Python is an excellent language for the absolute beginner to pick up quickly and easily. Here I will present a quick overview of what six key points you should get familiar with when you have little to no programming experience. While there are many online courses, you can learn how to code on your own for free. There are plenty of valuable resources available with excellent Python IDE tools too.
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1. Look at what other people are doing
You have heard about Python many times, considered learning it, but how to actually get started if you have no prior experience? It all looks so complicated…or is it? Well, it depends. You are unlikely to create a modular program to run AI simulations and discover new medical breakthroughs at your beginner stage. Hopefully you will not let this set you back, but instead motivate you. Have a look at what others are doing to see what is possible.
2. Install Python and an IDE
Having seen lots of cool examples undoubtedly brings up your excitement. It is time to dive in and install Python on your computer. It is available for Windows, Linux and Mac from python.org or as the Anaconda distribution platform. For example, under Windows, you will get a Start menu entry that brings a terminal where you can start typing commands.
While you can just use the terminal, i.e., the interactive Python interpreter, it comes with many limitations. We recently covered that matter, so remember to check out this post, too. It is much more convenient and efficient to use an IDE (integrated development environment). PyScripter is an excellent choice, offering all the needed features pro programmers need yet remains a lightweight package. Click here to download the free PyScripter Python IDE.
3. Try Python for yourself!
All the preliminary matters are now done. It is time to write your first Python program. You can try the example below.
# define variables
name = "Jane"
age = 28
# print the data stored in the variables
# reading data interactively
myname = input("What is your name? ")
year = input("Which year were you born in? ")
# print a personal greeting
# calculate the age
myage = 2022 - int(year)
print("Your age is probably", myage)
4. Search for Python examples which stretch you to expand your knowledge
Of course, Python is more than just storing a couple of numbers and strings. Its data processing capabilities and excellent plotting functions are something that you simply have to try. In the following example, I am reading data from a file and preparing a plot. Note that I am using the pandas and the matplotlib packages. They are the primary tools in the hands of a data scientist. You have to install them separately using pip or by going to the Tools menu in PyScripter and selecting Tools -> Install Packages with pip.
5. Ask questions from the Python community when you get stuck
Inevitably, you will run into difficulties. Do spend time trying to understand what is wrong. We all sometimes end up mashing keyboard keys in trial and error out of frustration. Coding can be hard, but it is not as hard as popular culture will have you believe, and you do not need to be some kind super-human Neo from The Matrix to code. If you have no idea what is going on, the best choice is to search for the error message online. Countless other beginners have run across the same problem, and almost certainly, you will find an answer. Remember that practice makes perfect. You will only learn by trying. Or actually, by making mistakes. Having a problem is an opportunity to learn, not a reason to give up. Even the most popular and well-respected software developers have had days where they suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ – the feeling that everyone else knows more than you – and even senior developers will tell you the most useful programming tool they know is a web search engine!
6. Plan a big project
Gain skills and confidence by creating a bigger project. It does not need to be thousands of lines of code but try think of something that you might find helpful. It will keep you motivated when you feel stuck. Ask yourself what made you curious about programming. I started with Python as part of my university studies, but I also use it in my hobbies. I process data from Arduino sensors and create plots. Electronics is fun. And so is Python!