Python should be the first language you learn!

For the better part of the past 15 years, I’ve been a PHP developer. Really, I’ve developed everything in PHP, ranging from server side services, web services, backends – you name it, I’ve probably done it with PHP. Don’t get me wrong, I love PHP and it will always remain my language of choice for doing things really fast.

However, for the past year I’ve been increasingly developing with Python. I’ve always dabbled with Python, but never really had the chance to truly get down and dirty with it. Due to a couple of projects during the past year, specifically ones that involve Google AppEngine, I’ve had to sharpen my Python skills and get to a point where I can develop with the same agility that I have with PHP. Honestly, it wasn’t simple – sometimes I truly wanted to strangle someone with various errors a framework can spit at you. However, once you get around to reading the various cryptic messages Python may spit at you, getting around it and working with it is truly a delight.

So, why do I think Python should be the first language one learns? so here are my thoughts:

I started my coding days with BASIC, to be more accurate GW-BASIC (yes, I am that old). From that I moved to Pascal (Turbo Pascal to be more accurate), then C, then C++, C++ Builder,┬áVisual C++ (yes, I did MFC at some point in my life as well). I then decided that my life is in┬áthe open source world – and thus, the track then went to PERL, JAVA and of course PHP. Honestly, somewhere around 2005, the mixture of C, JAVA and PHP truly gave me all the power I needed to do my job – so, I didn’t really find the time to learn a new language.

Then, about a year ago, I decided it’s high time to learn something new – specifically, I became increasingly interested in the Google AppEngine platform. Yes, I’ve been using Google Compute and other cloud platfroms for a few years now, I’ve used most of Amazon’s services, ranging from EC2 up to RedShift and their hosted Hadoop clusters. But when Google AppEngine came out, it only had Python, Java and GO to work with. Java is the least favorite language in my tool box – honestly, I hate it. I’ve never coded in GO, and didn’t really feel like starting out with it. And Python, well, I dabbled with it – but can’t say I’ve done something too serious with it. In 2014, Google added PHP support to Google AppEngine. Damn, that sounds cool – let’s play around with that. So, I built a few applications atop of AppEngine and the PHP SDK. I rapidly realized that while the PHP SDK gives you some power, Python is the more natural choice for AppEngine. So, I more or less sat my ass down for 3 days and decided to teach myself proper Python.

Took me about 3-4 days to get around the quirks of AppEngine and how to get it up and running using PyCharm (if you use Python, by far the best IDE I’ve seen). Then building up my first application, then migrating an existing application (a fairly big one), from PHP to Python on AppEngine. I then rapidly moved along to using easy_install, pip and the other Python tools that make life so easy for developers – honestly, right now, I can’t figure out why use anything else other than Python for shell environment tools. But, regardless of that, I honestly think Python is the first language you should teach students, not C/C++, not JAVA, not Ruby and surely not PHP (and I’m a huge PHP advocate).

Why do I say this? here are my main reasons:

  1. Python is objected oriented from the ground up, which means, that teaching object oriented programming using Python is easy and straight forward for new comers.
  2. Python is strong typed, which means that syntactical issues are dealt harshly – promoting proper usage of syntax, indentation, capitalization, variable handling – all the nice things that make good code – readable code.
  3. Python’s physical typing construct, where blocks of code must be tabulated in specific manner in order to make the code work in specific manner – is GENIUS. I’m very much a “Source Code Nazi” (Imagine that coming from a Jew, right?). For me, indentation, proper loop blocks, proper case blocks, making sure things are wrapped really tight without too many white spaces – this is what makes code look nice.
  4. Python is interpreted, not compiled – but yet, it is strong enough to hold the most complex multi-threaded of tasks.

In other words, if you take the above and teach to a new developer, someone who writes code for the first time in his life – your result will be a developer, that may not dish the best code at first (after all, a beginner), but it will be readable, manageable and maintainable. Python automatically promotes these by its structure, by its rigidness and by its agility at the same time.

As part of my academic studies, I’ve studied education and how to teach computer science to high school students. I’ve learned that you should start with Pascal or C, then move to Object Oriented, then move to more advanced stuff. I have one thing to say: BULLSHIT! Honestly, the first thing you need to teach is Python, after Python, the rest are just syntax. Nothing more, nothing less – pure, simple, straight forward syntax.

Would love to hear your opinion on this one…

Leave a Reply