By Francis Gacenga
This week 29 USQ researchers staff and students from across USQ’s research institutes, centres and faculties participated in the first ever Software Carpentry Workshop in Toowoomba.
Software Carpentry workshops aim to help researchers “get more done in less time and with less pain by teaching them basic lab skills for research computing”1. The hands-on workshop at USQ’s Toowoomba campus covered basic research computing concepts focusing on task automation, data management, program design, and version control. A common challenge faced by most researchers is getting the most done within time and funding constraints. IT systems are designed to help but sometimes create complications and get in the way. The researchers who attended the Software Carpentry Workshop were introduced to ways of getting the most of IT services and systems to efficiently complete common research tasks.
The researchers first learnt how to automate common tasks such as directory, folder and file management, using pipelines of commands and how to build efficient and automated workflows using the Unix shell, a computer operating system commonly used in Virtual Machines (VMs) and High Performance Computers (HPC). A basic introduction to programming with Python was provided and participants familiarised with using Python for data analysis and presentation. The participants got an introduction to automated version control using Git and learnt how to use Git to track changes, version and merge files while keeping repositories in sync across different computers facilitating collaboration among different people. The workshop provides an essential foundation in getting the most out of research computing and data services and infrastructure provided at no cost to researchers at USQ by the National eResearch Collaboration Tools and Resources (NeCTAR)2, National Computational Infrastructure (NCI)3 and Research Data Services (RDS)4 through the QCIF (Queensland Cyber Infrastructure Foundation)5.
The event has received positive feedback and there are an additional 15 who have expressed interest in attending a second session to cover statistical analysis. The workshop provided a gentle introduction to working with a computer command line interface, opening up new possibilities and resources that enhance researchers outcomes and experiences. The format of Software Carpentry Workshops make it easy for all to learn as no background training is required. At the workshop there were three instructors and seven helpers in the room ensuring that help was always available when required.
The lessons covered are available online for the participants and anyone interested to access freely online at http://software-carpentry.org/lessons/. There is also a vibrant and very helpful software carpentry community online that is ready to provide ongoing help as well as ongoing local support from QCIF’s eResearch Analysts.
The workshop was organised by the Office of Research Development, sponsored by the ReDTrain initiative, supported by QCIF and the Software Carpentry Foundation and administered by certified instructors and volunteers from UQ and USQ. Researchers had opportunities to learn as well as network over the two days. The workshop was a success and there are plans to run more Software Carpentry Workshops in the future. If you would like to learn more about Software Carpentry or are interested in attending a workshop contact the author of the blog at eResearchServices@usq.edu.au.