Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Sending Email Back in Time

We're about to release the second volume of The Architecture of Open Source Applications, which has indirectly prompted a bit of soul-searching on my part. When we invited people to contribute, we asked them to give us the one-hour whiteboard talk they'd give to a new developer being brought onto the project. We also asked them to sum up what they'd learned. "Imagine you could send a brief email back in time," we told them. "What would you say to your younger self?" Which of course begs the question, what would I tell the me of 2010 about Software Carpentry?

  1. Write less, experiment more. I translated all of the Version 3 content into short videos in a ten-month rush. I should have selected a smaller core, put that online, then tried out more ways of using it.
  2. Take some online classes. I signed up for one online course (on online education) through a local university. It was truly awful, so I dropped out. I should have signed up for half a dozen others, of different kinds, to find out first-hand what other people are doing. (My first question these days for anyone involved in online education is, "How many classes have you done yourself?" The most common answer by far is, "None.")
  3. Teach with, not to. In April 2011, when work on Version 4 wrapped up, I only knew of a couple of groups using Software Carpentry material independently, and we weren't coordinated at all. Things are much better this time around: the workshops in Trieste, Chicago, Newcastle, and Paris have run or are being run without me on site, and I'm confident that workshops will run in future at STScI, Indiana, MBARI, and the Bay area without me as well. The key isn't just to recruit co-instructors; it's to move them around to meet each other to build a real peer network.

So how about you? If you're reading this, you've probably either used this material, taught it, or both. If you could send email back in time to April 2010, what would you tell yourself?

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