Can You Learn Python With Udacity? A Review

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About a year ago, when I decided I was going to teach myself how to code, the first course I jumped into was on Udacity’s website.

It was an Intro to CS course. And I gave up halfway through lesson 2 after feeling hopelessly lost. I felt out of place when I turned to the message boards. Like all the people in discussion knew what was going on. But I didn’t.

There were others that were on the boards, making comparisons between Python to other programming languages.

“The syntax similarity with Ruby.” And so forth.

Meanwhile I was thinking,

“HEY! This is for beginners! Get out of here!”

Ultimately, though, I was the one who dropped out of the course.

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Giving Udacity Another Chance

Nonetheless, I decided to give Udacity another shot.

But this time with their Intro to Object Oriented Programming course. Also referred to as “Programming Foundations with Python.”

Off the bat, I noticed a few differences, like how you can actually pay Udacity $150/month for extra benefits. When I first went on Udacity a year ago, this wasn’t an option.

(Update: Udacity now has tons of online courses — many of which cost something. But there are others that do not still.)

Still, you get a bulk of the courseware and resources for free. So what’s there to lose?

So I began watching the instructional videos. And then in the second video the instructor, Kunal Chawla, addresses the high learning curve in programming. And says, point blank, that many students trying to learn programming drop out.

He literally read my mind.

Chawla then promises that this won’t be that kind of course…

The Programming Foundations with Python Course Layout

First things first, I love the instructor.

Chawla is very entertaining to watch. And for some reason, maybe it’s his tone of voice or what he says, Chawla is very comforting. Not your stereotypical monotone male professor.

The instructional format is video-based plus some additional reading. Which I love. I love instructional videos. It’s much easier for me to comprehend concepts when they are being described aloud.

The course is comprises of only three lessons, starting off with functions. Unlike the intro to CS course I initially took, this class doesn’t have many the online quizzes.

If I remember correctly, in the other Python class you had to pass certain quizzes to make it to the next lesson. This was nothing like that.

What I didn’t like about this Udacity Python Course

Instead, the students are supposed to upload little projects to the discussion board. Such as describing a certain program to your friend, and video recording the whole conversation.

Which in a live classroom setting is fine. But online, when it’s all optional, there’s no incentive to do those little projects. While the online quizzes that don’t show answers can be annoying, the ones that do show correct answers after a few attempts can be helpful.

And making one complete a quiz before moving ahead is probably best in the long run. I mean, it forces you to regurgitate what you just learned.

Beyond the little projects to upload to the discussion board, the exercises the instructor uses for teaching are awesome. For instance, in lesson 2b the exercise involves sending a text message from your computer to your cellphone using Python via a tool called Twilio. It’s actually really awesome.

Other projects involve writing a program that sets up timed breaks by playing a YouTube video to creating a website with your favorite movie trailers.

Basically, this Udacity course demonstrates all the awesome stuff you can do with Python.

But it leaves me questioning if I am really learning anything.

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The Problem with this Online Python Class

While the instructor is lovely, he simply walks you through the code. The code is easy to get working. But when it comes to actually taking this code and concept and recreating it — I know I could never do it.

Moreover, we also run the code in IDLE. Apparently, according to Zed Shaw, real programmers don’t run code in IDLE. (Anyone have any insight on this? If so, please do tell.)

My question throughout this Udacity course was,

“How do I package this into something people can use?”

In the end, I think this class was almost too easy. Programming isn’t meant to be easy. 

There should be more quizzes forcing you to retain the information…at least long enough to pass the quiz.

Not an optional discussion to get involved in. Because obviously I am lazy and not going to partake unless I absolutely must to make it to the next section.

Overall Impressions of Programming Foundations with Python


  • Free
  • Instructional video format
  • Fun and somewhat practical python use cases


  • Am I really learning anything?
  • No incentive to practice (aka no quizzes)

All and all, I think that for someone who wants to learn cool stuff you can do with Python—like the text message application thing—this course is fine.

But if you want to get down and dirty, this isn’t for you.

However, I must say—this Python class totally boosted my confidence. I didn’t run away scared like I did my first time with Udacity.