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Getting started with Python programming

May 15, 2019

If you have even a moderate interest in the world of programming, chances are you’ve heard of Python at least a handful of times. Most recently, Python was ranked at the top of IEEE Spectrum’s annual list of top programming languages for 2018. Despite its popularity, some are still unfamiliar with the ins and outs of this programming language.

Consider this your official introduction to Python. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll brief you on the following topics so you can develop a deeper understanding of Python:

  • What is Python?
  • Who is it for?
  • What should it be used for?
  • Getting started with Python
  • How to learn Python

If you’re already familiar with the program, allow us to point you in the direction of a few relevant articles we’ve published for more advanced programmers. You’ll find a range of Python tips and tricks on our blog, including how to build a countdown clock as well as an introduction to Python programming in Ubuntu Linux.

What is Python?

Python is a general purpose programming language created by Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum in 1990 and released in 1991. Although Python is classified as a high-level language, it is best known for its simplicity and ease of use. Because of this, Python is a fan-favorite for both beginners and seasoned developers alike.

With an emphasis on readability and white space, this language provides users with simple solutions, time-effective processes and a finished stack of code that is easy to understand for almost everyone involved in the project—whether they can skillfully read code or not.

Whether you’re new to the field or you’re looking for the right program to develop a new dynamic application, there are so many great reasons to learn Python.

However, it would be unwise to mistake Python’s simplicity for a lack of versatility. This is a high-level programming language that can be effectively utilized to perform a number of complex operations. If you’re still hesitant to rely on Python for your next big-ticket assignment due to its simplistic structure, the following list should give you a little more faith in the program’s capabilities.

This is a list of renowned brands that have used Python (if not exclusively, then as part of a combination of languages) to develop fully-functional, complex products, programs and video games that are used by hundreds of millions of people all around the world:

  • Spotify
  • Netflix
  • Dropbox
  • Google
  • Instagram
  • Reddit
  • YouTube
  • Battlefield 2
  • The Sims 4
  • Overwatch

This is only a fraction of the impressive roundup of diverse creations that give full or partial credit to Python. Rumor has it that even NASA is jumping aboard the Python craze. In an interview with CNET, United Space Alliance’s senior project engineer Robin Friedrich summed it up perfectly by saying, "Python allows us to tackle the complexity of programs like the WAS without getting bogged down in the language.”

You know what they say: If it’s good enough for The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, it’s good enough for you.

That’s a saying, right?


Quick Python facts

  • According to a research report published in 2014 on the official website for the Association for Computing Machinery, Python was the most popular introductory teaching language at the top universities in America, replacing what was once the most commonly used language in the industry: Java.

  • Python ranked #1 on IEEE Spectrum’s list of the Top Programming Languages for 2018. Python came out ahead of C++, JavaScript and other widely popular languages that have been heavily utilized for decades.

  • The Dropbox Desktop client, a program with hundreds of millions of users, was built entirely with Python.

  • Expert developers are often contributing new and helpful Python libraries that can easily be used to reduce work time and increase efficiency.

  • Python is cross-platform and open source, which makes it a highly versatile language that can perform flawlessly on any operating system.

Who is Python for?

What makes Python one of the most popular programming languages is its seemingly uncapped audience base. On one end of the spectrum, students are learning to use Python as an early introduction to programming languages. On the other end, top-tier developers are harnessing Python to craft the next revolutionary programs.

Whether you’re thinking about beginning a career in the tech field, or you’re already a programming mastermind, Python comes highly recommended.

Python for beginners

Welcome to the land of programming, where we literally speak in code. A typical stack of brackets, semicolons and unfamiliar identifiers can easily overwhelm and discourage anyone who isn’t yet fluent in code. This is what makes Python such a fantastic segue into the more complicated languages like Java and CSS.

Just like Japanese or French, coding is a language with its own set of rules and unspoken etiquette. You should approach learning code just as you would any other foreign language. If you were trying to learn German, you wouldn’t begin with a thick German novella about die verwandlung (Kafka’s The Metamorphosis), would you?

Of course not! You’d start with the utmost basic pronunciation of simple, common words.

Python is comparable to the basics of a new language. With this programming language, you can familiarize yourself with the bare bone fundamentals before advancing to the more complicated languages.

Take a look at this comparison between Java and Python. Both scripts accomplish the exact same objective, but Python is significantly simpler.

Java vs Python Code

Python for experienced users

What coding language are you most comfortable with? PHP, CSS, JavaScript? If you’ve been punching code for a while now, chances are you’ve adopted different templates and other ways to minimize the time you spend typing out repetitive functions.

Be that as it may, you’re still spending a lot of time on unnecessary code—time you could be putting toward advancing your career and broadening your horizons. This is the greatest advantage to using Python for your projects, especially those that are complex and ongoing and require a lot of iteration and prototyping. Python allows you to focus on building a functional program without the hassle of typing out all the additional attributes and indicators.

This programming language is also incredibly flexible in that it can be seamlessly integrated with a number of different languages and used on every operating system. If you’re partial to another language for certain aspects of your projects, you can always do as Google does. When it comes to using Python, Google’s early stance on the matter was "Python where we can, C++ where we must."

These are just a few prime examples of why you should use Python, but the list goes on: loaded package libraries, an extensive selection of modules, and an endless supply of online courses and databases you can use to learn the language quickly.

Remember, Python has been around for almost 30 years. This is a mature language backed by years of support and fine tuning.

Primary uses

So what is Python good for?

The better question is, what isn’t Python good for? Small personal creations, corporate-scale projects, educational or training purposes, robotics, you name it. This remarkably simple language can be manipulated into almost anything. However, the language is most commonly utilized for three primary purposes.

1. Data science

Data science is a broad term that can include analysis, visualization, machine learning, etc. With its simple structure and advanced capabilities, Python can be used to perform a number of tasks and operations that are a part of data science. Search bar recommendation algorithms, efficient data gathering, sorting and analyzing analytics: these can all be accomplished with Python.

2. Scripting

Python is the ideal platform for writing small scripts that can automate monotonous tasks. You can write up a script for almost anything, from sorting emails to highlighting keywords. Once you know how to easily draw up a script in Python, there’s really no limit to the time you can save by eliminating the need for repetitive manual tasks.

3. Web development

Python comes with a powerful supply of tools and frameworks for web developers that can reduce work time and enhance functionality. Python-based frameworks like Django and Flask are excellent for constructing the back end of a web application, be it a simple one-page website or a dynamic mobile application.

These three things are what Python is most commonly used for, but the language is used by a wide variety of different roles to complete a great range of different tasks and objectives. With its versatility and increasing popularity, it’s easy to see why.

Getting started with Python

fter reading about the best reasons why you should learn Python, you’re probably feeling a little eager to get started. We don’t blame you, not with all of the possibilities and career opportunities that come with learning the language.

As is the Python way, installation is simple. In fact, you may already have it. A lot of UNIX and Linux distributions include an up-to-date version and there are a few HP Windows computers that already come with it installed.

To find out whether or not you currently have access to Python, type the name into your command line window. If you don’t have the most up-to-date version, don’t worry too much about it. Python has made a point of maintaining backwards compatibility.

If you find that you don’t have it yet, you’ll just need to conduct a simple download. Once the program is up and running, you can start using it right away. If you’re already quite familiar with different coding languages, feel free to play around and experiment with it.

Learn Python

Like we’ve mentioned before, Python is backed by almost limitless resources and information you can sift through and piece together to develop your skills and learn more about the language.

However, this route usually requires a general knowledge of writing code in order to seek out the right answers, topics and skill levels. If you plan on turning to the community forums for help and support, you’ll need to have a basic understanding of developer lingo and references. Otherwise, you can easily get lost in the madness and untangle yourself from the thread only to realize you never got a straightforward answer.

We recommend you learn Python through a dedicated series of online courses that are expert-authored, tailored to your skill level and can be completed at your own pace. We've built a guide on How to Learn Python with a huge range of resources including key terms, courses, beginner projects, and more. Check out Pluralsight Python courses to start learning this valuable language today!