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Guido van Rossum Explains How Python Makes Thinking in Code Easier

Dropbox’s Work in Progress blog shared a 2000-word “conversation with the creator of the world’s most popular programming language,” noting that many computer science schools are switching over from Java to Python, and arguing that “JavaScript still owns the web, and Java runs 2.5 billion Android phones, but for general purpose programming and education, Python has become the default standard.”

They also write that the language’s recently-retired creator Guido van Rossum “thinks Python may be closer to our visual understanding of the structures that we are representing in code than other languages.”

“While I was researching my book, CODERS,” says author Clive Thompson, “I talked to a lot of developers who absolutely love Python. Nearly all said something like âPython is beautiful.’ They loved its readability — they found that it was far easier to glance at Python code and see its intent. Shorn of curly brackets, indented in elegant visual shelves, anything written in Python really looks like modern poetry.” They also find that Python is fun to write, which is more important than it may seem. As Thompson writes, “When you meet a coder, you’re meeting someone whose core daily experience is of unending failure and grinding frustration.”

Building the priority of the programmer’s time into the language has had a curious effect on the community that’s grown around it. There’s a social philosophy that flows out of Python in terms of the programmer’s responsibility to write programs for other people. There’s an implicit suggestion, very much supported by Van Rossum in the ways he talks and writes about Python, to take a little more time in order to make your code more interpretable to someone else in the future. Expressing your respect for others and their time through the quality of your work is an ethos that Van Rossum has stealthily propagated in the world. “You primarily write your code to communicate with other coders, and, to a lesser extent, to impose your will on the computer,” he says…

Part of the enduring appeal of Python is the optimism and humility of starting over. “If you’ve invested much more time into writing and debugging code, you’re much less eager to throw it all away and start over.” Co-founder and CEO, Drew Houston wrote the first prototype of Dropbox in Python on a five-hour bus ride from Boston to New York. “The early prototypes of Dropbox were thrown away, largely, many times,” says Van Rossum….

What has he taken away from his thirty year journey with Python? “I have learned that you can’t do it alone, which is not an easy lesson for me. I’ve learned that you don’t always get the outcome that you went for, but maybe the outcome you get is just as good, or better.”

Though two decades ago van Rossum had tried a short-lived project called Computer Programming 4 Everybody (or CP4E), he now says “I’m not so sure that it needs to happen anymore. I think computers have made it to that point, where they’re just a useful thing that not everybody needs to know what goes on inside.”

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp also flagged van Rossum’s remarks that “there are certain introductions to programming that are fun for kids to do, but they’re not fun for all kids, and I don’t think I would want to make it a mandatory part of the curriculum.”

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