Beginner Demands Reform In Python For (Apparently Not) Beginners

By Kari Andresen
Student reporting for Writing for Engineers

Many students have had experience with, or at least have heard of, Codeacademy. These students are “enrolled” at Codeacademy to learn how to create codes in a number of computer programming languages or if they already have the basics down, to provide them with programming challenges to enhance their skills. As an engineering college student who has had an embarrassingly small amount of exposure to programming, I decided to take on a programming course in hopes of learning how to code.

I settled on Python, a programming language that’s known to be very readable because it uses a lot of English words in its vocabulary. After doing a couple of basic Python lessons, I explored the site and came across a page of Codeacademy groups, where I spotted a group called Python for Beginners. I didn’t think twice when I decided to join it because, well, I am a beginner who wants to learn Python, and this group could help me.

Unfortunately, that was not the case.

A few Python lessons later, I tried to see what exactly this group could do for me. I began my research by reading through the discussions in the forum. There were many posts in which the leaders put up Problems of the Week and members provided their code and asked for others to comment any improvements. They talked about commands and concepts I had never heard of before. It didn’t take long for me to realize that the level of knowledge required for serious contribution to the group was beyond the level I had attained up to that point.

I was confused. Wasn’t this a “Beginner” group? I’m a beginner, so why don’t I understand what’s going on in their discussions?

I came to the realization that I was too inexperienced to reach the leaders’ definition of “Beginner,” which many may contest is not the correct definition of “beginner” at all, making the name of the group, Python for Beginners very misleading. The purpose of the group is not to teach Python to novices but to assist at least somewhat experienced Python users with problems and hone their programming skills.

In order to make the group understandable to inexperienced members, I propose that the group leaders enhance posts containing code by creating a list of important commands that were used in the code and their respective functions on the side of the post. This way, when a beginner tries to decipher the purpose of the code, they can look at this vocabulary list to help them understand. However, in some cases, a brief description may not be sufficient for the beginner to understand. To provide extra guidance, there should also be links to relevant Codeacademy lessons if they need to review the topic.

As of now, the group creates a false sense of security for beginners because its name implies that an inexperienced person who is trying their hand at Python programming can find help and guidance here. In reality, this group requires at least a fundamental understanding of Python, something that a beginner doesn’t have, to become an insider of the group and take part in the Problems of the Week. By implementing these proposals, the group can expand their target audience by making it more friendly for actual beginners to Python programming so that Python for Beginners will no longer be a misnomer. These improvements can potentially increase the success rate of members becoming proficient Python coders and establish credibility for Python for Beginners and its leaders.

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