Writing software in an academic environment can be a real challenge, and a very rewarding part of my job involves helping researchers improve their research software, and perhaps more importantly, the way in which they develop it. Transferring crucial skills into the wider community as a teacher allows me to reach even more people, and help improve the overall situation with developing research software at an early stage of many researcher’s careers.
I have found Software Carpentry to be a truly transformative and fascinating experience, not only for those I teach but also for myself, and reinforces the notion that improving and learning new research software development skills is a continuous and vastly rewarding experience.
In my day job, I teach students how to use engineering and computer science tools. By temperament and experience, I strongly favor an apprenticeship approach for instruction, and the Software Carpentry model of direct learner–instructor interaction in a hands-on setting is a decent short-term approximation. This allows students to rise to their current level of technical sophistication during the workshop, and to discover the answers to questions they don’t know how to pose verbally.
What particularly fascinates me is the way learning works and the way scientific and technical knowledge is structured. It’s exciting to create and foster technical communities to take advantage of new channels for learning and teaching, as well as for research and engineering. SWC and DC are on the vanguard, and I’m proud to be a part.
During the past decade or so, I’ve realized that grad students teach themselves much of what they learn during grad school. Of course self-teaching is a valuable process in the road to becoming an independent researcher, but I thank that we could be more productive, successful, efficient, and impactful teachers and researchers if we learned some things with hands-on instruction and guidance rather than with Google and trial and error.
I joined the Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry organizations because I was looking for a community of role-models I could look up to that taught beginner computing effectively and taught teachers how to teach beginner computing effectively. Without a doubt, my involvement with the Software Carpentry community has helped me to become a better teacher, scientist, and collaborator. I’m very excited to be an instructor trainer so that I can empower others with tools, confidence, and resources they need to advance their careers.
I love sharing ideas with people. The best moments in life, for me, are facilitating intellectual insights along with personal connections. Those moments are what build a community that continues living in hope and adventure, especially important in times of fear and division. I teach to make those moments possible for myself and for others.
Teaching in general, and at Software and Data Carpentry workshops in particular, gives me great pleasure and is one of the most personally rewarding activities I engage in. With Software Carpentry, I feel I belong to a community that shares many of the same values I have: openness, tolerance, a focus on quality in teaching to name a few. The instructor training program is the best pedagogical program I know of, and it is amazing to see how Software and Data Carpentry are building a community of educators that are fully grounded in the research on educational practices.
Being an instructor is my way of making a small, but hopefully significant, contribution to improving science, and thus the world.
I teach for purely selfish reasons. It is a great feeling when attendees come up to me during or after the workshop saying how useful they found it. It feels great when attendees engage in the lesson or discuss exercises in pairs and I see them being truly happy when they get the computer to do what they want. It feels great when I accidentally meet one of the participants some time after the workshop and they say how much the teaching helped them in their research. It’s all very rewarding and gives me a sense of accomplishment. I’m a hedonist, after all.
I also had a very bad experience as a student studying Computer Science. With a lot of struggle I graduated convinced that I’m too stupid to do anything related with computers for a living or even as a hobby. I don’t want other people to feel like that.
My training is in Ancient History and Classics, and I believe that a community that draws on a diversity of backgrounds and disciplines is ultimately stronger. The Humanities must have a place shaping our discourse and our future and I see myself as a translator and guide in this emerging world.
As someone not from a programming background I’ve asked all the basic questions and I’m always on the look-out for approaches that don’t cross over from the sciences satisfactorily. Both the frustrations and satisfactions of getting to grips with code for the first time are very fresh in my memory. I hope that seeing a Latin major up the front of the room reassures students that they can become capable software carpenters in their own rights.
Anelda van der Walt
The most attractive advantage of being part of the Software Carpentry community is exactly that: the community. I have been actively involved in Software Carpentry since the end of 2014 as a learner, helper, organizer, and instructor at several workshops. Over the last 18 months I never felt isolated from the international Software Carpentry movement despite being on a different continent from most of the activity. Our South African initiatives have been supported every step of the way by the organization’s leadership and the wonderful people who volunteer as instructors.
I believe the Software Carpentry model is extremely well-suited to building capacity in low and middle income countries. I have heard wonderful testimonials from many people who’ve been learners in Software Carpentry workshops in South Africa in terms of how their participation has impacted their research. I’m excited to be making a difference.
I love teaching. Seeing the wide eyed moment of realization that I see on learners faces when something “clicks” is one of the best feelings in the world. Why I want to teach the Software Carpentry method in particular is because I think everyone needs to know how to code and SWC is the most effective way I’ve seen to achieve that.
Coding is the new literacy and I want it to be a skill that everyone has so that we all takes part in shaping our world rather than it being a few people from a narrow range of backgrounds and experiences. I hope that as an instructor trainer I can inspire more SWC instructors to bring this new world about.
I’ve worked in a university for more than twenty years in a variety of roles - librarian, library manager, Internet trainer, journalism teacher - and I’ve seen how researchers’ training needs have changed dramatically over that period. Increasingly, researchers need to find answers in data they already have, are collecting, or are generating - and they can’t do that without tools. The data are too big now, and the scale of research is so much larger.
Research training barely addresses the fact that all researchers now need to think computationally, and that they desperately need tools to increase their speed and efficiency in analyzing data. This is a gap that Software and Data Carpentry training can fill.
It’s not a good day for me if I haven’t helped someone. Being able to introduce people to useful, time-saving tools has been a big - and immensely satisfying - part of my working life. That is why I trained as an instructor.
I am fascinated and privileged to have the opportunity to work at the intersection of the biological and the technological. Working in the world of bioinformatics and education, I actually spend a fair amount of time travelling to institutions across the U.S. and abroad. I’m amazed at the people I get to work with and believe Software Carpentry’s mission creates an opportunity to add the distinctiveness of our learners and their perspectives to our own unique approach to education. Collaboration is key to having thousands of scientists working as one, and to me this idea is irresistible. As the saying goes, “We are braver together than we are alone.”
My daughter is eight years old, and is going to inherit all the problems my generation did not have the backbone to solve. Climate change, mass extinctions, drug-resistant diseases, resource shortages: if we had started working on them twenty years ago we’d be done now, but instead we ducked and dithered, so that all those bills are going to come due in her lifetime.
I believe the only things that will get us through the next fifty years are more science and more courage. I co-founded Software Carpentry to help with the science part of that equation, but over the last few years I’ve come to believe that we can help with the courage as well. We are braver together than we are alone; by teaching scientists how to collaborate on research today, we are preparing them to work together on things that really matter tomorrow.