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wk1 Updated info on Jupyter shutdown Oct 2, 2018
wk10 Fixed benchmarking Nov 30, 2017
wk11 Added wk11 lab Dec 4, 2017
wk2 Update 2018 Oct 2, 2018
wk3 Fixed typos Oct 15, 2018
wk4 Fixed typo in fib_rec Oct 23, 2018
wk5 Fixed typo Oct 30, 2018
wk7 Fixed typos Nov 12, 2018
wk8 move exercises to github classroom repo Nov 14, 2017
wk9 Update with Week 9 lecture notes Nov 20, 2017
.gitignore Update Week 8 lecture notes Nov 13, 2017 Changed minor formatting Oct 2, 2018 Init Oct 31, 2018

MY470 Computer Programming

Michaelmas Term 2018


Course Information

  • Lectures on Mondays 13:00–15:00 in KSW G.01
  • Classes on:
    • Mondays 15:00–16:30 in TW2 4.02
    • Tuesdays 10:00–11:30 in STC S08
    • Tuesdays 15:00–16:30 in TW2 4.03

No lectures or classes will take place during School Reading Week 6.

Course Description

This course introduces students to the fundamentals of computer programming as students design, write, and debug computer programs using the programming languages Python and R. The course will also cover the foundations of computer languages, algorithms, functions, variables, object orientation, scoping, and assignment.


This course is an introduction to the fundamental concepts of programming for students who lack a formal background in the field, but will include more advanced problem-solving skills in the later stages of the course. Topics include algorithm design and program development; data types; control structures; functions and parameter passing; recursion; searching and sorting; and an introduction to the principles of object-oriented programming.


This is an introductory class and no prior experience with programming is required.


The course will use Python and R. We will use the Anaconda distribution to install Python and manage packages and Jupyter Notebook to write code. We will use RStudio to write code in R. Lectures and assignments will be posted on GitHub. Students are expected to use GitHub also to submit problem sets and final exam.


The main course texts will be:

Additional resources include:


Take home exam (50%) and in-class assessment (50%). Students will be expected to produce 10 problem sets in the MT. Student problem sets will be marked each week, and will provide 50% of the mark.

Doctoral students registered for MY570 have the option to work on a substantive project of their own choice in place of the take home exam. The project should be approved by the instructors, so please get in touch with us well in advance.

Problem sets will be distributed on Monday evening and due at 12:00 noon the following Monday.

The take home exam will be distributed on Monday, December 10, 2018 and due at 12:00 noon on Monday, January 14, 2019.

Please note that the deadlines are final. Late submissions will automatically receive score 0, except in the case of a valid documented legal or medical excuse.

Assessment Criteria

Your code will be evaluated both on whether it completes the task and on the extent to which it is written using the concepts, paradigms, and best practices covered in the course.

Mark Criteria
Pass (50-59) The code runs and does what it is expected to
Merit (60-69) The code runs, does what it is expected to, and is modular and legible
Distinction (70-100) The code runs, does what it is expected to, and is modular, legible, and suitably optimized


Week 1. What is Computation?

In the first week, we will introduce the basic concepts in computer programming: computers, algorithms, programming languages, and programs. We will then discuss the elements of programming languages: primitive constructs, syntax, static semantics, and semantics. We will further introduce the essential primitives for all programming languages: data types, operators, expressions, variables and values.


  • Guttag. Chapters 1-2.1, pp.1–15.
  • Wing, Jeannette M. (2006). Computational thinking. Communications of the ACM, 49(3), 33–35.

Lab: Anaconda, Jupyter, and GitHub

  • Installing Python with Anaconda
  • Introduction to Jupyter and other IDEs
  • Submitting assignments on GitHub

Week 2. Data Types in Python

In the next five weeks of the course, we will use Python to get familiar with the elements of programming languages. We will begin with scalar data types, operators, expressions, and value assignment to variables. We will also cover non-scalar, also known as compound or structured, data types (lists, tuples, sets, and dictionaries) and discuss the difference between mutable and immutable and ordered and unordered types. As lists are very commonly used, we will further overview the most common list operations, including indexing, slicing, appending, splitting, aliasing, and cloning.


  • Guttag. Chapters 2.3, 5.1-5.3, 5.5-5.6, pp.18–21, 65–73, 77–84.

Lab: Working with Strings and Lists in Python

  • Programing with simple statements, including print(), len(), append(), extend(), pop(), remove(), split(), join(), sort(), and sorted()

Week 3. Control Flow in Python

Control flow defines the order in which statements are evaluated and executed in a program. In Python, indentation plays a crucial role in determining the control flow. In this week, we will discuss branching and iteration and how to write these in Python using if-else statements, while loops, for loops, range(), break, and continue. We will also introduce the extremely useful concept of list comprehensions. To exemplify the use of conditional statements and iteration, we will go over several simple numerical search and approximation algorithms.


  • Guttag. Chapters 2.2, 2.4–3, pp.15–18, 22–38.

Lab: For Loops and List Comprehensions in Python

  • Control flow best practices and pitfalls
  • Nested dictionary and list comprehensions

Week 4. Functions in Python

Good programmers are not measured by the amount of code they write but by the amount of functionality in their code. Good programming relies on abstraction and decomposition. Decomposition creates structure while abstraction helps hide details. Decomposition and abstraction can be achieved with functions and classes and in this week, we will introduce functions. We will discuss function arguments and variable scope and by means of an example, we will introduce the concept of recursion.


  • Guttag. Chapter 4, pp.39–63.

Lab: Writing and Calling Functions in Python

  • Function specification
  • What are functions good for?

Week 5. Classes in Python

Object-oriented programming is a programming paradigm that helps increase modularity, reduce complexity, and foster code reuse. Objects are a data abstraction consisting of (1) an internal representation i.e. object attributes and (2) an interface for interacting with the objects through methods and functions. Objects are instances of classes and classes determine the type of an object. In this week, we will discuss how to define classes in Python and how to create instances of a class. We will also touch upon class inheritance and hierarchies, as well as generators.


  • Guttag. Chapter 8, pp.109–134.

Lab: Programming in Teams

  • Using GitHub as a collaboration tool

Week 7. Testing and Debugging in Python

Writing computer programs is easy but making them work properly is hard. We test programs to check if they work as intended and we debug them when we find out that they don’t. In this lecture, we will discuss different ways to test and debug programs. We will cover common error messages and how to catch them with try, except, raise, and assert.


  • Guttag. Chapters 6–7, pp.85–108.

Lab: Unit Testing, Exceptions, and Assertions in Python

  • Using .py files to structure programs and conduct testing
  • Defensive programming with try, except, and assert

Week 8. The R Programming Language

In the next two weeks of the course, we will review the concepts learned until now by learning how they are implemented in the R programming language. We will start with basic data types in R (vectors, lists, matrices, factors, data frames) and object classes.

Lecture Notes:


  • Venables, W. N. et. al. 2017. An Introduction to R. Chapters 1-6.
  • (optional, but recommended) Zuur, A., Ieno, E. N., & Meesters, E. (2009). A Beginner's Guide to R. Springer Science & Business Media.
  • The Introduction to R handout.

Lab: Introduction to R

  • Installing R and RStudio
  • Introduction to RStudio and workflow
  • Working with R objects

Week 9. (More) Advanced R

Continuing from the previous week, we will cover control flow (if-else statements, for and while loops, repeat, next, break), and vectorized operations in R, functions, and variable scoping.


Lecture Notes:

Lab: Working with Lists and Functions in R

Week 10. Algorithms and Order of Growth

Algorithms are recipes that consist of a sequence of simple steps, control flow, and stopping rule. To evaluate the scalability of algorithms and to compare their efficiency, we use the abstraction “order of growth”. Order of growth expresses how the maximum amount of time needed grows as the size of the input grows. We will discuss different complexity classes and ways to analyze the complexity of programs.


  • Guttag. Chapter 9, pp.135–149.
  • Bradley and Ranum. Chapter 2.

Lab: Order of Growth

  • Reading programs written in Python and R and evaluating their time complexity

Week 11. Searching and Sorting Algorithms

We will use the concepts and approaches introduced in the previous lecture to look at the complexity of several classic algorithms on searching and sorting. The goal is to get a better intuition of how to approach problems of efficiency. We will use examples written in both Python and R. The lecture will end with an overview of what we have learned in the course and possible steps you can take to further develop your programming skills.


  • Guttag. Chapter 10.1–10.2, pp.151–164.
  • Bradley and Ranum. Chapter 5.

Lab: Preparation for the Final Assignment

  • Getting familiar with the data
  • Understanding temporal motifs