Is learning Python "extraordinary"?

Delaney, Timothy tdelaney at
Sun Jan 6 22:55:36 EST 2002

> From: Jesse F. W [mailto:jessefw at]
> 	I am a high school senior, and like many others, I am applying 
> to college.  I am applying to MIT (as well as many other schools).  
> MIT describes what they are looking for as students who do or have 
> done "extraordinary things".  My question is this, Is teaching myself 
> Python (with the aid of the Python tutorials and some help from the 
> various lists) an "extraordinary thing"?  How many 
> python-list'ers are 
> high school students?


Teaching yourself something outside of the school curriculum is always
considered extraordinary in a high school student ;) Learning Python shows
extraordinarily good taste (or luck - either way it's good).

However, it is much more important to be able to show (or say in this case)
how you applied the knowledge, to show that you truly understand it.

I was deprived. All I had available to me were my school's Apple II machines
(and later my father got a Mac). I started programming when I was 12
(actually, I lie - I did a bit of Logo back in primary school). By the end
of high school I had taught myself a total of 3 languages (IIRC) - BASIC
(Apple Dos 3.3, MacBASIC), Macintosh Pascal, Hypertalk. It probably would
have been more, but we didn't have any internet access whatsoever ...

However, what I can say is that I had learned some very important skills and
techniques, evidenced by the fact that when I decided to learn Pascal, it
took me a single weekend to have learned enough to write a basic
mouse-driven paint program. My father OTOH had been struggling with it for
over 6 months (in order to teach a computing subject). I surpassed him in a
day. It was at that point that my parents finally accepted that I was going
to be a programmer - but they still heavily restricted my access to
computers :(

This extraordinary achievement was because I had taught myself programming
concepts and techniques which I was able to immediately transfer to a new
language. The only thing I needed to worry about was the syntax, and the
specifics of procedure and function calls.

I have yet to come across a language (which I liked) that took me more than
a weekend to come to grips with the basics enough to begin usefully working
in it. I attribute this largely to the initial skills that I taught myself
way back when I was learning BASIC. Yes, I've learned much since then, but
it has all stood on those initial few years.

Tim Delaney

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