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The Carpentries' In-Person Staff Meeting

This post originally appeared on the Data Carpentry website

The Software and Data Carpentry staff teams met for a two-day in-person meeting on 12-13 September in Davis, California. This was a very productive meeting - more on this below - and it also provided some staff the opportunity to meet others face-to-face for the first time. The team is geographically scattered with staff in the US, Australia and New Zealand. At the meeting, we welcomed new Workshop Administrator SherAaron Hurt, Business Administrator Elizabeth Williams, and Deputy Director of Instructor Training Karen Word (all part-timers) to what will be a merged staff team from 2018, when the planned merger of the two Carpentries will be complete.

While we are a small team, and thus are limited in what we can achieve, we all see our main role as supporting our community. We want to make it easier for people to participate in everything we do in the Carpentries and to allow them to contribute to that work in any way they can. Accordingly, our meeting focused a lot on ways to foster engagement, remove roadblocks, streamline processes, and recognise the valuable work people do, whether it be teaching, organizing workshops, lesson maintenance, mentoring, or serving on task forces and sub-committees.

The Software and Data Carpentry team

L-R: Karen Word, SherAaron Hurt, Tracy Teal, Kari Jordan (on computer screen), Erin Becker, Maneesha Sane, Elizabeth Williams, Belinda Weaver, Jonah Duckles.

Our Agenda

On our agenda for the meeting were a number of issues:

  • Onboarding new staff
  • Aligning our daily work with the mission and vision of the Carpentries
  • Identifying essential infrastructure, processes and projects we need to build or improve in order to continue to scale
  • Progressing work in key areas such as instructor training, CarpentryCon, mentoring and memberships
  • Learning about strategic planning and project management and how to apply those techniques to what we do
  • Building communication strategies for the team as a whole
  • Updating staff roles and projects

We also discussed the burning question of swag, so stay tuned for a whole host of innovations there.

While all this might have seemed like an ambitious plan of work for two days, we frequently split into small groups so we could address issues concurrently. While one group worked on membership planning, another broke ground on planning for CarpentryCon.


Plans for CarpentryCon are now progressing well. Five venue bids have been received, and we have established a CarpentryCon Trello board to plan all aspects from speakers and sponsors to programs and itineraries. Some suggested topics from the meeting were ‘How the Carpentries got me here’ and ‘Using Carpentry skills in other contexts’. We also plan to have a Community Building Roundtable to build on the Champions work we have done recently in fostering local community building. Ideas for CarpentryCon can be lodged here.

Mentoring groups

Plans are underway to launch a new round of mentoring groups. The first round aimed to help new instructors find their feet through regular discussions with more experienced community members. We plan to do the same thing for round two of the groups, but we also aim to offer different flavours of mentoring. Those who want help to get their first workshop under their belt will still find a group, but we might offer support for people who would like to be lesson maintainers or developers, or workshop organizers rather than instructors, or those seeking advice and support to build local communities. Expect a blog post calling for applications when the new program kicks off.

Recognition and Reward

Valuing our community was also a key topic. From feedback we have, people in our community are happy to be working with us, and they value the chance to learn, to develop, and to belong. While we like to draw people in, we do not want to burn people out, so we discussed ways we can recognize and reward the considerable effort volunteers put in to teaching, mentoring, maintaining lessons, and serving on committees. We also discussed how we can keep involved, if we can, the people who train as instructors but never go on to teach for us.

Staff Development

To try to improve our own team project and planning skills, we heard from Melanie Nelson of Beyond Managing, who walked us through a range of strategic planning topics. We plan to employ her advice in organizing further work cycles and projects.

Enhancing our work on equity/inclusion was a topic for day two. Hurricane Irma played havoc with Kari Jordan’s plan to present this material in person, but she connected via zoom whenever she could, which was a challenge in a town without power. We discussed three main issues in depth:

  1. How do we ensure that our instructors are philosophically on board with our equity and inclusion principles?
  2. How can we reach out to a more diverse range of institutions?
  3. How do we ensure we do not use idiomatic language that makes our messages hard to understand?


We brainstormed infrastructure needs to identify things that would make our supporters’ lives easier. An all-in-one ‘workshop in a box’ tool was one suggestion. Better workshop reporting and metrics was another. An anonymous feedback mechanism was also proposed. Reducing time-wasting data entry and duplication was seen as important for efficiency, while more consistency across messaging was also marked as important.


It was a very productive two days. Here are some positive comments from staff who attended:

  • Got some great ideas and plans set up for CarpentryCon
  • Getting to know all our new staff members!
  • Good conversations around instructor training
  • I got to know more about who does what

Who was at the meeting?

  • Tracy Teal, Executive Director (DC)
  • Jonah Duckles, Executive Director (SWC)
  • Erin Becker, Associate Director (DC) & Director of Instructor Training (SWC/DC)
  • Belinda Weaver, Community Development Lead (SWC/DC)
  • Maneesha Sane, Program Manager (SWC/DC)
  • Kari L. Jordan, Deputy Director of Assessment (DC) (attending remotely)
  • Elizabeth Williams, Business Administrator (SWC/DC)
  • SherAaron Hurt, Workshop Administrator (SWC/DC)
  • Karen Word, Deputy Director of Instructor Training (SWC/DC)

Dialogue & Discussion

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