How to Start Learning Python

A woman looking at a computer screen

Those interested in learning coding face a tough choice: which programming language to learn. There are many, and they all have different strengths and weaknesses. Some are better for beginning learners than others, and Python programming language is not only an excellent tool for experienced programmers, but also easy for beginning coders to learn and use.

If you’re interested in web development and coding, Python can help you do anything you put your mind to — it’s a versatile and powerful object-oriented programming language. The learning curve on Python is gradual, and the code is very readable; you’ll be able to gain mastery little by little while beginning to build with the code fairly early on.

(And it doesn’t hurt that Python was named for the famous British comedy troupe. Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum, who created Python programming language in 1991, was a huge Monty Python fan.)

The language is now on its 3.0 version and is used by such big names as NASA, Google and Disney. “We achieve immediate functioning code so much faster in Python than in any other language that it’s staggering,” says Robin Friedrich, senior project engineer for United Space Alliance, NASA’s shuttle support contractor.

Here you’ll find an overview of Python to help coders at any skill level understand the ins and outs of this language, along with recommendations for the best ways to learn Python.

Beginner’s guide to Python

Python is a great first coding language for beginners because its structure will naturally teach you to think like a programmer. It’s quite a readable language — it reads like regular English — so you don’t have to spend a lot of time memorizing unrecognizable commands and other syntax. You can put more of your energy toward mastering programming concepts and paradigms that will help you make the most of Python.

A graph of the growth of Python

Source: StackOverflow.com

Programming languages works with an IDE or Integrated Development Environment. An IDE is a software application that provides resources for programming, such as a source code editing tool, build automation tools and a debugger. For the Python language, there is a specific IDE called IDLE (Integrated Development and Learning Environment) that makes it straightforward to write Python code and run Python programs. IDLE provides these and other tools for programmers, including a syntax highlighting option that organizes how your text is displayed, autocomplete and smart indent. Working within IDLE, you can run any program you write in Python immediately.

“Twenty minutes after my first encounter with Python, I had downloaded it, compiled it and installed it on my SPARCstation,” remembers Friedrich. “It actually worked out of the box!”

To learn Python as a beginner, you have to start with the basics of Python syntax. This is a necessary step for all Python developers, and it’s a good idea to think about your goals and motivations for learning python before starting out. You’ll likely have an easier time slogging through some of the fundamentals if you’re working toward something interesting like designing a game, an app or a robot.

One good place to start getting the lay of the land is the Beginner’s Guide to Python. Begin by checking out the Beginner’s Guide Overview that provides a quick run-down of Python’s notable features. If you’re a Python beginner who has experience coding in other languages, check the Python for Programmers page that houses a huge list of resources, tools, tutorials and lessons. To get more detailed peek at Python, you can find examples of code snippets in The Python Standard Library and the Python Cookbook to get a sense of what the code looks like and what it can be used for.

Learning Python from scratch

There are many reasons to learn the Python programming language, from its simplicity to its diversity of applications. Here are a few:

Easy to write and maintain

Writing in Python is almost like writing in simple English or doing basic math equations. It’s an elegant, readable language that uses a lot of white space to allow for organizing the text into digestible chunks. The code is so straightforward that someone with a bit of coding experience in other programming languages will be able to write useful code within the first day using Python.

Python is suited for web development

Python is great for creating websites, which makes it a very useful option in today’s Internet-oriented world. Learning python can help you launch a web design career.

Design for idea development

Python is the type of code that can be iterated rapidly, helping startups take concepts from idea to implementation quickly. Those who are interested in working with startups will benefit from learning python.

Diversity of applications

Programmers use Python for web and app development, but it is also increasingly common to use it in scientific applications as well. Python can do any number of things, making it a particularly versatile programming language.

Python applies well to AI and machine learning

Python is flexible and fast, so it applies well to artificial intelligence and machine learning applications. Those interested in working on cutting-edge computing would do well to learn Python.

Learning python will increase your attractiveness in the programming job market. Not only that, but Python coders can expect high salaries. According to Indeed, the average salary for a Python developer in New York City (as of December 2019) is $134,000.

Average salary in New York

Source: Indeed.com

How to learn Python from scratch

The typical way to learn Python language from scratch is to take a course or tutorial to get a grounding in the syntax before moving on to creating projects. Many courses and tutorials will teach all of the syntax you need to know and only then will direct students to analyze data, build a website or create a robot.

The syntax of Python is based on various data types, specifically numeric, string and Boolean types. Python also has built-in functions that are chunks of code you can add wholesale to command actions. Learning the ins and outs of all these data types and functions is an essential first step in learning python.

However, some programmers recommend starting to do projects that will spark your interest even before you’ve learned every detail of the programming language. This will keep your motivation up while you enter the long learning process of mastering Python syntax. Some of the things you can set your mind on making with your new Python skills are mobile apps, websites, games, robots and scripts to automate your workflow.

Projects like these allow users to apply the basics they’ve learned and get hands-on with their new skills. As you apply your knowledge, you’ll be more likely to internalize and remember it, and you’ll push yourself to solve problems with your code in ways that will help you explore its capabilities.

In the beginning stages, it’s best to attempt only structured projects with requirements limited to the range of your current skill set. However, if you do want to push yourself in new directions, a benefit of Python is that there is abundant documentation available at python.org to help you learn more about the data types, functions and other code details.

How to write your first program in Python

Eager to write your first program in Python? You’ll find it almost couldn’t be easier. A program is a set of instructions that a computer can follow to make something happen, similar to the rules of a game.

Computer programs are issued in languages in which each command has a very specific meaning that can’t be misconstrued. Creating your first program in Python means writing out a small series of instructions in the Python language that instruct the computer to work in a certain way.

The first step is installing Python 3 and IDLE on your machine. Python 3 is the most recent version and the one future-oriented coders will want to focus on. It is very easy to install on Linux using the following command:

sudo apt-get install python3 idle3

Next, start IDLE, the IDE specifically for Python. In Windows, select IDLE from the Start Menu. In Apple, go to Applications, then choose Python 3. On Linux, choose IDLE from Menu > Programming > IDLE.

In you’re in Apple or Linux, in the terminal run:

idle3

You’ll be presented with a screen that looks like a box with some instruction inside indicated by chevrons, which look like this: >>>. This is the Python Shell, and the chevrons are prompts to enter commands in the Python programming language. The commands are what will run your first program.

The traditional first program for new coders is the “Hello, World!” program, which helps learners master basic syntax in a new programming language. To make your own such program in Python type the following command:

print(“Hello, World!”)

Now, press enter. Watch as your computer greets the world, and realize that you’re on the verge of being able to do anything, from web development to programming drones.

The best Python tutorials

If you are completely new to programming or need to bolster experience, there are scores of Python programming language tutorials available free online. An enterprising learner can benefit from the introductory learning in these Python resources. Here are some of the best online tutorials to learn how to code in Python:

  • The Official Python Tutorial, an extensive tutorial on Python.org
  • Python Screencasts, a series of more than 30 video tutorials on YouTube
  • Learn Python in 10 Minutes, a tutorial from Stavros Korokithakis
  • The Hello World Program has a series of quick, humorous blog-based tutorials
  • Python OOP Tutorial for Beginners, from Jayanam
  • Python 3 Tutorial from Python-course.eu
  • Envato Tuts+ provides several tutorials for learning python:
    • Learn Python
    • Learn to Code with Python
    • Data Handling With Python
    • Crawl the Web With Python
  • PYGAME tutorials show how to make games with Python
  • Scikit-learn documentation offers tutorials for Python machine learning
  • Python tutorials on data science from Dataquest take your skills up a level

Online coursework for learning Python at the university level

The online Master’s in Data Analytics and Visualization (MSDAV) from the Katz School of Science and Health at Yeshiva University (YU) incorporates Python programming into a broad curriculum of training. Besides learning Python, students receive instruction in data aggregation, data cleansing, regression modeling and a host of other skills vital to data analysis. Under the direction of YU’s world-class faculty, and designed in consultation with technology leaders in data-driven industries, YU’s MSDAV program offers deep skill building for programming in the context of guided projects and a cohort of other motivated students.

Learning python in a master’s program will open up all sorts of possibilities for those interested in learning to code for the first time or pushing their coding career in new directions. With Python code you’ll be making apps, scripts, games and even robots in no time.

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