Named after Monty Python, this language is designed to be simple yet powerful, easy to code with lots of features.

For me, one of the more useful books about the Python programming language is a collection of code “recipes” in a cookbook published by O’Reilly. Each recipe is a chunk of code you can drop into your application then tweak. When I went to the local library to see if they had this book, the librarian looked at me strange when I asked if they had a Python cookbook. Then I realized he didn’t know Python was both a snake and a software language. Not too many people cook pythons, let alone write up a book of recipes.

Python also refers to Monty Python, the British comedy team from the 1960s and 1970s, which is the source for the name of the Python language (seriously), as well as the general attitude of the Python community. Instead of using the standard terms foo and bar, for example, Python coders tend to use ham and eggs in their code examples. And Python documentation also uses references to Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie.

Started in December 1989 by Guido von Rossum, a Dutch programmer designated as BDFL or Benevolent Dictator for Life, Python has a lot to recommend it as a language for any skill level. The language, for example, has a very simple syntax used to write code. There are no curly quotes to balance out, no semi-colons to forget at the end of most lines. Python also works as scripting, compiled code, and embedded code. The community also has a fairly rigorous style for the use of comments, as well as encouraging the use of docstrings to make it fairly easy to create documentation from the code.

Python is a high level language designed to use less code to perform tasks than other low level languages like C. The community organizes its activities using PEPs, or Python Enhancement Proposals. PEPs cover technical and cultural topics, from functionality proposals to how to write comments to koan-like statements about the ideal Python experience. For example, PEP 20 is called the Zen of Python and says, among other statements, “Explicit is better than implicit.”

Perhaps most useful, for students who know they want to study programming in college, Python has a structured way of working, of thinking about programming problems, that fits well with university courses. Python also can be run from a command prompt which is the preferred method of working for many professional coders. Using the command prompt also is the easiest way to demonstrate and learn basic Python.