Python is the Holy Grail (So to Speak) of Programming Languages

Monty Python group photo Wikipedia

Computer programming languages are a dime a dozen. It seems as though every day some programmer decides that the traditional or mainstream choices are just not quite what they need, and so immediately begins work on the newest greatest language.


Only a handful have managed to stand the test of time, filling their own specialized niches admirably, with their own philosophies and personalities. The family of C languages is venerable and powerful, though difficult to master. Java runs almost anywhere, making it the tool of choice for many programmers who need cross-platform compatibility. And Python?


Python is weird.


Named after the famous British comedy troupe, Python is the brainchild of Guido van Rossum, who was looking for a programming project to keep him occupied "during the week around Christmas" in 1989. It was to be a hobby and a successor to the ABC language that Rossum had helped develop. Despite high readability and elegance, the old ABC language missed widespread adoption mostly (as Rossum speculates) because of its inflexibility — it was monolithic, nothing in and nothing out.


With Python, Rossum wanted to build a language that had the same high readability as ABC, but which also had enough flexibility to handle the needs of the users. Ultimately Rossum developed a language and interpreter that immediately garnered a fervent community. So devout are the true Pythonians that Rossum became known among them as the "Benevolent Dictator for Life (BDFL)," and they even have a famous mantra:


Beautiful is better than ugly.

Explicit is better than implicit.

Simple is better than complex.

Complex is better than complicated.

Flat is better than nested.

Sparse is better than dense.

Readibility counts.

—Tim Peters


Perhaps you program in a nice respectable language, and such hippie-ish thinking bothers you, or perhaps you love it. Either way it might be time to consider learning it. The strength, simplicity and flexibility of Python has led to an explosion of adherents in all walks of life, especially in the business world.


Last September, sifted through their considerable tech employment data and listed Python as one of their fastest-growing tech skills, meaning it's pretty important to a lot of employers right now. This also means that there is a crop of new Python certifications, including a four-level certificate program offered by the O'Reilly School of Technology and headed by none other than the chair of the Python Software Foundation, Steve Holden.


So what is it exactly that makes this language so popular? We've touched on it quite a bit, but let's dig a little deeper. For starters, concision is important. Many estimates place Python as being just a fifth as verbose as C# and Java, meaning that one can theoretically code five times faster.


Rossum himself admits that it's not the fastest-running scripted language, but he does insist that it's one of the fastest to code in — if not the fastest. Because the actual process of coding and debugging is often the biggest time sink in computer programming, this can be a godsend for anybody facing down a big project.


One of Python's best assets is readability, which includes concision. There is usually only one way to do things, making it very easy to read another programmer's script. There are less symbols and more words, making it easier on the eyes. There's more blank space. It's more consistent, it's more copyable. It's simpler, it's neater, it's cleaner.


It's also widespread — and growing — meaning new and old users alike should be able to find the resources they need. Also, it's a multi-paradigm language, so whether you're used to object-oriented, imperative, functional, or procedural programming, you can do it in Python.


When all is said and done, however, it seems that there's one thing that really makes Python stand out: It's fun. And frankly, knowing where its name comes from, we really have to expect it to be.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author
David Telford

David Telford is a short-attention-span renaissance man and university student. His current project is the card game MatchTags, which you can find on Facebook and Kickstarter.