[Tutor] Learning to program, not code.

Dave Angel davea at davea.name
Fri Dec 19 14:06:39 CET 2014

On 12/18/2014 09:09 PM, Brandon Dorsey wrote:
> Hello All,
> Programming has always been a passion of mine,

A great start.  Can you tell us a little more about yourself?  Is Python 
the first language you've tried, or are you successful at other 
languages?  Are you in school, at what level, do you already have some 
other career and this is a hobby?  Do you have some hobbies that 
programming might synergize with?

 > however, I'm frequently
> frustrated at
> simple fact that I've been learning python for 8 months, and I have yet to
> start, and finish, a simple
> project.

How are you learning python?  Are you in a class, did you buy a book, 
download a tutorial, what?

>  I find difficult to not only visualize the execution,

There are tools that may help with that, but it's not clear to me 
whether that would really help.  If you want to play, you could look at:


> but to figure out when and where to
> use data structure 'x'.

Alan gave some brief descriptions.  You should realize that those are 
just the particular collections that are in the builtin section of 
python.  There are many more in the standard library, MANY more out on 
the internet (eg. pypi), and many more in your head, just aching to come 

     Any suggestions on how to approach programming
> from a different angle?

That's a great perspective.

We're now drowning in a sea of riches, information on any topic.  But in 
most cases, you have to be introduced to a topic systematically, with 
controlled flow, in order to understand what the fancier concepts are 
all about.  When I "started" programming in 1966, it was with a borrowed 
Fortran book over spring break.  I wrote a number of programs on sheets 
of paper, but had no machine to execute them on.  (I also expect there 
were more errors than useful statements, but I didn't know anything 
about that either)  I went on a field trip to the nearest computer, 
which was at Yale.  I got to see the actual machinery through some large 
windows, but didn't have a chance to run anything till almost a year 
later, at my own college.  Even then, freshmen weren't taught anything 
about them, and I had to learn from another student how to submit 
punched cards to the computer.  And how to run jobs without having a 
legitimate account.

Frequently when people develop an interest in programming now, it's in 
order to write a game, design a website, or to solve some fairly complex 
problem.  If they then try to research the tools, they get overwhelmed 
with the possibilities. And without a narrower focus, they never get 
that satisfaction that comes with finishing a project.

Without knowing anything at all about you really, I'd suggest you either 
take a course, or really *do* a tutorial.  Many people just read a book 
(or site) about the subject, and don't actually try the exercises.  In 
my case it was excusable, since I didn't have the several million 
dollars necessary to buy a computer, but the principle still holds. 
Start small, and systematically build up your abilities.  If you're 
disciplined enough to do that on your own, there are many Python 
tutorials that you can download.  And when you get stuck, you'll have a 
manageable problem that somebody can help with.

If you've done all that, and you're still stuck, then be much more 
specific in your question here.  Pick a project (or exercise, or 
assignment) that you've started working on, and describe the following:

1) python version and OS version
2) project description
3) code fragment that shows your present difficulty
4) what happens, and what you hoped would happen
5) any error messages (show the full stack trace) you get
6) meaningful subject line

Python is a fabulous language for learning.  You can get feedback a few 
seconds after you run the code, and you can make a change and try again 
in under a minute.  I worked in one environment where the turnaround for 
a compile was about a day and a half.  And in another where the compile 
of the complete application was done only once a week, and making it was 
a half-time job for the build-master.

I've also worked in environments where I had to build my own programming 
tools, starting with a text editor.  And in environments where we 
entered the code in hex.  And generating the hex was a pencil/paper 
exercise.  Looseleaf notebook was the source code.


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