Which is easier to learn: Python or R?

As many of you know, I am committed to learning and writing in public. That means writing about what I learn, showcasing the tools and resources I use, and showing my work or unfinished products.

My current goal is to learn Python or R. While I am familiar with both, I need to start from scratch to advance my skills. Ideally, I would like to start with the easier language (based on my current skill level and knowledge of other programming tools). But is Python easier to learn than R, or is R the easier language?

Some caveats

I am interested in data analyses, graphics/visualization, and general programming. While I figured that there are some things Python may do better than R or vis versa, I am interested in using the more robust tool.

I am also well versed in Stata and I’m satisfied with my knowledge of the app, but I find that I’m limited by not knowing one of the widely recognized programming languages. I am also aware that Stata has PyStata, a new Python and Stata integration that allows users to use Stata from a Python environment. This feature is an added plus for me to pursue learning Python.

Two important notes

  • One is not necessarily better than the other. I am only trying to decide which tool best fits my needs.

What is Python?

Python is a general programming language that serves multiple purposes. Python is used for web and software development, scripting, and data analysis. Users can access different packages developed by other Python users, including SciKit-learn, SciPy, and NumPy.

Some users suggest that Python is a more general tool than R.

What is R?

R is a language and environment for statistical computing. R has a library of open-source software that makes it a rich program, including tidyverse, dplyr, and tidyr. It is primarily used for statistical analysis. R would be sufficient if I were only interested in data analyses and modeling (e.g., linear and nonlinear regression).

So far, I’ve learned three important things about R:

  • R Syntax is not as readable as Python
  • It is not necessarily a programming language
  • It is mainly for statistics, though the program allows for other possibilities

Python or R?

Both Python and R are free, open-source programming languages. Both have supportive communities that contribute to different packages. Visualization in R is generally better than Python for some users of both applications. I’m familiar with ggplot2 because I’ve come across many excellent R visualizations that have used the package to produce high-quality graphics.

Overall, learning Python is more accessible and friendly for people just getting started with coding. The general advice is to learn Python if you are new to coding; learn R if you are focused mainly on statistics or data analyses.

I was told to decide whether to learn Python or R based on my goals. Since I am not only focused on data analyses, I’ll stick with learning Python and look to strengthen my R skills down the line. Python and R can also communicate with each other, so may look into setting this up once I become proficient with both.

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