Highlights from UseR! 2017

Teaching R to new UseRs, the journey of package development, and more!

In the first week of July, the 14th UseR! conference took place in Brussels as the biggest UseR!. For me, it was the first UseR! and I believe it was a good opportunity to get exposed to different approaches in the data world, see different applications, learn about new packages and meet people in the R community, all in one place.

There were lots of interesting things to be highlighted. However, in this post, I will just refer to some talks about teaching R, the journey of package development and contributing to the R community. But first I will announce the UseR! record winner!

The UseR! record winner

Before the conference, I asked whether there was anyone who attended all of UseR! conferences. From the ones who read my tweet, Martin Mächler came in the first place as he just missed one conference.

Then came Dirk Eddelbuettel and David Smith. So if you know someone who breaks Martin Mächler’s record, let us know!

Now let’s move to the talks by keynote speakers or others.

Teaching data science to new useRs

One of the interesting talks was “Teaching data science to new useRs” by Mine CetinkayaRundel, which was a very engaging talk and a comprehensive guide to anyone who wants to lower the barrier of entry to data science and R. I found it quite helpful in different contexts, and not just limited to university students.

One of the best things about Mine’s talk was supporting her argument that one should teach the Tidyverse first. This resonated with the recent debate about Tidyverse Vs. Base R, which took place following David Robinson’s post Teach the tidyverse to beginners. The point is, Mine showed a path, a practical way, a curriculum, a minimum viable product. And that’s what pushes a certain framework forward; showing others its capabilities with real examples. That’s why I find it absurd when people get into a argument about different approaches. For me, if someone thinks Base R is the best for beginners, I expect them to show a curriculum with examples on how it outperformes the Tideyverse when it comes to beginners. This is the best way to make others adopt an idea and build on it.

With Great Packages Comes Great Responsibilities

In Yves Rosseel’s keynote speech, he talked about Lavaan Package, which he started to develop years ago. What I liked about the talk that he took us in a journey to show us how it started, what challenges he faced, things he could do better, and responsibilities he had to take.

I believe it is very insightful to see the whole story, because we usually see the tip of the iceberg, the happy ending, the release of a usable package. So seeing the whole process, especially for those who had started long time ago, before simpler tools became available, is motivating to others who might be hesitant to start this journey. But definitely, as the speaker pointed out, the release of a popular package is the beginning of another journey, with less experiments and more responsibilities.

Contributing to the R Community

Before the conference, there was a Newbies session, thanks to R_forwards who led this initiative. The session included short talks about different topics. Charlotte Wickham gave a motivating talk; Collaborative Coding about collaborating and contributing to the work of others. She highlighted the different ways and levels of contribution. She also showed that fixing a typo could be a meaningful contribution, and that it was her first pull request four years ago. Later on, when I talked to her, I said that my first pull request was also fixing a typo in Coursera’s Data Science Specialization material more than a year ago :).

CRAN : KRAN or SEE-RAN

In the closing speech, there was a big surprise for most of the UseR!. Uwe Ligges, who gave the speech “20 Years of CRAN”, and is certainly a key person in the R community pronounced CRAN as SEE-RAN. At the begining, I doubted it was just me, then I found most of the attendees wondering and asking each other.

So overall, there is more to be highlighted and discussed about my first UseR!, but maybe later I will come back to certain topics, tutorials or applications.

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