Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

2015 Election: Damien Irving

Damien Irving has withdrawn from the election in order to focus on completing his thesis. We're grateful for his work on the interim Steering Committee, and wish him the best of luck with his PhD.

Over the last five years, I've had the full spectrum of Software Carpentry experiences. I started out as a novice learner, moved on to organise and help at a workshop, and I'm now a regular instructor, lesson developer, blog contributor, interim Steering Committee member, and unofficial lead of Software Carpentry activities in Australia. Along the way, I've demonstrated a knack for community building and a passion for teaching computational best practices to scientists. To give you a sense of who I am and what I'm about, I should probably start from the beginning...

In late 2009, I completed a Bachelor of Science (Meteorology) at the University of Melbourne. During the final honours year of that degree, I had my first real taste of programming (in Fortran) and working at the command line. It was a fairly steep learning curve, but by the end of that year I was feeling fairly confident about my skills. So much so, in fact, that I managed to score a job at CSIRO (a national research institute in Australia). As you can imagine, it took about five seconds in my new role for the illusions regarding my programming skills to be shattered. Floundering in terabytes of climate model data and the vagaries of Python programming, the next two years were a blur of ad hoc, self-directed learning experiences, as I tried to improve my skills whilst also meeting project deadlines.

I first stumbled upon the Software Carpentry website in 2012. Given the experiences of the previous two years, its mission and lesson materials really spoke to me. In my excitement, I sent an email to Greg Wilson who (much to my surprise) agreed to come out to Australia in early 2013 to teach the first ever workshops outside of Europe and North America. Around this time I also started a blog on research best practices in the weather and climate sciences (Dr Climate) and moved back to the University of Melbourne to start a PhD.

A new project called the Research Bazaar sprung up at the university in late 2013, with the mission of teaching researchers digital research skills. At the time I was the only qualified Software Carpentry instructor in town, so the project coordinator offered to pay me to run regular workshops and to foster a community of instructors and helpers in Melbourne (and Australia more broadly). You can read more about our experiences here or listen to me speak on the topic at PyCon Australia here, but suffice to say Melbourne (and Australia in general) is now a very strong hub of Software Carpentry activity.

When Greg asked me to be part of the interim Steering Committee a few months back, I was more than happy to help out. Not only did I feel that my previous experiences allowed me to identify and relate to people at all levels of the organisation (from novice learners through to experienced instructors and lesson developers), but I also have a great deal of experience on Boards and Committees. I've been the National Secretary of the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (AMOS) for the past four years and until recently also served on the Board of a not-for-profit called Creative Spark.

If elected to the 2015 Steering Committee, I would be seeking to take on the role of Chair. As evidenced by my role as National Secretary of AMOS and also as lead coordinator of Software Carpentry activities in Australia, I have a real talent for organisation, coordination and oversight. While these aren't the most exciting talents going around, they are vitally important qualities for the Chair of any committee, particularly one that's in its formative stages. While most of the communication with wider community is done by the Executive Director, the Chair will also have a role in communicating on behalf of the Steering Committee. In coordinating activities in Australia, I've spoken on behalf of Software Carpentry at a number of conferences and penned numerous blog posts. I've enjoyed these experiences and feel comfortable and confident with the idea of being the public face of the Steering Committee.

A major role of the inaugural Steering Committee will be to manage Software Carpentry's transition from benevolent dictatorship to democracy. In taking ownership of the organisation, one particularly important task for the membership will be to decide and articulate its vision for the future. In other words, in consultation with the membership, the inaugural Steering Committee will need to develop a strategic plan. I've been part of the strategic planning process with both AMOS and Creative Spark, and feel well placed to lead such an endeavour with Software Carpentry. (I also feel that this is a natural role for the Chair to take on, should I be successful in attaining that position.) I'm very cognisant of the fact (partly through first-hand experience) that many organisations spend hours producing an annual (i.e. static) strategic plan, only to have those plans gather dust in the back of a filing cabinet. I'm proposing that by the end of my first term on the Steering Committee we'll have a plan in place that is monitored and updated on a regular basis, and is therefore actually relevant and useful to the Steering Committee, Executive Director and membership more broadly.

For more details on my background, check out my CV on GitHub.


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