For years, new programming students have been vexed by learning the programming language Python. While some commit to this fate when they become computer science majors, a new app co-developed by Derek Lo ’17 allows students to escape the rigidity of this learning style and become proficient in the language on their own terms.
While other Yalies were finishing up their finals last May, co-founders Lo and Brown University student Will Murphy decided to make a mobile app that would help people learn Python. Within four days, they finished creating the course and uploaded the app.called Py, onto Apple’s App Store.
Since then, Py has grown to incorporate seven other programming languages and 15 other subjects including astrophysics, calculus, grammar and U.S. history. The Py team launched the third version of the app on Sept. 25. Yesterday, their work was featured on Product Hunt, a website that features new tech products on a daily basis.
According to Lo, the idea for the app was inspired by the dozens of people over the years who had asked him for help learning Python. Over the past several months, the product has grown out of the team’s desire to make programming education more accessible by promoting it through a mobile platform.
Co-founder of Rap Genius and Everipedia Mahbod Moghadam ’04 praised Py for going mobile. Moghadam said that new technology should be designed primarily for phones to be compatible with the lifestyles of millennials.
“[Going mobile] is the biggest way that the world is changing,” Moghadam said. “In ‘Back to the Future,’ we thought it would be flying cars, but it’s actually just having information in your pocket. This is the next step.”
Briton Park ’17, who helped create course content for the app, said he was excited by the idea of the app because it broke from traditional models of online learning. While he was familiar with available tutorials and course material on the internet, Park said he had never seen teaching platforms as modeled specifically for mobile devices.
Lo tried to structure the first Python course to make it applicable to everyday life. For example, in the course, users learn how to count the number of friends a person has on Facebook using Python. This task helps to engage the user by making the content more accessible, according to Ryan Reza ’17, who helped create some of the content for the programming language courses.
In the beginning, the app looked like a book and users would move from lesson to lesson like chapters, Lo said. But in the current version, the user interface resembles a social media feed with interactive cards and text. Reza described the design as “addicting,” adding that this encourages users to continue learning.
Avery Thompson ’17, who tested the newest version of Py, agreed with Reza’s assessment, adding that the app is easily navigable and user-friendly.
“It’s more interactive than a lot of other learning tools I’ve used, which makes the overall learning process more interesting and easier to stick with,” she said.
Computer science professor Ruzica Piskac helped Lo and Murphy review and refine content. She said that from the beginning she was impressed with the app because it takes a “great approach to attracting young students to programming.” She said she believes many of the users will be encouraged to start writing code themselves.
“[Lo’s] app is designed so that it teaches students enough so that they can understand the basic concepts, and in addition, it motivates them to try and implement bigger projects themselves,” Piskac said.
Thompson and Piskac are not alone in their love of Py. After the first version of Py was released, the Russian website Telegram published an article praising the app. Within two days, over 1,000 people had downloaded the app.
But Lo said that this was nothing to brag about. He was amazed, not by the number of downloads, but by the emails, comments and reviews thanking him for the creation. He said that some users even requested that the app be translated to other languages, including Russian.
“Thank you very much for creating such a useful app and for free,” Py user Khlopkin Alexander wrote in an email to Lo. “I hope someday I will also create something useful for others.”
Lo estimates that the team has collectively worked over 1,000 hours on creating and launching the app over the past four months. After averaging eight hours of work per day for the past four months, the Py team was accepted on Sept. 22 into the first cohort of the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute’s Venture Creation Program which has promised to provide the group with $1,000 in funding, as well as an adviser and a physical workspace.
In April, Lo was featured in a Business Insider article profiling “13 of the most impressive students at Yale right now” for his work on the scheduling app Daybreak, which was downloaded over 10,000 times on its first day on the App Store.