Python Overview

Python is one of the most popular and rapidly developing programming languages. A clear syntax which facilitates learning and a plethora of built-in and third-party libraries made Python especially popular among academics and researchers of all kinds. Python has already been the first-choice language in Machine Learning and Data Science for a while, but as far as Social Sciences are becoming more digitally-oriented it is getting in demand by sociologists, economists, linguists, and other social researchers. This course is created for students who want to learn how to solve real-world data-related problems with Python programming environment but have no experience in programming.

Some historacal facts about the Python

Fact #1

Python was created by Guido van Rossum [1] at the end of 1980th. In December 1989, Van Rossum had been looking for a "'hobby' programming project that would keep him occupied during the week around Christmas" as his office was closed when he decided to write an interpreter for a "new scripting language he had been thinking about lately: a descendant of ABC that would appeal to Unix/C hackers".

Guido entitled himself as Benevolent Dictator For Life, which means that he retain the final say in disputes or arguments within the community [2]. He had kept this title till July 2018, when retired from this post [3], tired after the fight for Python Enhancement Proposals #572.

Fact #2

Before creating Python, Guido was a contributor to the ABC programming language — a 10-year research project to design a programming environment for beginners. ABC introduced many ideas we now consider “Pythonic”: generic operations on sequences, built-in tuple and mapping types, structure by indentation, strong typing without variable declarations, and more. It’s no accident that Python is so user-friendly.

Here is am example function to collect the set of all words in a document:

HOW TO RETURN words document: PUT {} IN collection FOR line IN document: FOR word IN split line: IF word collection: INSERT word IN collection RETURN collection

Fact #3

Guido van Rossum attributes choosing the name "Python" to "being in a slightly irreverent mood (and a big fan of Monty Python's Flying Circus)" [4].

Fact #4

Python has several incompatible versions — Python 2 and Python 3.

Features of Python

Very high-level programming language

A very high-level programming language (VHLL) is a programming language with a very high level of abstraction, used primarily as a professional programmer productivity tool. Very high-level programming languages are usually domain-specific languages, limited to a very specific application, purpose, or type of task, and they are often scripting languages (especially extension languages), controlling a specific environment. For this reason, very high-level programming languages are often referred to as goal-oriented programming languages [5].

General purpose scripting language

A scripting or script language is a programming language that supports scripts — programs written for a special run-time environment that automate the execution of tasks that could alternatively be executed one-by-one by a human operator [6].

A general-purpose programming language is a programming language designed to be used for writing software in the widest variety of application domains (a general-purpose language). A general-purpose programming language has this status because it does not include language constructs designed to be used within a specific application domain [7].

Python is an excelent example of general purpose scripting language. See this endless list of software written with Python (it is not full yet).

Interpreted language

An interpreted language is a type of programming language for which most of its implementations execute instructions directly and freely, without previously compiling a program into machine-language instructions. The interpreter executes the program directly, translating each statement into a sequence of one or more subroutines, and then into another language (often machine code) [8].

In Python, the source is compiled into a much simpler form called bytecode. These are instructions similar in spirit to CPU instructions, but instead of being executed by the CPU, they are executed by software called a virtual machine [9].

How to stydy Python...

  • ... if you are a pedant 🧐: read documentation [11] and use help() function.
  • ... if you enjoy watching videos 🎥: join online courses like «Программирование на Python» [12] (I took many examples from this course), video lectures by Тимофей Хирьянов [13]. Thousands of them, really.
  • ... if you like "War and peace" 📚: read "Learning Python" by Mark Lutz [14] and "Python for Data Analysis" [15].
  • ... if you like video games 🕹: play Coding game and Kerbal Space Program.
  • ... if you are a girl 🙋‍♀️: join PyLadies SPb.
  • ... if you are easygoing and careless person 😜: cheat with cheatsheets like these from datacamp.
  • ... if you like to read blogs 💻: subscribe to Planet Python, Real Python, Python Tips and more.
  • ... if you like to chat with people in the real world 👫👬🚶‍♂️: join SPb Python or PiterPy communities and visit associated meetups and conferences.
  • ... if you are a student of HSE 👩‍🎓: just keep reading, you are at the right place.

Programming enviroments

  • Text editors: Sublime text 3 (my choice), Atom, Notepad++, Vim...
  • Interactive console, IPython.
  • IDEs: PyCharm (most advanced IDE), IDLE.
  • Enviroments for researchers: Jupyter, Rodeo, Spyder.


  1. Guido van Rossum. (2019). In Wikipedia.
  2. Scripting language. (2018). In Wikipedia.
  3. Ned Batchelder. (2018). Is Python interpreted or compiled? Yes.
  4. 3.7.2 Documentation. (n.d.). Retrieved January 12, 2019, from
  5. Программирование на Python. (n.d.). Coursera. Retrieved January 12, 2019, from