Input(‘Python Basics’)

As a humanities major with no experience in programming or coding, when I signed up to learn a whole computing language like Python, it seemed like a Sisyphean feat. Imagine my surprise when at the end of 1.5 hours, I could program a fully-functioning question and answer form, complete with some aesthetic flair. 

With all things alike, nothing is truly impossible unless you think it is. If we adopt the lens of learning Python just like learning any other language, it becomes much more manageable and enjoyable. 

I previously had my doubts about the use of Python for Arts majors— after all, how are you going to use Python on Jane Eyre?

Not to mention that traditionally, courses in the Sciences, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM) field have always catered to males. In Polytechnic, the running joke was that having a female in an engineering class was like finding a needle in a haystack. According to the Ministry of Education, women account for 20 to 25 per cent of the total intake for engineering and computing degrees. The Business Times Singapore attributed this gap to social norms and parental influence, telling young Singaporean girls that excelling at mathematics was a “boys thing”.

However, times have changed, and Python can be used in Linguistics for computational language processing— that is to say, discovering how deep learning helps with speech recognition. For Literature majors, for example, computational thinking skills that you learn in Python organise thesis outlines, increase readability for your readers, and as a bonus, help your professors to search for massive amounts of information. 

So, on Tuesday afternoon, I sat down virtually with 7 other students across all levels for an “Introduction to Python for Non-Programmers”, held by the NTU Library. I was pleasantly caught by surprise when I realised that the class was taught by a woman, having had the assumption that the data science industry is one that is usually male-dominated. 

Like me, my peers sounded equally lost and confused but were determined to grasp a hold of this new skill. 

One of my fellow participants was a first-year business major, Celest Neo, who joined to prepare for her next semester at school, in which she would be learning Python as well. She said, “I’m a tech noobie, so I really wanted to join this course to get some basic understanding of Python. It’s a skill that’s in hot demand in the business industry, so I’m considering studying it in-depth in the future.” 

Across completing 7 objectives, the 1.5-hour workshop aims to introduce the elusive programming language to those who are not required to take computational thinking modules or are interested in delving into the data science industry. The course is taught by Nursyafiqah Binte Suhaimi and Samantha Ang from NTU Library.

“The library encourages their staff to be versatile and pick up new skills. We aim to equip students with transferable skills to help them be adaptable in our fast-changing world,” said Nursyafiqah. 

Syafiqah has always been interested in coding and had the opportunity to learn Python and C++ formally during her part-time undergraduate program, Digital Media at SUSS.

After Syafiqah’s (or Iqah, as we called her) introduction, we were acquainted with Trinket.io, a website that allows users to write open-source code and to run it— no downloading required.

Python coding example 1 Audrey Leong

With the help of Tommy Turtle, the website’s adorable mascot, we used the provided demo code to draw circles, manipulating the code to change the colours of the circles and the speed he drew them. Iqah continued to guide us, making use of Zoom’s participant function to check if we were keeping up with the class. 

Even though I was following the class well at this point, a small nagging voice at the back of my head started to question if I could ever master this basic course. I had to actively quell those fears, pushing on to keep up with the rest of the class as we learnt how to apply the new code. 

We moved swiftly along to variables and data types, and how to combine them with the input function. For the non-acquainted, variables are memory locations where we store values, which could be words or numbers, or certain subsets of algebra— known as Boolean. These variables can be used with functions such as len(), which instruct the system to run the program. In the case of len(), it would tell the system to calculate the length of the defined data.

python coding example 2 Audrey Leong

Even though I could clearly understand what Iqah was telling the class, the sheer number of things I was trying to process at once started to overwhelm me. Thankfully, Iqah was understanding, urging the class to experiment with other variations of the same exercise whilst I caught up. 

Other students were equally as helpful, sending their own versions of their codes to be peer-reviewed, and asking meaningful questions that sped up my understanding of the topic. 

By the end of the course, I could code a basic form that would reflect questions and allow the user to input their answers into the blanks. The course introduced a more organised way of thinking, on top of the basics of Python coding, which I genuinely appreciated. We were also given a copy of the slides used during the class, as well as resources for extra practice should we wish to continue our journey in Python. 

Like me, students such as Sonia Chee, another first-year Business major, found the most interesting part of the course was getting to try out trinket.io to run our codes. 

“It was so much fun getting to try out different combinations of codes along with the guided examples provided to us,” she added. The freshmen had spent a large chunk of her circuit breaker dabbling in C, another programming language, and jumped at the chance to learn about Python. 

Unlike its online counterparts, the course was much more interactive, and Iqah could guide us and troubleshoot our problems on the spot when we encountered any. It was also very helpful to have a band of students who were all so eager to learn. 

The next course of the program runs on 22 October (Thursday) from 10.00 AM to 11.30 AM.

Following that, the next part of the series (1.1 and 1.2) will be ready by December 2020. In the meantime, the library has prepared a LibGuide to help independent learners to continue their learning journeys by themselves. Users of the guides can also email the library anytime if they would like to seek help or clarification.

If you are an NTU student, sign up here to register your interest for this course. Registration closes a day before the course begins.