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Launch HN: Py (YC S17) – Learn to Code on the Go
132 points by derektlo 102 days ago | hide | past | web | 61 comments | favorite
Hey HN! I’m Derek of Py (https://www.downloadpy.com). Py is an education app for iOS and Android that teaches topics like app development, building websites and data science. We're in the current YC batch.

My co-founder Will and I have been friends since high school. We've been frustrated for a long time with the way existing learning platforms teach coding. They tend to be one-size-fits-all solutions that don't make learning to code a fun experience. Also, most platforms don't personalize content based on a user's prior skill level or behavior within the product.

We think personalizing content is key. We customize the content that users see and make it game-like to encourage people to spend more time on concepts they’re struggling with.

We also believe that interactivity is super important. Rather than passively watching a video, we want users to engage with the content. I’ve found from personal experience that I’ll watch an EdX video thinking I understand what they’re saying, only to discover later that I’m struggling on a quiz about the exact same concepts I thought I had learned.

When we first launched Py on the App Store about one year ago, it was named Pythonic because it only taught Python. Over the summer, we expanded to teach more programming languages and shortened the name to Py. While finishing up our last year of college we iterated on the product, developing more interaction types to make learning more engaging, and building more courses.

Excited to discuss mobile edtech and teaching people how to code! Also, we're quite curious to hear about your preferred way of learning...

Congrats! Great ratings at App Store, seems promising. Although, you are not exactly on Android already, are you?

We also believe that interactivity is super important

I agree with this premisse and I can't learn through videos. But I am glad with codecademy/freeCodeCamp style (lesson on the left, browse coding on the right). And after the initial steps, following tutorials online to build my own things on a real dev environment.

But I am willing to try another approach that favors interactivity.

We think personalizing content is key

I also agree in theory, but never saw it in practice. I couldn't understand from your landing page how Py solves this either. Would you care to further explain how the content is personalized and what exactly is this game-like?

If you think it's relevant, some context: I am 37 years old, on a career change from marketing to software development. I am learning web development from scratch, studying fulltime since last November. Basically 2 months to complete the first certificate of freeCodeCamp, then, building my own projects following tutorials and documentation. I start next Monday at my first dev job as front end developer. I mostly interested in learning Javascript, maybe dig deeper in CSS and general CS concepts.

Thanks for the comment! So we just launched our Android version today: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.py (it's still in alpha and there are a number of issues we've noticed that working around the clock to resolve ASAP)

RE personalization: At the end of each chapter, users answer quizzes. We motivate people to review wrong answers through a star system: a user will earn 3 stars if they answer 100% of the assessments correct, otherwise, they have can review to earn more. This allows us to customize the content that users see while also gamifying the experience to incentive people to spend more time on concepts they’re struggling with.

You're right about keeping Android version out of landing page. Downloaded it now and a few things dont work:

- in screens with "run" I can't edit the code or see the output after hitting "run". I believe I was supposed to do both.

- one screen in the middle of the JS intro course is blank

- at the courses I went through, the last screen's "continue" is faded out, unclickable and I can't conclude the course.

In a week or so I will try again, I still believe I will enjoy it. Good luck!

Thank you for this - we're literally typing Java code right now to solve these. Very much appreciate the feedback and thanks for offering to try us again in a week :)

Have you considered employing a cognitive dissonance learning model similar to the techniques that Derek Muller wrote about in his thesis 'Designing Effective Multimedia for Physics Education'? [0]

Lorena Barba of George Washington University also discusses techniques related to effectively teaching complex topics through exercise rather than passive learning that you may find interesting. [1]

[0] http://sydney.edu.au/science/physics/pdfs/research/super/PhD...

[1] https://www.class-central.com/report/why-my-mooc-is-not-buil...

Congrats and love what you're doing.

Do you mind if we start sharing this with the customer side at http://turtle.ai/? We have many non-tech customers and we teach them best practices for product management and working with developers -- a lot of your course content would be really useful for them as well.

> We think personalizing content is key. We customize the content that users see and make it game-like to encourage people to spend more time on concepts they’re struggling with.

Would it ever be possible for organizations to pre-define some content / content suggestions for their users? For example, we would want non-tech customers to get certain content and more technical customers to get different content. For freelancers, we'd want the content to be more product management / project management / communications focused.

Let me know if you have any plans to partner with companies who want to outsource some of the education of their customers. We think education is critical to our success or the success of any companies in our space (freelancer marketplace). If we can outsource the education component to a trusted partner, we would love to (and would pay for custom content or to supply our own content).

Anyone is always allowed to use our app! We've found it very effective in leveling up engineering skills as well as taking people from 0 to coder.

hmu at contact@py-app.com

Just finished the swift course and it leaves me wanting more. I mostly like that I can do a few excercises while waiting for the train to arrive and then just pick it up the next day for a few minutes. Feels a bit like duolingo for learning. Unnoticed some humanities subjects in the store screenshots? Would be cool to do the same treatment for history or more high level concepts in programming like algorithms. Kudos so far!

Great you love it! We're building more Swift content right now! Commutes are a perfect use case.

Right now we're focusing on our best programming courses. We're about to release courses like Data Science and Machine Learning. Apologies about the screenshot: it's out of date and Apple won't let us update it without submitting a new version.

Ugh typos, but you got my point :) Are you planning to move beyond programming too (duolingo for learning -anything-) or is that just wishful thinking on my part?

Right now we're planning on doing one thing really well before we do more. But there's no reason this model doesn't work for other subjects.

Wait, so it's called Py but has a course on Swift?

Might want to rethink that name or something.

Most users don't think Py = Python. Most associate it with the number. See name discussion below.

Hey! I got a chance to play around with the app a bit and thought I'd leave my first impressions here (for whatever it's worth.)

- I love the fact that I'm not forced to make an account but given the option; though not sure what benefits that offers. Picking up in the same spot across devices I guess.

- didn't realize i could skip modules at first, once I did I liked it a lot more.

- I've only played with the JS stuff so far. It's pretty basic for me right now but I'd imagine (and hope) you'll be adding some heavier stuff.

- Beautiful UI.

- The correct/wrong notifications are very similar to other apps like this (not a criticism), is there a common library for that? I never really thought about it.

- I personally would like and make use of a "give us feedback" item.

- I'd like to be able to take some short tests or flash cards. Maybe for built in methods, design patterns, "what would this evaluate to", etc..

- No weird permissions!!

I'll keep my eye on this. Good luck with it!

We're glad you like us!

- Definitely wanted to keep this option; no reason to force it on everyone.

- We let you learn at the right level.

- Believe it or not, we cover the core language. So once you finish JavaScript, you'll know enough to build a project or pass an interview at a top tech company.

- Completely custom; the design idiom is a common one.

- We're about to add this!

- If you want this, check out our coding interviews course.

- You're welcome :)

Just signed up. I really love this idea. Keep up the great work! UX is very good. Feels like Duolingo for programming languages.

Reminded me of SoloLearn, a similar app.

Can't really comment in the Android app as it crashes a couple of minutes into the app.

I'm doing a course at Udacity and they recommend SoloLearn to brush up on basics, including python and HTML etc etc. Partnering with institutions seems to be a good idea.

I was skeptical.. but I really like it! The UI looks very pleasant, and there's an addictive rhythm that keeps you going. As a programmer the beginner courses get tedious for me, I dont need the concept of conditionals explained to me again, but if you had an expert level intro to a language I didnt know- I would definitely want to learn the syntax and idiosyncracies of a new language this way. It feels really painless to learn things in this style.

I'm from Colombia and I'm interested in the app. I tried to download py on my android and it seems the app is not avaliable. Why?

Hey, are you worried about being regulated as a school at all in the state you're operating in?

What regulations are you talking about? You can teach anyone anything (legal) you want and get paid for it, and you don't need anyone's permission.

What horror show of a country do you live in that someone would get in trouble for being a tutor?

Nope, we aren't regulated as a school so we're not worried about this!

But you do provide courses to people for money, right?

Currently, all of our courses are actually free! We will be releasing a new version of Py on iOS within the next day or two that will contain a premium subscription that unlocks access to new premium content we're rolling out.

Sooo....sounds like you're about to become a school that takes money? Are you worried about regulation now?

@thebiglebrewski -- do you have a link or reference to the regulations of concern? I did a quick web search and did not find anything relevant.

If there is a regulation about this, it’s ridiculous. A great example of government overreach.

Udemy isn’t regulated as a school. Duolingo isn’t regulated as a school. Considering this product as something that ought to be regulated is madness.

Regulations are the enemy of innovation. Unless there is a health or safety issue, government ought to stay the hell out.

What are your competitors, and how do you differ? I find small screens like iOS and Android (assuming most users use a mobile phone-like device) are hard to do any significant work on - how does this influence your instruction flow & corresponding UX?

Few of our competitors are mobile focused. Most people don't have hours to sit in front of a computer, but waste a lot of time commuting, standing in line, etc. Py is designed to utilize this time.

Great question about UX. It's hard to type on a phone, so we use a customized keyboard and group things into reusable elements.

I am very curious how you teach coding on a mobile platform. I mean there is so much typing in coding, and then you need to track a bunch of variables, see the output, and see the code, so that is a lot of screen real estate you need.

Great question! The code is kept short, the output appears below the code, and we deal with typing by using a customized keyboard and letting you type in whole function names with a single tap. It's hard to explain without showing you the app :) Check it out.

I've done a few of your lessons and I feel they only scratch the surface.

The format works well for learning high-level concepts, but anyone planning to "go from 0 to coder" with this app is fooling themselves.

You'd be surprised! The coding interview questions are real-world questions used at real tech companies. Once you can answer them right, you can get a job.

hello Derek and Will, Currently I am on an experiment to learn programming only via a smartphone and I have started with 6.00.1x of EdX. I am using Termux and GNUROOTDEBIAN app on my phone. If you would be interested, along side I could work with Py and may be give you a comparison of some sort on my experience of different module and topic on both. Prior I worked for 7 months as an EIR with an edtech Startup and also have been a founder for 52 months.

Please do let me know, my email is in my profile.

Fantastic app. Really nicely designed. Question on the personalized learning: what factors go into determining when and what content to show me to optimize my learning?

You should really mention that your android version doesnt exist yet. There is not even an ETA available, just an email signup for 'updates'.

We actually do have an android version in alpha: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.py

Where did it go? I'm getting "Item not found."

I get an "item not found" error in the play store.

Great. I wish you all the best. Will go through the app.and will share my experience.

Installed on Android 7. Sorta kinda worked once. Crashed. Cannot restart after force stop.

I'm literally typing fixes right now. We'll get this out ASAP.

I applaud you for working around the clock on it, but honestly, the android app isn't even alpha. It just doesn't work. I think you jumped the gun on listing it in the Play store.

Cool on Android. Look forward to using this.

"See all courses" is blank (iOS)

Great app! I like where it is going!

I really don't like the name. Since you expanded on your languages that you are going to teach it doesn't really make sense to use Py since nearly every Python project uses the phrase to say its in Python. Also, you are going to have people that are looking for PyPy and finding your App and getting confused.

Agreed. I would just like the OP but since you can't see the like count, it is valuable feedback to see how many people find the name confusing.

I also assumed it was python focused.

Actually, we've found the name Py doesn't confuse users. Most associate it with the number Pi, giving it an academic feel.

For what it's worth, I assumed this would be an app focused on teaching Python.

Keep in mind many of our users don't even know python. We answer about 200+ questions every day in our in-app chat, and we've yet to hear someone get confused.

I second this

Don't you think you're doing yourself a disservice by being difficult to search for?

They're the very first google result for "py" for me right now.

Not for me, not even on the first page; Py Music, PyPy, Python all come before it.

FWIW For me first page has only sites from Paraguay (.py TLD). Second page start with their App Store, then their Techcrunch article and then Play Store. Nothing about Python before their app though.

Google knows me too well. The search rankings differ per user.

We changed our domain from py-app.com to downloadpy.com a couple days ago, so if you don't see us first this is probably why. Our old domain ranked consistently first.


Yes, but I'm going to wager that y'all are programmers already. Seeing as that's likely who reads these. For people learning, they'd be less picky or even knowledgeable on such relations. I actually like the name. Besides, git means a disliked person and that's a thing. Words are created and shifted all the time. From what I can tell Py is already popular enough, it's the 4th hit for me on Google, that alone is reason enough to not change the name.

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