Instructor Training

The Carpentries


Teaching: 60 min
Exercises: 0 min
  • How are Software and Data Carpentry organized and run?

  • Summarize the history and structure of the Software and Data Carpentry organizations.

  • Describe at least three similarities and differences between Software and Data Carpentry workshops.

In becoming an instructor for Software or Data Carpentry, you are also becoming part of a community of like-minded volunteers. This section provides some background on both organizations, and on the final steps toward certification.

Preparation and Discussion

This discussion assumes that trainees have read the operations guide (which is assigned as overnight homework). Instead of going through this material point by point, trainers should ask each trainee to add one non-overlapping question to a list, then go through that list.


Software Carpentry was co-founded in 1998 by Brent Gorda and Greg Wilson, who identified a need for best practices training in research computing. After several iterations, the current model of two-day workshops with a standard curriculum emerged in 2010-11. After intermediate support from various organizations, it became an independent non-profit organization called the Software Carpentry Foundation (SCF) in 2015. The SCF is now responsible for all aspects of Software Carpentry’s operations.

History Lesson

For more on Software Carpentry’s history, and on what we’ve learned along the way, see this page on its website or the paper “Software Carpentry: Lessons Learned”.

In 2013, members of the Software Carpentry community identified a need for training aimed at computational novices that would teach researchers how to properly handle their data. This led to the creation of Data Carpentry under the leadership of Tracy Teal. While separate, the two organization share many aspects of their operations, long-term goals, and community structure:

However, they differ in their content and intended audience. Data Carpentry workshops focus on best practices surrounding data. Its learners are not people who want to learn about coding, but rather those who have a lot of data and don’t know what to do with it. Accordingly, Data Carpentry workshops:

Software Carpentry workshops focus on best practices for software development and use. Its workshops are:

Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry Comparison

Workshop Operations

We have recorded what we’ve learned about writing workshops in an operations guide and a set of checklists (linked from that page) that describes what everyone involved in a workshop is expected to do and why. Questions, corrections, and additions are very welcome.

Since January 2015 we have run bi-weekly debriefing sessions for instructors who have recently taught workshops. In these, instructors discuss what they actually did, how it worked, how the lessons they actually delivered differed from our templates, what problems arose, and how they were addressed. Summaries are posted on our blog shortly after each meeting, and eventually added to our operations guide.

How We Do Things

Go to the operations guide and read the instructions for a regular instructor and for a workshop host. What situations might come up that these don’t answer?

What Costs What?

Quoting the Software Carpentry workshop request page:

Our instructors are volunteers, and so are not paid for their teaching, but host sites are required to cover travel and accommodation costs for any instructors visiting from out of town. The Software Carpentry Foundation offers three fee schedules for workshops:

Self-Organized Workshops: Optional Donation

Software Carpentry welcomes you to organize and run your own workshop without administrative assistance from the Software Carpentry Foundation by optional donation. In order to use the Software Carpentry name and logo at your event, we only require that you follow our curriculum, have at least one badged instructor teaching and co-organizing your event, and let us know that you’re organizing a workshop. In order to help Software Carpentry continue operating and offering workshops around the world, we ask for (but do not require) a donation, and recommend $500 USD as a suitable amount.

Nonprofit Organization: $2500

If you are a not-for-profit, such as a university or government lab, the Software Carpentry Foundation will organize a workshop for you (not including instructor travel and accommodation costs) for $2500 USD.

For-Profit Institution: $10000

If you are a for-profit institution, such as a company, the Software Carpentry Foundation will organize a workshop for you (not including instructor travel and accommodation costs) for $10,000 USD of which three quarters is used to underwrite workshops at institutions that could otherwise not afford them.

We strive to be a global project and support diversity in science. If you wish to offer a workshop that would further these goals, please contact us regarding a waiver for the administration fee at the nonprofit and for-profit scales. Waivers are not required for self-organized workshops.

Quoting the Data Carpentry workshops page:

The cost of hosting a workshop is both the Workshop Administration Fee and travel expenses for the two instructors.

Workshop Administration Fee: $2500 US

This is the fee is for non-profit organizations, such as universities and government labs. If you are a for-profit organization, such as a company, and are interested in a workshop, please get in touch.

Partial or full waivers for fees will be considered on an as-needed basis.

Travel Expenses for Instructors: ~$2000 US

All instructors are volunteers, but the Host needs to cover their travel expenses. We work to find local instructors, but suggest that you estimate about $2000 for the travel, food and accommodation of the instructors. The details of how you will reimburse the instructors needs to be established when the workshop is scheduled.

Travel Costs for No-Shows

In order to protect its reputation, the SCF must do what it can to ensure that instructors actually show up for workshops they have agreed to teach. We therefore require that when instructors agree to teach a workshop, they also agree to give at least one week’s notice if they will be unable to make it. If they do not, they are required for reimbursing any non-refundable travel or accommodation costs that the host may already have incurred on their behalf.

The SCF may waive this requirement in special circumstances, but the decision to do so rests solely with the Steering Committee. In cases where the requirement is waived, the SCF will reimburse the host for any expenses incurred. If an instructor is required to reimburse costs, but refuses to do so, the SCF reserves the right to ban that person from future Software Carpentry activities.

If an instructor fails to provide adequate notice of withdrawal more than once, the SCF reserves the right to suspend them from the list of recommended instructors.


All of Software and Data Carpentry’s lessons materials are freely available under a permissive open license. You may use them whenever and however you want, provided you cite the original source.

What’s Core?

Our learners have such a wide spread of prior knowledge that no one fixed lesson could possibly fit everyone’s needs. We have therefore provided more material than most people will get through most of the time in order to be (reasonably) sure that we have enough for more advanced classes. In particular:

  1. Callouts (like this one) contain material that isn’t essential to the lesson, and which most instructors will skip.
  2. Most instructors only give learners one or two exercises per episode; the other exercises are there for self-study.

Using the Names

However, the names “Software Carpentry” and “Data Carpentry” and their respective logos are all trademarked. You may only call a workshop a Software Carpentry or Data Carpentry workshop if:

Who Can Teach What

Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry share a single instructor training program, but instructors must certify separately for each at the end: see the description of the instructor checkout procedure for details.

Setting Up

In order to communicate with learners, and to help us keep track of who’s taught what and where, each workshop’s instructors create a one-page website using this template. Once that has been created, the host or lead instructor sends its URL to the workshop coordinator, who adds it to our records. The workshop will show up on our websites shortly thereafter.

Practice With SWC Infrastructure

Go to the workshop template repository and follow the directions to create a workshop website using your local location and today’s date.

We also have a small installer for Windows to help people set up their environment, which is maintained in this GitHub repository. This installer runs after the installer that puts Git and Bash on Windows, and does the following:

Please see the setup instructions in the workshop template for more details.

The Carpentry Community

There are several hubs of activity for the Software and Data Carpentry communities:

Get Connected

Join our discussion lists, subscribe to our blogs, and follow us on Twitter.

A Culture of Contribution

The administration, policies, practices and content of Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry rest on the shoulders of the communities that support them. In the same way that we hope to promote a culture of openness, sharing, and reproducibility in science and research through training researchers with the tools they need, the Carpentry organizations themselves aim to be open, collaborative, and based on best practices. Just as we encourage researchers to use packages and modules in their code, to create re-usable pieces, we want to draw together the collective expertise of our teaching community to create collaborative lessons, share other materials, and improve the lessons via “bug fixes” as we go along.

Lesson Contribution

The lesson materials for Software and Data Carpentry are hosted on GitHub:

and are developed collaboratively—in 2015 alone, almost 200 people made contributions to various lessons. Each lesson is in a separate repository, and consists of narrative lesson material and an associated directory containing the data or scripts needed in the lesson. This source material is also then served as a website, using GitHub’s “gh-pages” feature.

Lesson contribution is managed within the repository using “issues” and “pull requests”. New problems or suggestions can be introduced as issues, discussed by the community, and addressed via a pull request, which serves as a “request” to make changes, and can also be discussed before changes are merged.

Lesson Incubation

Maybe this instructor training has inspired you to go home and write your own fantastic lesson! If you’d like to model it after the Software and Data Carpentry lesson format, you can go to this repository for a template and instructions.

Writing a new lesson can be a lot of work. While some people have written new lessons on their own, other people have asked people in the community to help them. If you think there are other people who would be interested in your lesson idea, you can email the Software and Data Carpentry discussion lists to find out if anyone is interested. If so, one person will typically take the lead and be the lesson’s director and maintainer until it’s ready to be taught.

Many Ways to Contribute

We recognize that the medium of GitHub may be restrictive to those who wish to contribute to our lessons. We are always searching for ways to make the process more friendly to all, whether that be contribution training, or alternative routes to contribution. If you have any ideas how we might make contribution more contributor-friendly, please let us know.

Beyond Lessons

While contribution is frequently seen in terms of contributing to specific lessons in either organization, there are many, many ways to contribute and participate in the Software and Data Carpentry communities.

Here are some examples of ways that people have contributed to the community:

So being part of a friendly, open discussion, is of equal or greater importance to the community than submitting the perfect lesson change. The checkout process to become a fully-fledged instructor will be one way to start connecting to the community and find which area will allow you to contribute best.


Software Carpentry is a democracy: its seven-member Steering Committee is elected annually by and from its membership, which includes every instructor who has taught in the two years leading up to the election. The Steering Committee has final say on all strategic and financial decisions; if you would like Software Carpentry to take a new direction, or would like to do more than teach or develop lessons, you are very welcome to put your name forward as a candidate.

Feedback on Assessment

Go through the pre-assessment questionnaire given to you by your instructor and critique its questions. (Remember, critiquing means commenting on positive aspects as well as negative ones.) How long do you think it will take the average learner to fill it in? How useful do you think the information it gathers will be to you as an instructor? How could you improve the questions? What would you add, and what would you drop to make room?

Key Points