PYTHON in THE EARLY YEARS

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onlineit asked 09-Aug-2019 in education by onlineit

In some respects, the rise of Python is as surreal and surprising as the British comedy group it was named after, and, in its own niche, the coding language has become just as famous and influential.

The programming language was started as a side project by Dutch programmer Guido van Rossum. In the late 1980s, van Rossum was working on a distributed system at the Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica (CWI), the Dutch national research center for math and computer science. Frustrated by the inadequacies of existing programming languages, he decided to create a new one -- one that would be both easy-to-use and capable.

Frustrated by programming language shortcomings, Guido van Rossum created Python. With the language now used by millions, Nick Heath talks to van Rossum about Python’s past and explores what’s next.

To an outsider, creating your own Python programming language might seem akin to saying ‘I’ll build my own airplane’, but van Rossum, then in his thirties, had something of a head start. He had spent three years working with a team at CWI that had created ABC, an interpreted programming language, so he already had insight into what it would take to build an interpreter that executes programmer instructions, and the syntactic building blocks needed for a new language.

It’s also important to realize just how difficult it was to get anything done with the limited programming languages available to van Rossum at the time. The Amoeba distributed computing system he was working on required him to work in C or the Unix shell, both of which had significant limitations. C not only required developers to wrestle with the complexities of manually managing memory and to navigate a minefield of potential errors, but it also lacked a library of reusable code for everyday developer tasks, requiring developers to reinvent the wheel with each new project. Meanwhile, the Unix shell had different problems -- it offered a suite of utilities for common tasks but ran so slowly it couldn’t handle complex logic. The restrictions these languages placed on developers were such that, for van Rossum, creating his own interpreted language -- one that would borrow the best features from the ABC language -- really did seem like the best option.

“I basically thought ‘Well, why don’t I create my own language’, stealing my ideas from ABC but reducing the project size from something that took three years to complete to something I can do on my own, as a skunkworks project in three months, and thus Python was born,” he says. Van Rossum started work in earnest in late 1989, borrowing the name from his favorite comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus -- the association with snakes and the entwined Pythons logo came later -- and working on the project whenever he could.

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