Exploring Python & R with a beginner’s HTML/CSS Background

Victoria Gomes-Boronat

Prior to taking a basic HTML and CSS coding class in my undergraduate program, I was absolutely terrified of programming. I believed that computer programs were made up of a combination of numbers, specifically 0s and 1s, and it took a super genius and lots of memorization to interpret/create it. Once I took the beginner’s HTML course, however, I understood it more as a language of variables and commands. As discussed in the readings and the python tutorial videos by Annyce Davis, each language has its own syntax (rules of the programming language) and semantics (meanings) (2017). I always knew that programming heavily consisted of STEM, however, I also realized that my extensive background in language (journalism) could actually be an asset to learning these languages. As Evans explains, computer science and programming actually have strong connections to language liberal arts, such as grammar, logic, rhetoric (2011, p. 15). You can see that with how code is constructed, or the syntax of it.

HTML and CSS are optimized for webpage creation, therefore it is important to be very specific with your commands and where they should function. For example, in HTML, every command must reside within <html> </html>, and you must also specify whether it resides in the head (the metadata) or the body of the page (visible on the webpage) by inputting it within those markers, i.e. giving the body of your predominantly blank page the title, “Hi, World!”, would look like this <html>
<head>
<meta charset=”UTF-8″>
<title>Untitled Document</title>
</head>
<body>
<h1> hi world </h1>
</body>
</html>

You can see you how creating a full webpage could become thousands of lines long very quickly. And if you forget even just one closer tag it can cause so many bugs and crashes. The most frustrating part about the HTML language is that it becomes very difficult to find the source of the problem within in so many lines of code. However, the longer you work with it, the better you become at finding issues in the code’s syntax that are affecting the code’s semantics (meaning/resulting outputs). The work of troubleshooting is very akin to the work of an editor revising papers for grammatical mistakes that could change the semantics (meaning) of the work.

When working with python, I was floored by how concise and simple the commands were! As Davis explains, Python is an extremely popular choice for beginner coders because it can be used for a multitude of computations, is user-friendly, and clean/concise. I found the syntax of Python to be much more user-friendly than that of HTML and CSS. Learning how to use Visual Studio Code was also extremely helpful in understanding how codes could be constructed and troubleshot. Python and python interpreters could be easily installed, allowing for code auto-complete, making the process of writing code that much easier. It is important to note that Python can’t be used to create webpages, rather it is optimized to create web applications and various computational functions that can then be added to web pages.

Python also reminded me of another language I have just started to learn: R. R is a programming language that is used for statistical analyses. Many of the rules or syntax of the language are actually very similar to python. with concise commands, you are able to run statistical analyses and create resulting graphs. From what I’ve found, learning one programming language helps tremendously in learning others, especially when you learn and understand the process of how each programming language is constructed of expressions (syntactic values) and evaluations (the meaning of the value associated with an expression) (Evans, 2011, p. 40).

 

References

Davis, A. (2019). Programming foundations: Fundamentals. LinkedIn Learning. https://www.linkedin.com/learning-login/share?forceAccount=false&redirect=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.linkedin.com%2Flearning%2Fprogramming-foundations-fundamentals-3%3Ftrk%3Dshare_ent_url&account=57879737.

Evans, D. (2011). Introduction to computing: Explorations in language, logic, and machines. http://computingbook.org/.