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What a year it’s been.

I just attended rOpenSci’s Unconference in Los Angeles and it. was. incredible!

The rOpenSci Unconf is an annual gathering of individuals who are interested in and excited about using R to perform and promote open science. Some have described it as a hackathon, but I think that’s a mischaracterization. Though a great deal of code is written in a short period of time, a substantial proportion of the attendees make large and important contributions while hardly writing any code. The Unconf is not a competition, and it’s intensely social and collaborative.

My road to this year’s Unconf started a year ago when I attended last year’s Unconf. Several folks created great write-ups of that event including this one by Julia Silge and this one by Gabriela de Queiroz. By the spring of last year I had been working at the Johns Hopkins Data Science Lab for a few months. I was loving my work there but I felt isolated. Reading online about how people cared about what we were working on in the lab did little for my motivation, which was driven mostly by my personal belief in the importance of open science and education.

Attending the 2016 Unconf drastically altered my professional and emotional perspective on the R community and the larger open science movement. The event made me feel like I was part of a growing global network of advocates for open source computing and analysis. The experience of spending two days hacking in a San Fransisco loft with 39 other folks whose work you’ve admired for years was surreal and stimulating. Everyone was so kind, helpful, and empathetic.

What’s more is that this group of strangers, friends, and colleagues were able to accomplish a ton in just a two-day span. You can take a look at everything we worked on at the 2016 Unconf here. Something that really impressed me was the wide range of the types of contributions that were made possible by this environment. Even the folks who you might consider the most “technically savvy” chose to work on creating guides and documentation, which created space for those who weren’t ready to dive into package development so they could also make big contributions. The foundations and relationships between attendees that started at the 2016 event have produced some incredible work in the last year:

And that’s just’s just scratching the surface! Considering how fun and productive last year’s event was, I was very excited for this year’s Unconf. There was plenty of build-up to the event including in-depth discussion about what we wanted to work on facilitated via GitHub Issues. I even created a Shiny app to help participants browse through nearly 100 proposed projects!

Despite hyping myself up for this event much more than I should have, the Unconf yet again blew my expectations away! Just look at the badges they gave us!

We started off with Stefanie Butland, rOpenSci’s Community Manager, leading us in some ice breakers that actually managed to break ice! Take a look at the response when we were asked about impostor syndrome:

After getting to know each other a little better in the morning we got straight to work, and in just two days we started (and a few people finished) tons of amazing projects! Here’s a sampling below:

A Minecraft Interface for R

Creating Websites from EML Data

Sending Templated Emails from R

And that’s just a small sample of the many of all of the projects which you should check out! (There’s probably something in there that you could use!)

What makes this conference truly special is the people who attend. I don’t know how rOpenSci is able to curate such a consistently friendly, empathetic, passionate, and interesting group of people but somehow they pull it off year after year. The participants come from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds including banking / data science, visualization / ballet, indigenous rights / cybersecurity, and nights at the museum! You can find all of the attendees on this Twitter list. Considering this variety of interests in the rOpenSci community, I believe there are a few core principles that unite us including:

  1. Empathy for all who do research programming.
  2. A commitment to openness.
  3. Aspirations for diversifying the scientific community.
  4. Embedding our values in software, documents, and processes.
  5. Spreading this philosophy as far and wide as possible.

If you feel like you might identify with this community you should absolutely apply next year! If you’re afraid you might feel like an impostor at this event don’t worry - the vast majority of participants feel that way! (See relevant tweet above.) If you’re still unsure if the conference is right for you feel free to get in touch with me, Stefanie Butland, or Karthik Ram (rOpenSci’s Co-founder). The rOpenSci Unconference catalyzes this beautiful community of open scientists who share both technical and structural pain, and a hope for a more humane and transparent future for scientific computing. Thank you to the entire rOpenSci team for organizing this fantastic event! I can’t wait to see what we all make in the year to come!