Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

Software Carpentry workshop at the University of Auckland - Winter bootcamp, New Zealand

A two day Software Carpentry Workshop wiht Python was held at the University of Auckland 11-12th July as part of Winter Bootcamp. For myself,it was the first time helping with Software Carpentry training. It was a great experience to assist as a collaborator, helping others resolving problems with software installation and hands-on exercises, but also learning from all the unexpected situations that could happen with different people around the room, with different laptops, configurations, and different sets of skills.

We happily managed to start training at 9:00 on 11th of July. The first topic covered was Unix Shell, presented by Sina Masoud-Ansari. We warmed up with some useful exercises for real life research or work. In the afternoon the Python session appeared to show its magic to assistants with Prashant Gupta as the presenter. On 12th July we start the day with the presentation of Cameron McLean on Git or “the lifesaver” as Cam himself defined it ;). During the afternoon participants were consulted about which topic they desire to go deeper. Python was the winner of the survey, and as a consequence we enjoyed another great afternoon in its company.

Additional to SWC sessions, on Wednesday 13th of July a session on Research Data Management was held by Cam, with a different audience, and a more theoretical approach. In general the participants had some experience with the topic, which made for an engaged group, generating some discussions and more knowledge to share among all.

An invitation to hacky-hour on Thursdays was extended to the participants of all the workshops and happily it was a totally success! To finish, I should say that was a very gratifying experience be part of this event, helping, empowering, learning and motivating others to be part of this exciting world of software development in research environments where world transformation could start!

Software Carpentry Training at Auckland - Winter bootcamp

Some remarkable facts:

  • Software Carpentry training was held in the context of the Winter Bootcamp at the University of Auckland.
  • 75% of participants didn’t have any experience with programming or just basic skills, however they managed to go smoothly in all sessions.
  • Approximately 40 assistants during three days.
  • Some assistants were so excited learning new skills that they decided to start new online courses using websites as codeacademy and coursera.
  • On Thursday 14th after the workshops, hacky-hour was packed, we needed to join three more tables than as usual to bring some space to all the new participants.
  • Helpers around the room (we were 4 and sometimes 5) were essential to maintain the pace of the sessions. All the problems with not working exercises and software were addressed by ourselves allowing the presenter to focus in the topic and manage better the time.
  • The learners were very active, asking questions and excited with the new knowledge seen in action :)
  • We are thinking to include next time, an exercise that could cover all the topics solving a real life problem and finish the workshops with an example that is useful for later consultation of the participants.
The last but not the least...we receive some great feedback from participants which inspires us to keep improving and running future sessions. Here is one of them: "...I found it extremely stimulating and very helpful as an introduction to effective methods and resources for coding in python. Have to say that I was impressed by the skill, humour, good nature and patience of all the eResearch team..." We hope to start soon on more exciting, empowering activities and workshops. :)

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