Automation Journey – Python: The Basics

The title of this post really says it all. I want to become a more automation/programmability minded person and to kick off this journey, I decided to start by getting a familiar with Python. As time permits I am going through Al Sweigart’s “Automate the Boring Stuff with Python” book and Udemy course, and plan to document here what I learn along way. I have started learning the very basic programming concepts and am starting to get familiar with the Python shell and basic syntax. Traditionally, I’ve definitely been a “slow and steady wins the race” kind of guy. I like to take my time and try not to get overwhelmed. Luckily for me, Al’s book and course seems to cater to that. You’re going to have to bear with me during these posts, I’m really starting from square one here. I’m hoping that seeing my documented struggles and hopeful eventual successes might help others along the way. In the rest of this post, I want to go over my explanation/take on the basic terminology that I have learned. And yes, even though this isn’t geared toward exam study, I am making Anki flashcards. Going through these cards is really helping me soak up and retain the new concepts that I’m learning. Here are some concepts that I’m learning in question/answer form.

  • What is Python? Python is a combination of a programming language along with an interpreter that reads and takes action on the code written in the Python language.
  • What are expressions? Expressions take multiple values and evaluate them down to a single value. A basic example is 2 + 1 = 3. This expression leverages a “+” operator to evaluate the two values of “2” and “1” down to a single value of “3”.
  • What is a data type? We can think of a data type as a category or classification of a value. A specific value can only belong to one data type. Three common data types in Python are:
    • integers – Whole numbers.
    • floating point numbers – Numbers with decimal points such as 17.2, 9.7, 256.3.
    • strings – Data type that leverages alphanumeric characters.
  • What is a variable? A variable is memory allocation in a program used to store a value. The variable can then be called to use later in the program. Al explained variables in a way that I really like. A variable can be thought of as a labeled box that is used to store something. In a program that “something” can be set statically or dynamically. For example, a variable could be set as a result of someone typing some input into the program in a certain spot.
  • What is an assignment statement? This is how value gets assigned (or stored) to a variable. An example is age = 23. In this assignment statement, a variable is created named age and is assigned an integer value of 23. In the assignment statement the = sign acts as the assignment operator. Variables contain one value at a time. So, after we set age to 23, if we then type age = 42 the value of 23 has now been overwritten by the value of 42 in the age variable.
  • What is # used for? The # symbol is used in Python to write comments in your code. Essentially, anything typed on a line after the # is ignored by the Python interpreter when the code is run. Here are a couple of use cases for “commenting out” Python code.
    • For documentation purposes to explain what your code is trying to accomplish.
    • For debugging purposes to “disable” certain lines of code to see if they are causing issues.
  • What is a function? A function is an “external” set of code that your program can call upon to run within your code. Functions are already built/established programs for you to use within your code. Built-in Python functions include print() and input().
  • What is an argument? In the point directly above, I explained at a high level what a function is along with its purpose. Well, an argument is a value that is passed to a function. Let’s take a look at a simple example with the print() function.
>>> print('Hi, I am Tim and I am a complete Python/coding beginner. Please Help!')
Hi, I am Tim and I am a complete Python/coding beginner. Please Help!

In the example above, I am passing the string value of ‘Hi, I am Tim and I am a complete Python/coding beginner. Please Help!’ That string value is an argument within the print() function. In other words, it is the value being passed to the function.

Summary

As you can tell, I’m learning the basics of the basics here. Also, I’m going through this on a “as time permits” basis, which probably isn’t the best approach, but building and reviewing the digital flashcards is helping retain the knowledge, at least around the terminology, which is good. If you are learning Python as you’re reading this, then I hope this helps.

Published by Tim Bertino

Network engineer passionate about solutions and design.

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