My Pathway in The Carpentries

From zero to … here

What does Carpentries involvement bring to your life? In the first of what we hope will be a series of posts on how people can get (or already have been) involved with the Carpentries, either globally or locally (or both!), Belinda Weaver, the Community and Communications Lead for the Carpentries, explains her own pathway to involvement.

In the beginning …

I have been involved with The Carpentries since 2014. Yet, when I first heard about Software Carpentry - which was my doorway into involvement - I had never learned to program in any language, and had never dipped a toe in GitHub, much less used any kind of tool for version control.

And now …

I now use Git every day of my life, GitHub is my browser home page, and I have taught 43 workshops, spanning Software Carpentry, Library Carpentry, and Carpentries Instructor training.

I am a Carpentries Instructor, Instructor Trainer, and a Maintainer for two of the Library Carpentry lessons. I serve on the Instructor Development Committee, run instructor discussion sessions and teaching demos for Instructor checkout, and I have been a group mentor (and handholding guide). In addition, I served on the CarpentryCon Task Force that helped develop and deliver CarpentryCon 2018, a fantastic event for our global community. I have also organised and run three successful sprints (aka ‘hackathons’) for Library Carpentry.

So … how did I get here?

I first heard about Software Carpentry on Twitter in 2013. (Don’t discount Twitter - this is a tool that has changed my life!) I started retweeting Software Carpentry’s tweets, then decided to find out more.

I was working in research cloud services at The University of Queensland and knew a lot of people lacked the computational skills to make use of freely available research cloud computing infrastructure and large data storage. Perhaps Software Carpentry could help!

I joined the Aus/NZ Software Carpentry mailing list and began to chat to another Australian instructor, and hatched a plan to run a workshop in Brisbane (where I live).

The first workshop here in 2014 was a conference tie-in. Damien Irving (who really got Software Carpentry started in Australia) was attending the Brisbane conference as was Tim McNamara from NZ so I seized the chance to organise a workshop on the cheap (no fly-in costs!). A (then) local instructor-in-training, Philipp Bayer, was keen to have a go at teaching too and I rustled up helpers from RedHat and UQ. We taught 40 people, (having had to disappoint a large waitlist), so we had tasted success!

I then met five people - Areej Al-Sheikh, Sam Hames, Paula Martinez, Amanda Miotto, and Mitch Stanton-Cook - who had attended instructor training at the inaugural 2015 Melbourne ResBaz, and they became the core of our fledgling local community. We taught three workshops in 2015, and went on to teach 14 between us the following year, which was a big jump - but the need for training was obviously there.

From supporter to Instructor

In 2015, Greg Wilson invited me to train as an Instructor. When I protested: “But I don’t know anything about the stuff you teach!”, he just grinned and said, “That means you’ll be perfect.”

Well! I am not sure I will ever be perfect, but I was certainly keen to try. I joined an Instructor cohort who were taught by Greg over a series of online weekly meetings where I met etherpads for the first time.

When we had to post our course tasks to an instructor training repo, I had a searing trial-by-fire with GitHub, thinking for a long while that I was simply too old and too stupid ever to grasp it. The jargon seemed impenetrable, so there was crying … But Darya Vanichkina, another trainee Instructor in the cohort, helped me across that chasm (as did Trevor King over a remote session), and I got my Instructor badge in May 2015 (and I have since taught Git many times). I onboarded as a Data Carpentry instructor with Tracy Teal at the very start of 2016 and earned my Trainer badge at the end of that same year. I have taught more than half a dozen Carpentries Train the Trainer events, one a dedicated one for library professionals in Portland, Oregon in 2017.

Once badged, I was pretty unstoppable, teaching a ton of workshops in 2016 and 2017, spreading the word about the Carpentries in Australia, and also starting to build the global Library Carpentry community. I taught my first Library Carpentry lesson in 2016 at Brisbane ResBaz and knew there had to be a lot more interest in this material out there. I organised and ran a Library Carpentry sprint under the Mozilla Science Lab Global Sprint umbrella in 2016. Twenty people in six countries worked on the lessons, and began to network through a Gitter chatroom. That sprint kickstarted the global movement which, two more sprints later, has an active community of Instructors and Maintainers. Chris Erdmann is now working as the Community and Development Director for Library Carpentry.

Starting to teach

I started teaching workshops simply by deciding to have a go. I knew I wouldn’t get funding or support until I had proven the usefulness of what I was doing, so I settled on a date, booked a room, and rustled up some Instructors. That is all you really need to get started - a date. That concentrates the mind and … away you go.

Because of the demand for teaching spaces at The University of Queensland, we have never had the luxury of good facilities for our workshops, so we book a room in a residential college on campus, (which we pay for), and we charge a fee to cover room hire (which includes wifi), and to pay for morning and afternoon tea (which keeps people from straying off in search of coffee). The fee ensures people are serious about coming and very few people drop out. Bookings are done through eventbrite and we charge just enough to cover room and food and incidentals like sticky notes, name tags, and whiteboard pens (we never have money left over). Eventbrite has waitlist functionality which helps if people cannot attend after booking so their place can go to someone else. The waitlist becomes the contact list for later workshops.

Leveraging other events

We have a Brisbane tradition of running Research Bazaar, a three-day, skill- and community building event. These always feature Software Carpentry workshops, so the two types of event cross-promote each other. Conference tie-ins have also been important. Software Carpentry workshops are always run as a tie-in to the annual UQ Winter School in Mathematical and Computational Biology. Again, cross-promotion helps fill both events.

Mentoring

I answered a call to be part of the Mentoring Subcommittee (now the Instructor Development Committee) in 2015, which was when I began to host discussion sessions. I was the lone person from Australia on the committee at that time, and it was great to meet Raniere Silva, Christina Koch, Kate Hertweck and others who had formerly been no more to me than names I knew from Twitter.

In 2017, I did some ‘guiding’ - mentoring recent Software Carpentry Instructor trainees through the final stages of checkout. I tried this approach on attendees at the 2017 Brisbane instructor training (resulting in a completion rate of 17 out of 20). I then assisted Anelda van der Walt and Aleksandra Pawlik with their South African Instructor trainee cohort, running lesson discussion and practice teaching sessions to help them finish. Many of those people now serve on the African Task Force.

Steering Committee

I ran for and was elected to the Software Carpentry Steering Committee in 2016 and 2017. I had to step down from Steering Committee when I accepted the role of Community Development Lead, a joint appointment between Software Carpentry and Data Carpentry that began in June 2017. When the two projects merged to form the Carpentries, my role was revised and I am now Community and Communications Lead for The Carpentries. My time on the Steering Committee widened my understanding and appreciation of how global projects function, and I got to work with some great people.

Skills developed

In my role, I have tried to provide wording that helps others describe what skills their volunteer work for the Carpentries has helped them develop. These texts can be repurposed. I plan to add other texts to the existing texts for Instructors, Trainers, and Maintainers.

The skills I have picked up include shell, git/GitHub, as well as a bit of R and Python (still much to learn). Community building, teaching, blogging, tweeting, planning - these have all had a boost through my Carpentries volunteering.

My path is probably not a typical one … but it does show that someone with absolutely no skills at all in programming can learn these skills over time (teaching is a great way to learn), can organise and teach workshops, can provide advice and guidance to others, can encourage others to get involved in the community, and can mentor people who feel as tentative now as I once did.

The Carpentries is a great, global movement, and there really is a role and a place for anyone who wants to take part. While I am leaving the Carpentries staff soon for a new role at a university, I still plan to remain part of this community, to teach workshops, to organise locally, and to continue to advocate for the Carpentries wherever and whenever I can.

You belong in the Carpentries! Why not share your pathway?

Dialogue & Discussion