Are you feeling the squeeze to learn Python? The squeeze is real, and you’re not the only one who feels it. As you’ve no doubt heard, Python has become the fastest growing and most popular programming language in the world today.
The story of Python’s climb to the tree tops is one of both versatility and community support. As the push toward data driven decisions demands software that can keep up, there’s been a boom in the need for more programmers who can work with Python. Likewise, Python’s dedicated open-source community constantly adapts to keep up with the continual advancement in technology. With a community known for supporting everyone from the newest beginners to seasoned professionals, it’s no wonder that the language has grown so quickly.
Of course, due to its soaring popularity, navigating the plethora of online resources can feel like hiking your way through a jungle of tangling promises. Now don’t get me wrong, many of those resources were indispensable to me when I was starting out, and continue to be. But the hiking…oh the hiking!
Whether you want to work in the fascinating fields of Data Science or Machine Learning, design web applications or scrapers, or you’re looking to sharpen the cutting-edge of software development, this guide on how to learn Python can help you navigate the online jungle.
Table of Contents
- First, What is Python?
- Set up Your Python Tools
- Learn Python Fundamentals
- Learn Databases, Frameworks and Deployment
- Try Python for Data Science
- Try Python Web Scraping
- Python Online Courses & Community
- Extra Tips for How to Learn Python
- Final Advice: Don’t Wait to Start!
First, What is Python?
You may be wondering what Python actually is, what coding is, what all this talk of data science and web scraping is. Don’t worry, every one of us started there.
Simply put, coding is a way of communicating with computers through step-by-step instructions, in which the programmer codes the meaning of the steps in a language like Python. That way the computer can comprehend enough to effectively perform the task at hand.
Learning to code with Python, like language in general, involves constructing meaning through logic and syntax. When you read the words on this page, each one of them represents a meaning you understand, and together, they tell a complete story. It turns out to be essentially the same with computers. By writing programs in Python, you can build a whole rang of digital applications – from automation scripts, to complex websites, to data visualizations and more.
Things You Can Build with Python
Python is very versatile and used to build a variety of things, some of which include:
- Create fun online games.
- Construct a custom website for your brand.
- Build applications for mobile or desktop devices.
- Program chatbots.
- Develop data analytics tools.
- Train predictive models for machine learning.
Next, Set up Your Python Tools
Install / Run Python
Already installed the latest version? Jump to the next step.
If you don’t already have Python installed, do a quick and simple install following these steps:
- Visit: https://www.python.org/downloads/
- Click the link to download the latest version of Python for your Operating System (OS), such as macOS or Windows. Note: While there are earlier releases of Python available to install, keep things simple and up to date by sticking with the latest version.
- After downloading, open the Python installer. If you don’t see it at the bottom of your browser, check in your downloads folder.
- Run the installer.
- On Mac, click “Continue” as you progress through the steps, before clicking “Install”.
- On Windows, you’ll have the option to “Install Now” or “Custom”. Click on “Install Now”. In the next window, it will ask for permission. Enter your password, and click “yes” to agree. This should begin installation.
- Once completed, close the installer window, moving the installer package to the trash if you want. Now get excited – you’ve got Python!
Install an IDE
Now that you can run Python, you’ll need to install an application known as an IDE (integrated development environment) to make developing programs easier. IDEs are enhanced text editors that have all the features and capabilities you’ll need to write, edit, and run your programs.
While we won’t go into much detail here on IDEs, we do recommend downloading a free IDE that allows you to program like the pros. Two widely-used IDEs are Visual Studio Code and PyCharm. Some coders prefer one or the other but ultimately it’s up to you. Fortunately, both of these are also compatible with other popular programming languages besides Python.
Learn Python Fundamentals
When it comes to learning Python, or any other language, you’ll never stop using the fundamentals even once you’ve mastered them. The main Python fundamentals for beginners to learn first are:
- Variable Assignment
- Data types
- User Input
You tell the computer that x = “hello”. x is the variable; “hello” is the assignment you give the variable x. The computer stores this assignment in its memory, and whenever you want it to show you the meaning of x, it will remember that x = “hello”. What words, numbers or letters can you use to create variables? Anything you want! For example, instead of x, I could assign: some_crazy_variable_name = “1234”.
Because there are many different types of variables, data types help to classify variables so the program knows how to manipulate them.
For example, Python behaves differently when we add two string data types than when we add two integer data types:
If x = “hello”, and y = “world”, then x + y = “hello world” vs. if x = 5 and y = 6, then x + y = 11.
In the case of Hello World, the data type is string. Typically we use strings to store words, sentences, or paragraphs – AKA, strings of characters. Other common data types include integers (x = 5), or floats (x = 5.5).
Syntax pertains to the way Python is written – specifically the order and manner by which you construct a given line of code.This determines how the different statements written in Python will be interpreted.
For example: the syntax for displaying (known as printing) our variable x on the computer terminal is straightforward: print(x). Because of its similarity to English syntax, Python is considered simpler to read, write and learn compared to other programming languages. That’s why both beginner and experienced coders love using Python.
By taking input from a person (user) using your program, you can then use that input to perform further actions. You see this concept applied literally every time you enter something into a computer or mobile device.
If you wanted to add x to another variable, y (where y = “world”), what would you write? If you answer, “x + y”, you’re now using Python operators!
Operators like “+” are symbols that allow us to perform operations within the code. You may already understand how to use the “=” operator from our discussion on variable assignment. Some other operators that you may recognize include “&, <, >, /, -.”
This is where things really take off. Now that you understand variables, types, syntax and operators, you’ll learn to create conditional statements. At its core, a conditional statement is a way for programmers to ask a question. For instance, “is this variable larger than 10?” If so, do this. If not, do that.
For example, say you have a program that prompts the user to guess what color the computer is thinking about.
If the user enters the correct color, your program replies, “That’s exactly what I was thinking!” Otherwise (else), your program will wish the user better luck next time.
Check out the code sample below to see how this is written using variables, operators and conditionals, along with input from the user. Note that the lines beginning with # are comments explaining the code below, and do not perform their own programmatic function.
Loops are a way of coding the program to continue a particular task for a certain amount of iterations, and/or while something else is happening. For and while are the commands you build loops with. Loops are essential components to any program, and incorporate all of the fundamentals we’ve discussed so far.
Python fundamentals recap: You can write almost any Python program solely with variables, operators, loops, and conditionals, while also using the other fundamentals discussed in this section. Once you feel confident building Python programs using these fundamentals, you can take the next step and connect them to the world!
Learn Databases, Frameworks and Deployment
Once you get comfortable with Python fundamentals, you’re ready to round out your skills with advanced topics used by professional programmers: Databases, Frameworks and Deployment.
The most common first step in working with databases is to learn the Structure Query Language, referred to as SQL, and pronounced sequel. SQL is an invaluable skill used across all software engineering languages, data science, marketing, operations, finance and more. Because SQL is so widely used and useful, you can learn SQL for free to add it to your repertoire.
Frameworks are collections of libraries, packages or modules that allow you to write web applications or services using Python. Examples of common Python frameworks include Flask and Django, which make developing robust, web applications much easier than using just Python on its own.
Finally, to share your Python applications with the world, you’ll want to learn deployment skills using cloud services like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Heroku.
Combined with the ability to build Python programs using the Fundamentals, using databases, frameworks, and deployment services are critical skills for landing a professional job as a Python developer.
Try Python for Data Science
If you’re more interested to go into data science or machine learning with Python, you can consider skipping the frameworks, and go straight into these specialties.
When getting started with data science or machine learning, you’ll focus on learning to use data science technologies such as Jupyter Notebooks, Numpy, Pandas, Matplotlib and Scikit-learn. You’ll also learn the fundamentals of dealing with data, such as how to perform data wrangling, cleaning, preprocessing, normalization & standardization, feature extraction and more.
Try Python Web Scraping
As you become more familiar with the basics of Python, one of the most useful applications of your developing skill set is Python web scraping.
Web scraping is the process of searching through extensive amounts of data online and extracting specific data using a programming language or algorithm.
Python has become one of the foremost choices for coders who want to scrape the web, both for its simplicity as a programming language relative to others, and its versatility. Plus, as mentioned above, it has a very vibrant community of creative users and it’s very easy for beginners to seek help and support when web scraping in Python.
When practicing python web scraping, you can start small by trying out the following projects:
- Analyzing online video/Netflix viewing insights.
- Compiling your online shopping orders from the past year (at your own risk!).
- Determining content consumption patterns on different social media sites.
Here’s a comprehensive guide for learning Python web scraping that presents you with straightforward advice from the get-go. As a heads up, it’s written for those who’ve learned the basics of Python already.
If you feel like you’re still trying to wrap your head around Python fundamentals, frameworks, data science, web scraping, etc., don’t worry. This is very common when you begin learning something totally new, whether it be programming, or a language like Russian!
Now you have officially already begun to learn about Python core concepts just by reading this article. If you practice the fundamentals, eventually it will click (it did for me!). Which brings us to the next section – resources to help you learn!
Python Online Courses & Community
While it’s entirely possible to learn Python online completely for free, that is typically not the fastest or most efficient way to learn.
Below are various options for how to learn Python: for free, with online courses, and community resources along the way. Whichever way you choose to learn Python, be sure that it empowers you to learn at the pace that’s right for you, and with support of others who love what they’re doing. This really makes all the difference.
Start for Free
It’s always recommended that you start learning any programming language for free to see if you enjoy coding before making a financial investment. Reading this article is a good start to begin wrapping your head around the fundamentals and see if you’re intrigued to learn more. You can also check out free introductory Python trainings on YouTube.
The biggest drawback to learning for free is the lack of focus, which can send you down rabbit holes and prolong your learning process. You can spend too much, or too little time learning anything! This brings us to focused coding courses.
Once you’ve tried Python for free and are excited to learn more, it is worth your time and money to invest in a course. Self-paced online courses are an affordable way to have the full Python learning path laid out for you, so you know exactly where to start and where to go. You can also complete them at your own pace, making it convenient to fit into your busy schedule.
Something to be aware of with self-paced courses is that you must do more than simply read the material and watch the videos in order to become a professional, job-ready developer. It’s important to choose a self-paced course that has a wealth of exercises, challenges and project assignments. This way you can practice coding from scratch on your own until it feels redundant and easy, and build the technical skills needed for the job.
Many self-paced courses also do not include a support network where you can ask questions and get technical help. It’s easy to lose motivation learning on your own if you get stuck, which is why the completion rate of self-paced courses can be very low, and very slow. That’s why CodingNomads offers a community forum with our self-paced Python course, so you can get technical help while still enjoying the benefits of affordability and convenience.
Intensive Courses / Coding Bootcamps
If you’re ready to change careers, and want intensive support and accountability to learn fast, enrolling in an intensive coding bootcamp is the most efficient way to learn from beginner to professional. With coding bootcamps, you can decide if you want to go full-time or part-time, in person or online. Coding bootcamps also offer career services as a part of your program to help you develop the soft skills needed to land a job.
Because coding bootcamps can be a large investment of both time and money, you’ll want to read student reviews and speak with the staff of the bootcamp before deciding to join.
Below are some of the potential downsides to coding bootcamps. In order to choose a great bootcamp, make sure to look out for these things when considering different options.
- Use of real-world tools: Many bootcamps have you write code in their online learning platform vs. using professional tools like Git & GitHub, and IDEs. Not only is it important to use these real-world tools while learning, but it’s also crucial to know that after the bootcamp you’ll still have access to all of your work so you can showcase it to employers.
- Program flexibility: Some bootcamps are very rigid with cohort schedules and completion dates. If you get sick and miss a meeting, you are expected to make that time up and finish by your original completion date. Ask bootcamps about their program flexibility to make sure you won’t be penalized if life gets in the way.
- Program cost: The average cost of an online coding bootcamp is $11,118, according to Course Report. Many bootcamps offer Income Share Agreements (ISAs) to delay payment of your tuition, but you want to be careful about locking yourself into a contract that could cost you up to $30,000. Affordability has always been a core tenant of CodingNomads’ courses, which is why we offer intensive “career track” bootcamps in Python Web Development and Python for Data Science for under $10K.
Online Coding Communities
One of the greatest resources you’ll have when learning Python is the support of a community. There are several robust Python communities you can join to help you along your way.
Stack Overflow is a programming Q&A platform used by developers when they are stuck, or wanting to share wisdom with the community. Stack Overflow has a robust community for current and aspiring Python developers, and will become one of your most visited websites as you learn!
GitHub is where developers store project code and collaborate with other developers. Python has more than 1.5M repositories on GitHub, and more than 90,000 users committing or creating issues in these repositories. This makes Python the second largest GitHub community. If you’re not sure how to use GitHub, here is a free Git & GitHub course to get you started.
Finally, when selecting your online course, whether it be self-paced or an intensive bootcamp, you can expect to find a supportive community at your chosen school. At CodingNomads, we consider our community as our biggest asset. Our students are immediately welcomed into an international network of friendly mentors, alumni, and students just starting out like yourself. What better way to network than to join a global community of other programmers, from beginner to advanced, many of whom already work at the jobs that you’d love to have? Just sayin’!
Extra Tips for How to Learn Python
As with anything else, beginners will find there is a learning curve to Python. To make Python learning as seamless as possible, here are a few tips that beginners can follow:
- Master the fundamentals – they make advanced Python functions easier to learn.
- Practice the code on paper, then replicate it on the computer.
- Try simple projects to experiment with various Python commands and functions.
- Use Python Tutor to visualize the execution of your code.
- Interact with the online Python community to learn from others.
- Experiment with and contribute to the Python open-source code to keep up to date with the latest developments in the field of Python.
Final Advice: Don’t Wait to Start!
When I started learning Python, within weeks, I turned my love of fantasy stories and RPG’s into my very own interactive adventure game, “Adventures in Smirkwood” (thank you very much). And this was just within the first few weeks of learning Python!
Like so many others, I’m a bit of a sucker for quick returns. One of the biggest favors you can do yourself is – don’t wait to start trying these things out! Within a span of just a week or two, you could literally be designing games, automating tasks on your computer, or even building story generators that take user input and create a story from it.
Recap: How to Learn Python
In this article we discussed the most important aspects for how to learn Python, including:
- Learning what Python is and what it’s used for
- How to install Python and a Python IDE
- Steps to learning Python:
- Python fundamentals
- Databases, frameworks and deployment
- Python for data science
- Python for web scraping
- Online resources & communities for learning Python
- Additional tips and advice for learning Python
Learning Python is as fun as it is accessible. Remember that everyone who codes was once a total beginner. Many enter the expansive world of programming with Python because of its approachability and for the vast horizon of personal and professional opportunities that open up to those willing to give it a try.
With the help of skills you can learn, such as web scraping, web development, and data science, you can build a lucrative and rewarding career in virtually any industry while seeking new personal challenges and connecting with others.
If you’re interested to start learning Python for free today, click below to learn about CodingNomads Python for Web Development and Python for Data Science courses, which can be taken both in self-paced and intensive bootcamp formats.
Written by Samuel Miller and Kim Desmond