Programming a Career in Python
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While the digital revolution has rewired and upgraded nearly every aspect of modern life, it has barely scratched the surface of what’s possible. A new wave of nascent and future-forward applications is taking tech to a whole new level, turbo-charging demand for skilled programmers across a spectrum of disciplines — and at the center of it all is Python, the hottest and most accessible coding language in the U.S.
The open-source and highly versatile programming language is used in a wide range of advanced applications including high-demand fields such as data science, artificial intelligence, software engineering, machine learning and predictive analytics. Learning Python is a key entry point for new programmers looking to stake their claim in the world of tech.
“Python was written to be beautiful, simple and useful,” said William Henry, instructor for the Python for Data Science, Web and Core Programming certificate program. “That’s why it has become so popular. It can be used widely, and as more people use it, the more in demand it becomes — there is a snowball and network effect. It’s also relatively easy to learn which means it is a great first language for those that are new to programming.”
Python has a very large user base, with ongoing updates and support across many industries. And it can open doors to applications that are written in other programming languages. The most popular data science and machine learning programs, for instance, are written in the more complex C++ or C, but Python is the language used most for accessing their database libraries.
“Think of it like driving a car,” Henry said. “The engine may be written in C, but the controls are written in Python. Because of this, Python is probably the most popular language used in machine learning, data science and analytics. It’s also a very popular language for web applications. The only time I wouldn’t recommend it as a first programming language is if you knew you wanted a career as a front-end developer.”
Learning from the ground up
Intended for new programmers as well as current professionals, the program gives students a solid foundation in Python concepts and styles, including data structures, processing, databases, and networked application program interfaces. Students can choose a final specialized course in either Python for Data Analytics/Data Science or Accessing Web Data with Python.
“Students in the program learn Python from the ground up,” Henry said. “They complete the program with solid understanding of Python, which will prepare them for the continual self-learning that is required to excel in the field, and they will have been introduced, via hands-on work, to applications such as data science and web frameworks.”
The program, which takes 9 to 15 months to complete, can prepare students for success in a range of fields and applications. “Python programmers are needed in software engineering, full-stack development, data science — just about every tech field you can think of.”
Demand for Python programmers is soaring. For example, there were nearly 1 million annual job openings for software developers listed in the most recent labor market data available from Emsi Burning Glass, with more than 27% growth projected through 2029. Median annual salary is $103,000, upward of $160,000 for highly experienced professionals.
“Python was written to be beautiful, simple and useful. It’s also relatively easy to learn which means it is a great first language for those that are new to programming.”
William Henry, Python for Data Science, Web and Core Programming Instructor
Navigating a path with Python
Henry stresses that Python programmers need to build specialized skillsets in the field or fields they’re interested in. Python and other programming languages are always applied to a specific discipline, and Python is sort of a universal language that translates to a multitude of opportunities.
“If you want to work in, say, machine learning, it’s not enough to just know Python,” Henry said. “To build a career in this field you’ll need to learn about math, algorithms, machine learning workflow and other elements. Having said that, Python can be your primary language in many other languages. Keep in mind that technology moves fast, so it’s important to always keep learning, on the job and with courses.”
For those interested in building a career in data science, a background in computer science, statistics or math would be most beneficial. There are many continuing education courses specific to web apps that cover both front- and back-end; these can be highly beneficial for a career in full-stack web development or design. For core programming, it’s good to learn Java or any programming language that complements Python proficiency.
New Python programmers — even absolute beginners — shouldn’t be intimidated by the career path stretching before them. After all, as Henry points out, the tech world moves at a breakneck pace, but the same might be said of career advancement. Take his path, for instance. Henry didn’t start programming until he was in an Applied Mathematics graduate program.
“I was intimidated at that time, but looking back, that seems ridiculous,” he said. The first language he learned was MATLAB, a programming platform designed for engineers and scientists to analyze and design systems and products.
“I used MATLAB at my first job and then learned Python when I started working at the Naval Research Lab in Monterey as a contractor around 2014. Fast forward eight years. I’m now the technical director and co-founder of Elate and have been the primary full-stack developer for the company.”
Learn more about the Python for Data Science, Web and Core Programming Specialized Studies Program.