Reflections on my First Data Carpentry Workshop

Lessons learned during the author's first attendance at a Data Carpentry workshop

This blog post was originally posted by the author on Medium and has been cross-posted here with the permission of the author.

It was 6:00 AM GMT on 28th September 2020, a Monday morning in Ghana and I was up and ready behind my computer, taking a final glance through the materials for my participation in a Data Carpentries Workshop, organized by SADiLaR (South African Center for Digital Language Resources) in partnership with the Carpentries in Africa.

The topics scheduled for the 5-day workshop were in 3 main sections — Data Organisation in Spreadsheets, Data Cleaning with OpenRefine, and an Introduction to R, touching on manipulating data frames and visualising data in R Studio.

At 6:30 AM, I joined The Carpentries Zoom Room that was holding the workshop and we had a warm meet and greet session with Instructors, Helpers and Participants all present. The Instructors and Helpers troubleshot issues that some Participants faced with setting up the required software for the workshop to make sure we were all ready and set for the sessions.

Our Instructors were from 4 different countries — Singapore, Kenya, South Africa and Bangladesh. They were well versed in technical skills from varying backgrounds ranging from numerical simulation, cloud computing, computational biology through to business analysis.

I had no prior experience with R or OpenRefine, so I was curious how a one-week workshop could get me started with the needed skills in effectively using those tools. The instructors were patient and down-to-earth. They took the time to explain the basic concepts and made room for participants to ask questions. They even stayed behind after the 4 and half hour sessions on each day to support individuals who needed some extra help. The exercises between lessons provided opportunities for us to test what we were learning as we went along — the live coding sessions were my favourite.

There are many online courses out there that teach programmatic data skills, but I would say that the focus, collaborative learning, and guided support that the Data Carpentry Workshops offer has a unique place in providing relevant training for researchers and anyone working with data. Attending a Carpentries workshop is a good way to get some foundational training that would help one to later learn independently.

The only thing you need to keep in mind before joining a Data Carpentry Workshop is this — it is going to be an intensive couple of hours each day for the duration of the workshop. Get ready to have your brain heated up to some degree, but once the workshop is all over, you will realise how easy it would be to grow and develop your skills by yourself.

If you are looking to learn some skills to help you effectively manage datasets on any project, I would recommend you attend a Carpentries Workshop. If you are in Africa and you want to learn more about the Carpentries in Africa, you can find details to attend the monthly calls.

I would like to thank Selassie David Opoku for telling me about Data Carpentry, and Angelique van Rensburg for inviting me to join my first Data Carpentry Workshop.

I am considering facilitating the first edition of a Ghana hosted Data Carpentry Workshop. You can comment below to express your interest.

Dialogue & Discussion