2015 Election: Sheldon McKay

This post originally appeared on the Software Carpentry website.

I started my career as a molecular biologist working in the data-intensive field of functional genomics, enventually becoming a full-time bioinformatician. With the perspective of a person who transitioned from the wet lab to informatics, I have often served as a liaison between researchers and software developers and truly enjoy empowering scientists by teaching them computing skills to accelerate their research. Over the past decade, I have contributed to a variety of outreach and training efforts in scientific computing. When I learned about Software Carpentry, its mission resonated with me and I wanted to get involved. I completed instructor training in May 2014 and have been an instructor at six workshops since then and continue to do about one workshop every six weeks. I also serve as a volunteer topic maintainer for SQL. I am very proud to be associated with the Software Carpentry Foundation and have a lot of experience to offer. I would like to contribute more to our ongoing success by becoming a member of the steering committee.


I currently work as a bioinformatics consultant for the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. I have an PhD in genetics and transitioned to bioinformatics in 2001. While I was a postdoc, my supervisor said, "You! We need a database, go learn to program.". He did not have to tell me twice! I was already computationally savvy, and though I did not realize it was "programming" at the time, I had already been writing DOS batch scripts and simple shell scripts to automate command line workflows. During my autodidact period, I committed just about every known sin against best practices and, now, one thing I care about in particular is encouraging neophyte coders not to repeat my mistakes.

I have been very fortunate to have worked in a number international collaborations supporting computing resources for life sciences, such as WormBase, the model organism ENCODE project, the iPlant Collaborative, the Reactome Knowledgebase and the PanCancer Collaboratory. I have gained a lot of experience in scientific computing, which has been useful in training other scientists how to use basic computing skills and best practices to maximize their efficiency and further their research.

I have been involved in quite a few outreach and training activites the past ten years, such as the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Programming for Biology course, the Generic Model Organism Database project, the Workshop on Comparative Genomics and iPlant training workshops.


I have instructed at more training workshops than I can recall but I still always feel the need to improve as an instructor and try to learn how to do this at every opportunity. From conversations with workshop hosts and participants, it is quite clear that Software Carpentry is developing brand recognition and is associated with quality training materials and instruction. From my own experiences in the field and war stories shared with me by others, there is always room for improvement.

As a member of the steering committee, I am open to filling any necessary role. I would be interested in contributing to assessment of our workshops, training materials and the continuing development of our instructors. I am willing to take on responsibilites for mentoring newly qualified instructors with respect to learning from participant feedback and also conducting regular post-workshop debriefing meetings to capture first-person impressions from instructors about how the workshops went, what worked, what did not work, what can be improved. This valuable feedback is not always formally captured and fades into obscurity with the passage of time.

For more information about me, please feel free to email me at sheldon.mckay@oicr.on.ca or visit my public LinkedIn profile

Dialogue & Discussion

Comments must follow our Code of Conduct.

Edit this page on Github