Python's Not (Just) For Unicorns

An interactive introduction to programming in Python, for human beings and whoever else

Chapter 2

What are we learning?

So here we are, learning to code using the Python programming language. Why Python?

Many programming languages are especially good at one thing - microchips! gaming! mobile apps! statistics! - but Python is pretty well-rounded and can more or less do everything. No matter what you want to do, Python can prrrrobably help you out, so it’s a great one to learn.

Python is also super popular, and getting more popular all the time, which means you’ll find a lot of people online who can help you out when you run into problems. Weirdly, it was invented-ish way back in 19891, who knows why it took so long to become the Hot Thing.

Even if you aren’t interesting in Python itself, you’re going to be learning things that work for all programming languages. All programming shares a lot of the same basic concepts2.

This includes buzzwords like variables, loops, math, libraries, blah blah blah. Whether you’re doing an analysis of ten million court records or building a street racing game, you’re going to come up against these concepts again and again. So we’ll start with those. They’re definitely boring, but they’re kind of required for anything fun!

What’s next after we go through the basics? Well, the answer is sorta just “whatever you want!”

Programming is an almost-infinite amount of different stuff. There are entire realms of programming I’ve never even looked at! That’s no big deal, though, because I know that when I need those things (if I ever do), I can simply go learn them. After you know the basic concepts of programming, building things becomes a game of figuring out what new stuff you need to learn, and then figuring out how to learn it.

But how do you learn this mysterious new programming stuff? Buy a book? Probably not — you’ll mostly spend time searching online, reading other peoples’ questions and answers. You’ll adapt code you find, leaning on people you know - and people you don’t know! - for answers and tips. Programming isn’t something you go through alone; the internet and everyone on it becomes your new best friends!

Here is a promise, 100% guaranteed: whatever problem or question you might have, someone else has had that exact same question in the past week, or the past month, or the past few years - and they’ve asked about it online, and then someone’s helped them. You just need to track that answer down and use it!

Since that part is so important, we’ll definitely be spending time on learning how to search for answers and understand them. It’s a magic skill all on its own! But on the other hand, the internet can be a kind of weird place3, so maybe we’ll save that until we have the basics down.

Anyway, I just hope you’ll work your way through this without feeling discouraged or too bored, because that’s all I see when I read through other coding tutorials. I try to take things nice and slow because I believe a tiny baby kitten could learn to program if they’re taught correctly!

If something isn’t clicking in your brain, I promise that it isn’t you, it’s me! If you find anything unclear or you decide to give up, please let me know so I can try to improve things.

[1] I want to say “exactly like Taylor Swift” but I mean, I dunno. You get it. 1989 was a while ago.

[2] Okay, not all programming. But most programming is all the same stuff. Kind of.

[3] The internet can be nice, but it can also be kinda unpleasant