Watson offers class to teach campus community programming language

As nearly 7,000 Harpur College students register for classes, few will be able to register for the limited seats in Watson-restricted computer science classes. In an effort to provide programming knowledge outside a traditional classroom setting, the Watson School of Engineering offered a one-day certification course on Python, a popular high-level, general-purpose programming language, to both computer science students and those outside of the major.

On Tuesday, about 60 people attended a seven-hour certification course in the Innovative Technologies Complex. The course, taught by Hiroki Sayama, director of the Center for Collective Dynamics of Complex Systems at BU and a professor of systems sciences and industrial engineering, introduced attendees to the basics of Python.

Michael Testani, director of industrial outreach at the Watson School, wrote in an email that the course offers introductory information on Python’s basic functions to a variety of students and professionals.

“This class is an Introduction to Python Programming class, and little or no prior programming experience is required to attend,” Testani wrote. “This is a basic course in Python programming fundamentals and is intended to get learners started with programming using Python. The course is open to all BU students — graduates and undergraduates, as well as industry professionals.”

According to Testani, the class focuses on six aspects of the programming language: software and language basics, variables and data structures, flow control and function definition, plotting and visualization, using modules and object-oriented programming.

Victoria Osuchowski, a senior double-majoring in political science and economics, attended the certification course. She said the course was relevant to her studies and to the professional world and offered an important learning experience at a reasonable price.

“Computer science is just useful everywhere,” Osuchowski said. “I’m a political science and economics student, and Python is especially useful for data analytics, which is a lot of what you do in economics. It was just 50 bucks, so it was a financially feasible way of dipping my toe in programming.”

The course was discounted to $50 for Binghamton University students, whereas other attendees paid up to $300 for their spot. According to Testani, proceeds from the course will go to the Watson School.

“The fees we collect go towards paying for our course-related expenses, [which] include instructor and teaching assistant costs, course materials, conference room fees, parking, refreshments, certificates and digital badges,” Testani wrote.

In addition to teaching the basics of Python, Sayama encouraged students to think about its applications in text analysis, data analysis, data visualization, image processing and games. According to Sayama, although Python is designed to be readable for beginners, learning programming takes considerable time.

“This is very much an introduction,” Sayama said. “It’s almost more of an introduction to an introduction — learning programming is like learning a language, you need to learn for five to 10 years before you know what you’re doing. You need to practice a language constantly to become fluent. Today, it was more like learning how to say hello.”

Sayama emphasized, in particular, the role of Python in developing applications that analyze data.

“Perhaps the most appealing part of Python is data manipulation,” Sayama said. “Everything is flowing into the internet, and Python has been developed along with the history of the internet. The web was born in 1993, and Python has been used along with it. It’s a friendly language for developing applications for the web.”

According to Sayama, the course was a way for students outside the major to learn programming basics, rather than having to enroll in traditional Watson School classes, which are typically designed for computer science majors.

“This class is for noncomputer scientists,” Sayama said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a remedy to a problem, it’s just targeted at a different audience.”

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