Community and RDM at CarpentryCon 2018

CarpentryCon 2018 group photo

by Scott Peterson and Josh Quan

Between both organizations, Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry have more than two decades of experience teaching foundational computing and data science skills to researchers through their volunteer-led workshops. In 2018, these organizations merged to become the Carpentries, and at the end of May, RDM team members and Carpentry instructors Scott Peterson and Josh Quan attended the first CarpentryCon at University College Dublin in Ireland. This event brought together Carpentry members from across the globe to share knowledge, develop skills, and strategize about how to build strong local communities around teaching computational skills and good data practices that can have long lasting and far reaching effects for researchers. The theme of the conference was building locally and connecting globally, which were central to the keynotes, trainings, workshops, poster session, lightning talks, and meet-ups that featured views and ideas from all parts of the world.

With a volunteer base coming from more than 60 member organizations spread out over 10 countries, community and diversity are what keep the Carpentries moving forward. Valerie Aurora’s opening keynote, Focus On Allies, set the tone for the inclusiveness of this conference by delineating ways to make sure everyone's voice is not just heard, but listened to. Her guidelines for and approaches to confronting institutional inequity by empowering targets, those in the minority, and identifying allies, those with the social capital and sensitivity to influence change, produced examples of how to run better meetings where everyone has a voice, and how to engage with colleagues who refuse to see the need for change. By focusing on changing the culture of just “checking the box” on diversity and inclusion that can be found in tech companies and academia, Valerie’s keynote reminded everyone that the conference was not just about improving how computing and data science can be taught, but on how they can be taught to everyone equally.

Greg WIlson, the founder of Software Carpentry, gave a keynote echoing some of Valerie’s concerns by pointing out that to change the system, you need to organize and fight, as “inertia is the fifth element of the the universe.” While Greg spoke about this challenge in starting Software Carpentry, his keynote was focused on endings and how the merger of the two carpentries signaled it was now time to leave things in someone else’s hands. He gave the audience his ten simple rules for leaving, and noted that the English language doesn’t have a word that is the opposite of mistake. He reminded everyone that the most important part about the Carpentries was that it was teaching people how to teach, and in order to keep things fresh, change one thing every time you teach to make the instruction seem new.

CarpentryCon 2018Other highlights included keynote presentations by Desmond Higgins and Anelda van der Walt. Desmond’s presentation on the history of the Clustal Package served as an example of what needs to be done to keep a project, program, or tool relevant over the long term. Andela van der Walt’s keynote, It Takes a Global Village, was an overview on the Carpentries in Africa. In order to provide a more complete view of such a large continent, after an introductory speech about the Carpentries Africa task force, Andela turned her keynote over to members of the task force to discuss their activities in their respective African countries. Mesfin Diro, Lactatia Motsuku, Erika Mias, Katrin Tirok, Caroline F. Ajilogba, Kayleigh Lino, and Juan Steyn spoke about building vibrant R and Python communities in Ethiopia and South Africa, what is was like to be a part of the Africa Carpentries instructor community, how the task force is supporting instructors in Africa, the diversity of the disciplines, languages, and cultures of the learners taking Carpentry workshops in African countries, and how they have found funding to put on these workshops. The international reputation of the Carpenties was on full display through the many different voices in this keynote. These presentations brought the theme of building locally and connecting globally to the forefront, as the Carpentries Africa task force members demonstrated how they were able to connect their various communities across Africa in order for the Carpenties to have a greater impact globally. Both Anelda’s and Desmond’s keynotes exhibited how dedication, perseverance, and teamwork are necessary for sustainability across projects and organizations.

Library Carpentry is the latest Carpentry to become involved with the Carpentries, and over the three days there were a few session that focused on teaching computing skills to librarians. A session on the incubation period of Library Carpentry outlined what is needed in creating a Carpentry. This backstory about Library Carpentry and what needs to be asked in order to create a set of successful workshops for another Carpentry community was nicely bookended two days later with a session on Library Carpentry onboarding that focused on what Library Carpentry needs to do going forward to make an even greater impact in training librarians across the world. A lightning talk on upskilling librarians in South Africa and a session on teaching the Carpentries in a university were also helpful in seeing how teaching Carpentry lessons for library staff at UC Berkeley might be done. Additionally, Josh Quan, UC Berkeley Data Librarian as well as RDM team member, presented a poster sharing the results of an undergraduate library fellowship program that integrated Carpentry teaching principles such as lesson design, cognitive load, and learner motivation into the curriculum. Sessions on FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) data principles and an incubating HPC (High Performance Computing) Carpentry were also very useful in seeing how other places tackle issues relevant to RDM and Berkeley Research Computing at UC Berkeley.

The growth and impact the Carpentries are having across the world was demonstrated over the three days of CarpentryCon. This growth has created new challenges for the Carpentries though, and during the conference Tracy addressed the state of the Carpentries and the communication strategies being developed to deal with this growth. The new website, the Carpentries Handbook, and the Carpentry Clippings newsletter have been developed in the last year to help members find answers to questions they might have. There are also weekly discussion sessions that members can join to keep in touch with others in the Carpentries. Tracy stressed that training and community of practice are the Carpentries strength, and one can always reach out to it when you don’t know the answer. This is the power of a strong community, and this is something researchers working with data and technology need. CarpentryCon reinforced what a strong community can accomplish, and the ideas and practices at CarpentryCon can be used to strengthen the Carpentry and RDM communities that exists between the UC Berkeley Library, the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the UC Berkeley campus as a whole.

Photos by Berenice Batut.

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