Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

How Software Carpentry can help you switch careers

You’ve heard how Software Carpentry is important not only to get your research done but also to make it better and thus more likely to be published.

It might even get you a job in your favourite field of research.

But, for those of us who do not like to do the same thing forever, Software Carpentry skills can help you switch to another career.

But, first, let’s start from the beginning and look at what Software Carpentry is meant to do.

Software Carpentry is primarily meant to teach you important analytical skills to think computationally: to break down research activities into simple steps, define how often to repeat certain tasks (and conditions to start and stop them) and how to deal with special cases.

In addition, Software Carpentry introduces you to a suite of tools and languages that allow you to quickly and easily translate these activities into software code that you can run on your computer, run on the cloud, share with others, or even publish.

However, none of this learning is specific to research and researchers. Anybody can benefit from a Software Carpentry course, except, perhaps a computer scientist … ;-)

One can easily imagine educators using Software Carpentry to better analyse the performance of students in their schools. Journalists can use the skills to analyse data for investigative articles.
Non-profit organisations can use them to crunch data on how well they serve their clients.

In fact, a large number of fields and professionals are increasingly depending on empirical data in ways that are only now possible due to the increased ability to collect data electronically, the availability of volumes of open data through the Internet, and an increased emphasis on quantitative measurement of such things as performance and effectiveness.

Some of these fields, such as the financial services industry, have long been leading in this domain for obvious reasons (Money!) For the rest, this is all still very new and those responsible for making quantitative evaluations often lack even rudimentary programming and coding skills.

This is a great opportunity for anyone who does Software Carpentry to explore new ways to put their Software Carpentry skills to good use. Not only do they have the know-how to apply these skills to another industry, they also have the hands-on experience (from applying skills to their own research) to provide expert advice on what tools to use, how to use them and the pitfalls one needs to avoid.

Are you a Software Carpentry instructor? Even better. Perhaps you could organise carpentry sessions for people in other industries.

Just like in research, the point is not to turn learners in those industries into computer programmers (and the instructor is not meant to be a software guru). The purpose is to provide the necessary programming literacy to produce better and more reliable outcomes.

Marco Fahmi is a Brisbane-based data scientist and former research project manager, with a strong interest in open data and data journalism. He tweets as dataronin.

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