Learning Python, or any programming language, is not easy. It requires commitment and persistence. This is a reality we need to accept to avoid frustration. However, I am a strong believer that, with the proper help and attitude, anyone can learn to program.
As long as they survive software installation.
I’ve taught many introductory Python workshops. While we strive to make them accessible for people without any previous programming knowledge, making sure everyone has Python properly installed on their machine in time for the workshop is always a struggle. I have seen common, not so common, and even downright weird installation issues.
To be frank, this shouldn’t be an issue users still have to face in 2020. By now, any new Windows or Mac computer should come with Python 3 installed by default (like most Linux versions do), saving new users from the struggle. However, in reality, Windows comes with no Python, while many Mac versions still come with Python 2, a deprecated version that can confuse beginners by leading them to assume they already have a fully functional version of Python on their computer.
Additionally, installing Python 3 is not as straightforward nor intuitive as it should be. On a Mac, you usually have to take multiple steps (e.g., installing Xcode and Homebrew, before getting to Python), while on a Windows machine you might have to deal with system environment variables to run a python script in the command line. There are also many options to choose from, which is great, but can be overwhelming for newcomers – for example, new users will have to decide whether to install Python by itself or use a distribution such as Anaconda, or perhaps a lighter version called Miniconda.
My point is that, depending on your comfort level with computers, the installation process itself can become a wall that prevents you from even trying to learn Python. But it does not have to be. And here’s why.
You don’t have to install anything to start learning Python.
There are browser-based options, like repl.it and Google Colab, that let you experiment with Python code (and even do serious work) without any installation. Those platforms allow you to code from any computer, as long as you have internet access and a browser. That is a great way of dipping your toes before getting in the water. Once you feel ready to commit, you can work on the installation.
There are installation guides and walk-throughs available
If you feel somewhat comfortable following tutorials, those guides can be handy. We, the GC Digital Fellows, have been working on one. There are instructions for both Windows and Mac, and if you follow them carefully, you’ll have smaller chances of running into problems. A quick note: even though we try to update those guides every year, the options and screenshots might not be the most current ones, so it is important to be mindful of that.
You can and should ask for help.
Those who have experience troubleshooting know the most common errors and solutions because they had to struggle themselves to solve them. There is no need to go through that yourself, unless you are having fun with it. (Yes, for some of us it can be very rewarding to find a solution to a problem by ourselves!)
Who should you ask? Well, you can ask us, for instance! Just fill the form out for a one-on-one consultation, and one of the Digital Fellows will reach out to help.
Do you like working in groups? You can also join the Python Users’ Group (PUG) and ask for help in the forum or in our Slack group.
The good news is that after installations, you probably won’t have to worry about it ever again—at least not on that computer. With installations out of mind and out of sight, you should be able to concentrate in the most important and most fun part: learning the Python language itself. And you can start right here.