On February 20, 1991, Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum released the first version of a project he had been tinkering with since Christmas break two years prior: A brand new scripting language, called Python.
Back then, there was no telling how popular Python would become and the impact the language would have on the world of coding. Even van Rossum, who went on to work at Google, Dropbox, and Microsoft, didn’t see the hype coming. “When I originally started Python, I didn’t expect there would be great success and fame in my future,” van Rossum said on an episode of the Lex Fridman Podcast.
In the 32 years since Python launched, the language has become a go-to for millions of developers, from beginners taking their first foray into coding to experienced engineers who use Python for machine learning and AI. In fact, Python is the most popular programming language in our course catalog.
If you’ve never coded in Python before, we have tons of interactive, beginner-friendly Python courses, like Learn Python 3 and Getting Started with Python for Data Science, that’ll introduce you to this powerful and versatile language. And if you’re a proud Pythonista, there are lots of advanced courses and paths that will help you level up your Python skills, like Apply Natural Language Processing with Python and Build a Machine Learning Model with Python.
To celebrate Python’s birthday, we’ve rounded up all of the reasons why the language has such staying power. Read on to learn more about Python’s unique origin story, how Python’s intentional design changed the game for coding, and more of the fascinating things you can do with this fan-favorite language.
Its namesake is Monty Python
A delightfully quirky fact about Python is that it’s named after the BBC comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus — not the family of non-venomous constricting snakes. When van Rossum was working on Python, he was also reading Monty Python published scripts. “I chose Python as a working title for the project, being in a slightly irreverent mood (and a big fan of Monty Python’s Flying Circus),” he wrote in the book Programming Python. (BTW, read this blog to learn more about the backstories behind how popular programming languages got named.)
Another thing about names: When Python became open source, van Rossum gave himself the (joke) title of “Benevolent Dictator for Life” or “BDFL.”
Python started as a hobby project
Van Rossum started making Python because his office was closed for Christmas break and he was bored at home. “I had a two-week Christmas holiday with nothing to do, and needed a project that I could do on my Mac without having to log into CWI’s [the government-run research lab in Amsterdam where he worked] computers,” he said in a 1998 interview. “That was when the first bits of the Python interpreter were written.”
Van Rossum mostly worked on Python in his spare time: “All my waking time — apart from 40 hours a week when I was doing my day job — I was working on this language,” he said in a 2019 interview with the Oxford Union. “I built everything from scratch: the parser, the bytecode compiler, the object implementation, the long integers, and tuples, and strings, and everything.”
Working on projects just for the sake of learning and fun is always a good idea. Check out our library of Python projects for inspiration.
Python is used widely in the tech industry
You might not realize that Python powers many of the applications that you use every day. For example, the first version of Google was written in Python; Instagram is written in the Python web framework Django; and Spotify relies on Python for backend services and data analysis.
Python is also used for scientific and mathematical computing. NASA’s main shuttle support contractor has used Python since the ‘90s, and Python is a go-to language for astronomy because of its data inference capabilities. Remember hearing about NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope this summer? Engineers actually used Python to explore data from the telescope!
Curious how you can build a career that involves using Python? With Codecademy Pro, you can take our career paths in data science specializations, which include Python as a main tool.
Python’s syntax is super readable
A major part of Python’s appeal (especially for beginners) is its concise, English-like syntax. Van Rossum is a very visual person, so he designed the language to be as readable and approachable as possible. “This emphasis on readability is no accident,” van Rossum wrote in Programming Python.
Here’s a snippet of Python code, for example:
name = 'Codey' print(name + ' is learning to code') if name is not "Codey": print("Welcome " + name) for letter in name: print(letter+"!")
Python’s syntax makes it easy for beginners to learn, which is why it’s often the first language people pick up. Van Rossum’s idea to simplify the syntax came from his mentors who taught programming to absolute beginners. “For the total newbie who has not coded before in any other language, a whole bunch of concepts in programming are very alien or sort of new — and maybe very interesting, but also distracting and confusing,” van Rossum said on the Lex Fridman Podcast. Streamlining Python’s syntax gives beginners one less thing to worry about.
As you get more advanced, you’ll find that Python’s syntax enables you to read code quickly, reuse code written by someone else, and start learning more advanced concepts faster.
Python can boost your productivity
There are lots of pre-written Python libraries, frameworks, and tools that make it even easier to write code and develop applications quickly. For example, the Python module Pandas is great for data analysis, because it provides you with the code you need to manipulate tables of data. If you’re using Python for web development, on the other hand, you can turn to frameworks like Flask and Django. You can browse all of the third-party Python packages for various areas of software development here.
Another factor that makes Python extra efficient? Python code is interpreted (or translated from source code to machine code) line by line, so you can execute and test your code right after writing it, and get immediate feedback. This was a stylistic choice that van Rossum made early on when building the language. Python was initially called “Python interpreter,” because it was designed to be an interpreter for the programming language ABC.
“The feel of the whole system suits my style of programming well, for obvious reasons,” van Rossum said in the 1998 interview. “The ability to run the interpreter interactively and the ability to write code from the bottom up and test it piecemeal combine to let me write code quickly. Other people find that it makes them more productive, too.”
Python is incredibly versatile
Thanks to the extensive libraries and third-party modules, Python can do just about anything — from creating websites to building machine learning models and analyzing data. We have over 100 Python courses in all topics of software development that you can explore to get a taste of everything you can do with the general-purpose language.
Python is also considered a portable, cross-platform language. Essentially, that means you can write and execute Python programs and run the same source code on any operating system. You can even run Python on the credit card sized computer Raspberry Pi, which we cover in the course Learn Raspberry Pi.
Anyone can benefit from learning Python
Even if you’re not a professional programmer, there are all kinds of Python uses and applications to consider that can help you automate tasks, get better at working with data, and more. “People whose day job has nothing to do with software development, but who need to use software to process their data, can use Python for their data processing and do exactly what they want to happen,” van Rossum said in the Oxford Union interview.
Looking to build in-demand coding skills that will help you at work? Check out the new Codecademy Plus plan, and enroll in skill paths that will teach you to analyze data and more with Python.
If you’re curious how other people have leveraged Python in their jobs and lives, there’s a large and passionate community of Python developers all over the world. Be sure to check out the Python discussions happening in Codecademy Forums to connect with other folks learning Python.
There’s a hidden “Easter egg” in the language
Lastly, for a little Python fun, if you run this code in Python it’ll print “The Zen of Python,” which is a condensed and poetic list that sums up Python’s ethos and guiding principles.