Teaching basic lab skills
for research computing

What the Carpentries Mean To Me

October 26 marks my 3rd Github cakeday. It also marks my 3 year anniversary since my first Software Carpentry workshop as a learner. The icing on the cake (haha?) is that it’s also Open Access Week.

My first computer science course was in high school. I got though the class with a healthy amount of struggling, but I never thought I’d make it in computer science because some of my fellow classmates got though the class so effortlessly. My rationale at the time was: if this is what it takes to be good at computer science, I’d never make it. I graduated with a BA in psychology/behavioral neuroscience, and minors in biology and computer science.

Computer science? Didn’t I just say I would never do this again? Yes. But When I took my first computer science class as a junior in college, I realized that the class itself was relatively effortless for me. Why? I’ve seen all of this before. I’ve learned about conditional statements and loops in high school! The fact that the class used Python and not netlogo/scheme was a matter of syntax. I already knew how to think procedurally.

I can make the argument that I was never really going to go into computer science to begin with, medicine and medical school was always my main goal. But, the fact I did not program from sophomore year in high school to junior year in college, could be traced back to my feelings of inadequacy in high school. We experience or see this discouragement all the time, just talk to Greg.

Fast forward to October 26, 2013, where Justin Ely and Dave W-F taught my Software-Carpentry Workshop. I had already been dabbling around Linux and Python over the years, and just started using Git for my Master’s thesis, so I opted to take the ‘intermediate’ workshop. I learned bits of new things during the workshop, but my main take away was: “I can teach this too!”. I had my first TA position teaching intro epidemiology and intro biostatistics at the time, and found teaching extremely fun and rewarding.

After the workshop, I emailed the admins, booked a bus to Boston, and ‘randomly’ showed up as a helper for a MIT workshop in January 2014 led by Aron Ahmadia and Randy Olsen. I’ve been teaching since then, and I absolutely love it.

It didn’t occur to me until after I taught a few workshops, that I realized I was starting to master the topics I was teaching. Each workshop I taught got me more familiar with the material. As a side-effect, it became easier for me to pick up the next new concept to enhance my own knowledge. This ‘new’ knowledge can be conveyed to my own students, or for my own work.

Now, 3 years since my first workshop, I look back at how much I’ve grown as a graduate student, an instructor, and person. Everything I know today can be traced back to my first workshop, the same can be said with all of my professional connections, and the great sense of belonging I have when I attend conferences. For that, I’m eternally grateful to the community.

That’s what the Carpentries mean to me.

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