁻¹ * 𝐊')
end
ssr = sum((ones(N)  𝐫 * (𝐫 \ ones(N))) .^ 2) # p.86 (3.18)
p_value = 1  chisqcdf(K, N  ssr) # p.86
return se_rob, p_value
end
The function may be tested with some synthetic data like the example below.
y = [1.0, 0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 7.0, 1.0, 0.0, 1.0, 0.0, 0.0, 6.0,
2.0, 3.0, 0.0, 1.0, 6.0, 0.0, 7.0, 0.0, 21.0]
id = [1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2]
X = [0.398106 0.496961; 0.612026 0.224875; 0.34112 1.11714;
1.12936 0.394995; 1.43302 1.54983; 1.9804 0.743514; 0.367221 2.33171;
1.04413 0.812245; 0.56972 0.501311; 0.135055 0.510887;
2.40162 1.21536; 0.03924 0.0225586; 0.689739 0.701239;
0.0280022 0.587482; 0.743273 0.606728; 0.188792 1.09664;
1.80496 0.24751; 1.46555 0.159902; 0.153253 0.625778;
2.17261 0.900435]
qcmle_coefs = [0.924499; 0.869371]
show(poisfe_test(y, id, X, qcmle_coefs))
([0.013508, 0.12758], 0.36787944117144233)
Despite many optimizations left on the table, the code above is still going to be blazing fast. An equivalent in a lowlevel language is likely to be more verbose and difficult for nonexperts to parse—especially those from the social sciences, the audience of the paper. A high level language like R can be written in a more understandable way (see here), but achieving high performance requires either vectorization (sometimes difficult, sometimes impossible) or dropping back down to a lowlevel language. Julia seems to hit the sweet spot.
References
Wooldridge, Jeffrey M. (1999): “Distributionfree estimation of some nonlinear panel data models,” Journal of Econometrics, 90, 7797. https://doi.org/10.1016/S03044076%2898%29000335

Many other languages will technically allow Unicode characters in variable names, but based on personal experience there’s typically some type of extra configuration or risk of errors across platforms. Julia is more accommodating, and most Julia development environments—including the REPL—support tab completion of common Unicode characters, e.g.
\alpha<tab>
becomes α. ↩