Get started with python
What is this thing?
Python is a programming language that was created by Guido van Rossum in the late 1980s. Python is sometimes referred to as a general-purpose language, which basically implies that you can use it for anything you want. From developing desktop applications, websites and web applications to data science, machine learning or building an Iron Man suit - you can do it all with python (well, sort of).
Python is also a high-level programming language, which makes it easier for you to focus on the core functionality of your application or program. It has a simple syntax which makes the code easier for humans to read.
It is also an interpreted language, which means that it doesn’t need to be compiled before it’s programs are executed. Instead, this other thing, called an interpreter, looks at your program and executes it on the fly.
Should I consider learning it?
Python comes pre-installed on most new computers. To check if you have python installed already, open up a new command prompt or terminal window and type
python3. If you get an error, then chances are python isn’t yet installed on your machine.
Head over to python.org and navigate to the downloads page where you’ll be able to find the latest version of python for your operating system. During the installation process, be sure to check the box that says ‘Add Python to PATH’ - this will allow you to use python from anywhere on your computer. If you would like a step-by-step guide on how to install python on your computer, you should be able to find one at realpython.com/installing-python.
Another way to get python onto your computer, which works particularly well if you’re on a computer that is controlled by your employer’s IT administrator, is to install Anaconda (or Miniconda if you’re looking to save some space). This includes everything you need to get started, such as python itself, a few popular python packages as well as Jupyter Notebooks - a great tool used to create and share documents that contain live code, equations, visualizations and explanatory text.
pip is the standard package manager for python. It will allow you to install and manage additional libraries and dependencies which are not included in the standard python library. pip is typically included in the standard python installer. To check if you have pip, after installing python, you can type
pip --version in your terminal. You can install python packages by using the command
pip install package_name or
pip install package_name==version to install a specific version of a package.
A python package is made up of python modules, which are essentially files with a .py extension containing pre-written python code that other developers have created for others to re-use. There are an insane amount of python packages out there, which you’ll be able to find on PyPI (the Python Package Index) - the official repository for third-party software for the python programming language.
PyPI is where pip gets python packages from when you use pip to install a new package on your computer.
A worthy text editor
The last thing you would need, in order to start coding, would be a decent text editor. As of writing this, I use VS Code, which is a Microsoft product that can be used with just about any language. It’s clean and customizable with some cool themes but more importantly, it’s free and open source!
You can check out this tutorial for more info on installing VS Code.
Writing some code
Once you’re all setup, it’s almost tradition to create a ‘Hello World’ app to ensure that everything is working correctly. You can do this by creating a file named
main.py which contains the following code.
If you got this far, you should see a ‘Hello World!’ printed out on your screen. If not, don’t panic.
One of the great things about python is the community. You should be able to do a quick google search for just about any issue you have (you could even copy and paste an error you get straight into google) and chances are that someone else has had and solved the exact same problem.
Now go change the world!