Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Lessons Learned at the University Of Chicago

Software Carpentry brought a bootcamp to the University of Chicago with collaboration from the FLASH Center at the University of Chicago's Computational Institute and The Hacker Within . The instructors were Milad Fatenejad, Katy Huff, Anthony Scopatz, and Joshua R. Smith.

Space constraints at U. Chicago meant that only 50 empty seats could be secured for two contiguous days on campus. But, the room was lovely!

The most technologically advanced room I've ever been in

Thus, though the first day of enrollment brought 125 requests for tickets, only 50 could be invited. Despite the valiant efforts of Anthony Scopatz and the FLASH center administrators, no extra space could be found. The ubiquitous Anthony Scopatz, organizer extraordinaire, insisted a few days beforehand that accepted students unable to attend step aside to allow tickets to be granted to students on the wait list. Unfortunately, there were 20 no-shows nonetheless.

The room eventually filled up, and the students were attentive as Milad led them through the shell.

The discouraging lesson from this is that maximal attendance is not guaranteed even when demand is not the constraint.

Encouraging lessons were learned too. The bootcamp was taught on virtual machines, a favorite tactic of Hacker Within bootcamps, which nearly eradicated technical difficulties. Since all students were following along in identical linux environments customized for the bootcamp, initial set up took less than half an hour, and there were no interruptions thereafter. Feedback from the (mostly post-doc and grad student) attendees included comments echoing common themes:

  • "The interactive portions were the best part."
  • "Git is something I had never seen before and looks like it will be very useful."
  • "It would have been better if it were on a weekend." (grad students...)
  • "I expected to get started on Python and learn formal things about programming. The bootcamp provided both."

Excellent reviews, if we do say so ourselves!

Dialogue & Discussion

You can review our commenting policy here.