[Tutor] Why I'm learning Python (OT and long)

Bill Tolbert bill_tolbert@bigfoot.com
Thu, 30 Aug 2001 10:27:42 -0400 (EDT)

I spent some time reading Useless Python last night and went to bed
totally depressed. I feel that even Useless is above my skill level. So,
what follows is the story of why I'm trying to learn Python. Perhaps some
will understand; some may be in a similar situation; some may want to send
me money. Maybe it can become an installment for the soapbox on Useless.


So here I sit, pretending that I know a little something about
Python. I own 5 Python books; I have been attempting to program in Python
for over a year; my title is something like "systems analyst"; I have a
wife, many children and a dog. Allow me to explain how this
all happened...

I never pretended to be a programmer. I was trained to do public health
research. But, the tight job market of recent years forced me to take on
various computer tasks in the course of my research. It started with
WordPerfect. I was something of a WordPerfect wonder kid. I could somehow
do anything in WordPerfect. Looking back, I guess this was my first
programming - WordPerfect macros. I just grokked other macros and read the
help files. Massively complicated mail merges, text manipulation, complex
and tedious tasks rendered trivial in the wake of my macros. I began to
build solutions for the secretaries, co-workers, people on the street.
Then M$ began pushing that third-rate wannabe word processor of theirs and
nothing was ever the same.

So, I sorta learned MS Access the same way. Of course I knew Access was
just a desktop database. But it was fine around the office. I wrote a few
simple applications, and that was fine; after all, I'm a researcher not a
programmer. But guess what? People started coming to be with requests for
Access applications. And before I knew it, I was writing a very complex
accounting system for my employer. I was being labeled, and I knew it. I
tried to resist but it was futile. I thought long and hard about going
back to school for a PhD in epidemiology; I was trying to escape becoming
a programmer. All the while there were bills to pay and groceries to buy
and mouths to feed. I didn't have time go back to school. I couldn't afford
it. And then one day I was offered a real job as a programmer...

Some folks in the private research world had decided to build a large
system in Access. I was doing some part time work for this company because
as a university employee, I couldn't make ends meet. They knew me as a
WordPerfect and Access guy, and asked me to join the project full time. I
was flattered but declined; after all, I'm a researcher not a
programmer. I told them repeatedly "I'm not a programmer". But they
were desperate. I knew they were desperate. I was the only person
they could find. And even though the university didn't pay very
well, I still loved my job there. So one day they asked, "What
would it take?". Have you ever been asked that question? I was 29
years old and driving a worn out car I paid 450 dollars for. Three 
kids. Working a full time job and a part time job. So, I told them 
what it would take and they said ok. Of course my wife was
happy. This meant financial freedom. Perhaps we could have a
normal life. But I was afraid. The day would come when they would
learn the truth and I would be thrown out like the pitiful code I

Well, it's been nearly four years and I haven't been thrown out yet. I was
assigned the title systems analyst by the people who were in charge of
making up the business cards. I guess I've fooled them so far. But I
haven't fooled myself. Sure I can get by in Access/VB. But I know
Access is kid stuff compared to Oracle and MySQL. I want to write
solutions for non-MS platforms; I want to understand the difference between
bound and unbound methods; I want to understand other people's code; I
want to be Danny Yoo!!!

So that's why I'm trying to learn Python. To bring legitimacy to an
otherwise illegitimate career.

Some of my Python scripts seem ok. They do useful work on a daily basis.
And yet, even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes. I'm plagued by the
feeling that I am a blind squirrel. 

Thanks folks. This has been therapeutic. Python people are the best and
this list is fantastic. Today I'm going to make one of my useful scripts
run from a Tk button widget. And I'll stumble through. Perhaps I'll get
lucky and find a nut.