Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How I Learned Python

Guido is working on a paper for the HOPL III conference. He recently asked old timers to post their memories. I thought I'd start at the beginning.

I learned Python on a plane ride from Boston to Baltimore in the fall of 1995. I was interviewing for a job at CNRI. I expected to talk mostly about digital libraries, because my thesis was in that area and I thought I was interviewing with people in the digital libraries group. But I also knew that I was going to meet Guido, and I thought I better know something about Python. I printed out the tutorial and brought it with me on the plane.

I didn't know anything about Python at the time. I knew Perl relatively well, had used Tcl a couple of times, and had heard of Python. I recall one corridor conversation, with John Mallery I think, where he gave me a hard time about using scripting languages like Perl. I said something along the lines of "Well what about Python" and he granted that it was a more reasonable choice.

I got a first-class ticket for the flight. I think we scheduled the interview at the last minute and they were the only tickets available. It was a comfortable, short ride. I spent most of it reading the Python tutorial. I recall thinking that the language was really simple--that you could get the gist of it from the tutorial without writing a line of code. And sample was good! I had struggled a lot with Perl, because I felt like I had never mastered it and I had to look everything up in the Camel book. I could never settle on the right way to solve a particular problem, because there were so many options.

The interview itself must have gone well, although I don't recall many of the details. The only concrete memories I have are talking with Bob Kahn and Ken Manheimer. I don't have any recollection of talking with Guido at the interview, although I'm sure I did.


jason petrone said...

It's amazing how similar yet opposite my first python story is.

Just like you, I began learning python on the plane ride to BWI for a job interview at CNRI. Except I started by writing a usenet newsreader, didn't read the tutorial until later. I suppose it helped that I had a longer plane ride.

I expected to talk more about python but instead most of my interviewers (Bob Kahn, Larry Lannom, Christophe Blanchi) wanted to discuss digital libraries.

Things went well and I started work at CNRI in July 2000, shortly ater you left.

Oh, and I flew coach.

Antti Rasinen said...

The tutorial was the thing for me as well.

I got a summer job at a company, who wanted me to test a new algorithm.

"Oh and we use Python. Here's the tutorial."

I read the tutorial on a two-hour train trip and from there on it's been five years of non-stop Python.