The O’Reilly School of Technology recently started offering a 4-part Python certificate course.  I have just recently completed the first part of the course and wanted to share some of my impressions.  The course is ‘cloud-based’ and served to you over an RDP connection.  They provide you links to Mac OSX and Windows versions of the RDP client so either way you are covered.  When you log in, you are dumped into the Eclipse IDE environment and walked through how to navigate the environment and set it up for your use.  Love or hate Eclipse, you will be forced to use it through this course.  I personally did not like Eclipse too much before I signed up for this course.  Now that I’ve been using it a lot more I have decided it’s not so bad and I could probably grow to like it at some point.  The further into the course you get, the more you realize why they made the decision to use Eclipse.  Largely because it allows them to embed a web browser and they can run their other courses for Java, etc all off of Eclipse.  Anyhow, enough about Eclipse…

My first impression of the course was not really so good.  I kinda felt like I was just reading an abridged version of a $50 book.  But after completing a few lessons I can see the value in essentially being forced to apply what you learn in each lesson.  Is it worth the $300-$400($300 if you happen to catch it on sale)?  Well that depends on your specific needs.  If you want to go for the full certificate, you will spend $1200-$1600 because there are 4 separate courses you need to complete in order to obtain the cert.  On top of that, there is a $15 monthly lab fee for using the system where the course is hosted.  $1600 MIGHT be cheaper than your local university or perhaps your local university doesn’t even offer Python in the first place.  I know some folks that were recently enrolled in a prominent local university’s Python course and they ended up feeling it was a complete waste of their time.  Apparently the teacher kind of sucks.  That’s good money down the drain unfortunately…  Fortunately their employer is paying that bill.  The OST course is nice because you can just try one module of it and if you don’t like it, don’t go any further.  There is also a 7 day money back guarantee.  Keep in mind that if you have completed more than 40% of the course in that first 7 days, you will no longer be eligible for the money back guarantee.

For me, I’m in it for the knowledge.  I want to learn to be a better programmer and I think Python is a great language to help with that goal since it’s so deep and versatile yet simple enough to understand the fundamentals with a little bit of effort.  If your company will pay for you to obtain a Python cert with O’Reilly, I would say go for it.  No question.  If it’s your own money you are spending, I would suggest trying to go through a book such as Learning Python by Mark Lutz.  That is what I started with and I’m glad I did.  It allowed me to fly through the O’Reilly course and get more value for my money since the course was reinforcing and clarifying concepts that I had already come across in the book.  I wouldn’t mind having the Python certificate and learning the rest of the knowledge the course has to offer but I’m not so sure I want to spend another $900-$1200 to get to that point right now.

As far as specifics of the course, I felt that it started out with a slightly higher than beginner level.  If you’ve never programmed before and never even tried to play around with Python, you might get lost in place.  There is an instructor available via email but there is a lag if you are working on the course after business hours.  The course makes a couple assumptions about prerequisite knowledge.  My suggestion would be to at least skim a Python book even if you don’t punch in code out of the book as you read it.

I spent several weeks deciding whether I wanted to do this Python course.  I discussed it over with a few friends and what finally convinced me to just give it a shot was the words of one person in specific…. “Well, it can’t hurt any now can it?  It won’t make you any worse at Python, right?”  True enough.  In the end I definitely feel like I have a much deeper understanding of Python and I can now converse with other Pythonistas in a semi-coherent manner.  So for me, yes, it was worth the $300.  As an added bonus, you get a free ebook of one of their beginner Python books.  For me it was “Head First Python by Paul Barry” which incidentally is a fairly new release for them.  On top of that, I got a discount code for 40% off of any of their printed books.  That sweetens the deal if you are in the market for any of the O’Reilly books.

Bottom line is that I’m happy with my purchase and would do it again given the choice.  If you have completed this course yourself or are thinking about taking it, please feel free to post a comment down below.  I would be interested in some additional perspective.

Now I wish they could figure out how to do one for developing iPhone apps 😉