By David Beazley
As an educator, researcher, and book author, I am delighted to see the completion of this book. Python is a fun and extremely easy-to-use programming language that has steadily gained in popularity over the last few years. Developed over ten years ago by Guido van Rossum, Python's simple syntax and overall feel is largely derived from ABC, a teaching language that was developed in the 1980's. However, Python was also created to solve real problems and it borrows a wide variety of features from programming languages such as C++, Java, Modula-3, and Scheme. Because of this, one of Python's most remarkable features is its broad appeal to professional software developers, scientists, researchers, artists, and educators.
Despite Python's appeal to many different communities, you may still
wonder "why Python?" or "why teach programming with Python?"
Answering these questions is no simple task
When I teach computer science courses, I want to cover important concepts in addition to making the material interesting and engaging to students. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for introductory programming courses to focus far too much attention on mathematical abstraction and for students to become frustrated with annoying problems related to low-level details of syntax, compilation, and the enforcement of seemingly arcane rules. Although such abstraction and formalism is important to professional software engineers and students who plan to continue their study of computer science, taking such an approach in an introductory course mostly succeeds in making computer science boring. When I teach a course, I don't want to have a room of uninspired students. I would much rather see them trying to solve interesting problems by exploring different ideas, taking unconventional approaches, breaking the rules, and learning from their mistakes. In doing so, I don't want to waste half of the semester trying to sort out obscure syntax problems, unintelligible compiler error messages, or the several hundred ways that a program might generate a general protection fault.
One of the reasons why I like Python is that it provides a really nice
balance between the practical and the conceptual. Since Python is
interpreted, beginners can pick up the language and start doing
neat things almost immediately without getting lost in the problems of
compilation and linking. Furthermore, Python comes with a large
library of modules that can be used to do all sorts of tasks ranging
from web-programming to graphics. Having such a practical focus is a
great way to engage students and it allows them to complete
significant projects. However, Python can also serve as an excellent
foundation for introducing important computer science concepts. Since
Python fully supports procedures and classes, students can be
gradually introduced to topics such as procedural abstraction, data
structures, and object-oriented programming
In reading Jeffrey's preface, I am struck by his comments that Python
allowed him to see a "higher level of success and a lower level of
frustration" and that he was able to "move faster with better
results." Although these comments refer to his introductory course, I
sometimes use Python for these exact same reasons in advanced graduate
level computer science courses at the University of Chicago. In these
courses, I am constantly faced with the daunting task of covering a
lot of difficult course material in a blistering nine week quarter.
Although it is certainly possible for me to inflict a lot of pain and
suffering by using a language like C++, I have often found this
approach to be counterproductive
Although Python is still a young and evolving language, I believe that it has a bright future in education. This book is an important step in that direction.
University of Chicago
Author of the Python Essential Reference