Python is an extremely versatile programming language. You can use it to build websites, machine learning algorithms, and even autonomous drones. A huge percentage of programmers around the world use Python. It gives you the power to create almost anything. But first you have to learn it. Learning any programming language can be intimidating. So how do you learn Python?
One of the things that frustrated me the most when learning Python was the generic nature of all learning resources. I wanted to learn how to build websites in Python, but it seemed like all the learning resources wanted me to spend two long, boring months on Python syntax before I could even think about doing what I was interested in.
Most tutorials assume that you need to learn all of the Python syntax before you can start doing anything interesting. This is what leads to months spent on syntax, when what you really want to do is analyze some data, build a website, or build a stand-alone drone. This is what causes your motivation to fade and you just cancel everything.
After several tries, I found a process that worked best for me. What worked well was to combine learning the basics with building interesting things. I spent as little time as possible learning the basics, and then immediately dove into creating things that interested me. In this article, I’m going to walk you through how to learn Python step by step, whatever your reason for wanting to learn Python.
Determine what motivates you
Before you jump into learning Python, it’s worth considering why you want to learn it. This is because the journey is going to be long and sometimes painful. Without enough motivation, you are unlikely to be successful. For example, I slept during programming classes in engineering school when I had to memorize the syntax and I was not motivated. On the other hand, when I needed to use Python to build a website, I stayed awake all night to finish it.
Determining what motivates you will help you determine an end goal and a path that will get you there without boredom. You don’t have to find a specific project, just a general area that interests you.
Pick an area that interests you, such as:
- Data Science / Machine Learning
- Mobile app
- Hardware / Sensors / Robots
- Scripts to automate your work
Identify one or two areas that interest you and are willing to spend time on. You will direct your learning towards them and, possibly, build projects.
2. Learn the basic syntax
Unfortunately, this step cannot be skipped. You should learn the basics of Python syntax before diving deeper into the area of your choice. You want to spend as little time as possible on it, because it’s not very motivating. Personally, I did this about 30% in the Python tutorials which was enough.
Here are some great resources to help you learn the basics:
- Code academy – does a good job of teaching basic syntax and leans well on itself.
- Learn Python the Hard Way – a book that teaches Python concepts from the basics to the more in-depth programs.
I can’t stress enough that you should only spend as little time as possible on basic syntax. The faster you can work on projects, the faster you will learn. You can always refer to the syntax when you get stuck later. You should ideally only spend a few weeks on this phase, and certainly no more than a month.
3. Make structured projects
Once you have learned the basic syntax, it is possible to create your own projects. Projects are a great way to learn because they allow you to apply your knowledge. If you don’t apply your knowledge, it will be difficult for you to keep it. The projects will build your skills, help you learn new things, and help you build a portfolio to show to potential employers.
However, very free projects at this point will be painful – you will often get stuck and have to refer to the documentation. For this reason, it’s usually best to create more structured projects until you feel comfortable enough to complete them entirely on your own. Many learning resources offer structured projects. These projects allow you to build interesting things in the areas that interest you while keeping you from getting stuck.
4. Work alone on projects
Once you’ve completed some structured projects, it’s time to work on your own. You will continue to view learning concepts and resources, but you will be working on what you want to work on. Before embarking on your own projects, you should feel comfortable correcting errors and problems with your programs. Here are some resources you should be aware of:
- StackOverflow – A community question and answer site where people discuss programming issues. You can find Python specific questions here.
- Google – the most common tool used by all experienced programmers. Very useful in trying to resolve errors
- Python Documentation – a good place to find Python reference material.
Once you have a good grasp of debugging issues, you can start working on your own projects. You should be working on things that interest you. For example, I worked on tools to automatically trade stocks very quickly after learning programming.
Tips for finding interesting projects
- Extend projects you were working on previously and add more functionality.
- Go to Python meetings in your area and find people who are working on interesting projects.
- Find open source packages to contribute to.
- See if any local nonprofits are looking for volunteer developers.
- Find projects that other people have done and see if you can extend or adapt them. Github is a good place to find them.
- Browse other people’s blog posts for interesting project ideas.
- Think of tools that would make your daily life easier and build them.
Remember to start very small. Start with very simple things to gain confidence. It is better to start a small project that you finish rather than a huge project that will never get done.
It is also helpful to find other people to work with for added motivation.
If you really can’t think of any great project ideas, here are a few:
Data Science / Machine Learning
- A map to visualize the election results by region.
- An algorithm that predicts the weather.
- A tool that predicts the stock market.
- An algorithm that automatically summarizes press articles.
- An application to track the distance traveled each day.
- An app that sends you weather notifications.
- Location-based real-time chat.
- A site that helps you plan your weekly meals.
- A site that allows users to review video games.
- A note-taking platform.
- A location-based mobile game, where you capture territory.
- A game where you program to solve puzzles.
Sensors / Robots
- Sensors that monitor your home’s temperature and allow you to monitor your home remotely.
- A smarter wake-up call.
- An autonomous robot that detects obstacles.
Scripts to automate your work
- A script to automate data entry.
- A tool for extracting data from the web.
The key is to pick an idea and make it happen. If you’re in too much of a hurry to pick the perfect project, you might never get one done.
5. Continue to work on more difficult projects
Keep increasing the difficulty and scope of your projects. If you’re completely comfortable with what you’re building, that means it’s time to try something stronger.
Here are some ideas for that time:
- Try to teach a novice how to build a project that you have completed.
- Can you increase the performance of your tool? Can it work with more data or can it handle more traffic?
- Is it possible to make your tool useful for more people?
- How would you market what you made?
Ultimately, Python is evolving all the time. Only a few people can legitimately claim to fully understand this language.
You will have to constantly learn and work on projects. If you do this correctly, you will find yourself looking at your code from 6 months ago and telling yourself how terrible it is. If you get to this point, you are on the right track. Working only on topics that interest you means you will never be bored.
Python is a really fun and rewarding language, and I think anyone can achieve a high level of fluency in this language.
Hope this article has helped you know how to learn Python.
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