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Introduction to Programming (AIP2015)



  • Learn the principles of how computers work
  • Learn the basic concepts of programming (instructions/variables/loops...)
  • learn the bases of Python programming
  • Learn how to execute, design, write and debug programs

(see below for more details about the contents of this series of lectures)

Lecture materials:

The most up-to-date lectures materials are available in a git repository at

To download a local copy on your computer and set it up to easily update them, follow these instructions.

Too see the list of all html and pdf documents, check doclist.html.


This course is intended for beginners, but students who already have rudiments in programming (e.g. only know Matlab) can benefit from it. Also, note that knowledge of Python and of the skills listed below is a requirement for the other hands-on classes (Ateliers) of the Cogmaster.

Before attending AIP, it can help:

During of after AIP, you may be interested in MIT's Introduction to computer science and programming online course.

Another excellent resource to go beyond this lecture is

More precisely, at the end of this series of lectures, you should have acquired:

Basic programming concepts

  • instructions/sequential exectution
  • forever loops
  • conditional statements
  • constants integers/floats/strings (insist that there are different types)
  • variables
  • lists/dictionaries
  • loops over sequences
  • functions/parameters/local variables
  • modules
  • file input/output

For example, you should be able to write Python scripts to:

  • search for items in a list
  • find the largest number in a list of integers
  • compute basic statistics from files containaint numeric data
  • compute the number of occurrences of words in a text file
  • play the "guess a number" game

Practical skills

You should know how to:

  • Download some source code (e.g. Python) from the Internet (e.g. github) and display it.

  • Run a program from the command line

    • open a terminal, interact with the shell
    • navigate the directory structure with cd/ls
    • type commands, possibily with options or arguments
    • interrupt a running program (using the process manager)
  • Execute a python script.

  • Install missing modules

  • Launch ipython and use it interactively (distinction shell/interpreter python)

  • Use an editor (atom) to view/edit a Python script

  • Find/read Python's documentation

  • what to do when there is a crash/error message

Computer's architecture

To program computers, it is necessary to have a rough idea of how they work.

  • Computer = Automaton + Memory store (Turing machines)
  • Intro to Machine language (Register machine Rodrego)
  • High-level languages. Compilation/interpretation.
  • What does an operating system do

Methodology of programming

  • divide-and-conquer approach, piping
  • writing code following our coding standards (see below)
  • debug with 'print'


Our Coding standards:

  • use a common template for all scripts
  • force writing docstrings with aim, input & output descriptions
  • avoid global variables except for constants (use uppercase for identifier)
  • spaces around operators, after ',',...
  • use explicit names (lowercase ascii)
  • use comments sparingly, explain why, not how
  • factoring code (each step is a function, put docstrings)