Software Carpentry: basic training in scientific computing

Not all scientists must also be expert computer programmers, but basic knowledge of programming fundamentals can be an important tool in your professional toolbox. The ability to automate repetitive tasks and to modify or create simple programs is a major boon in terms of research productivity and creativity. Here at BU, Research Computing Services (RCS) offers a regular series of scientific computing tutorials to help researchers get up and running. While these tutorials work well for many researchers, some may benefit from a more comprehensive approach. To meet this need, RCS is currently exploring offering Software Carpentry workshops.

Software Carpentry is a non-profit that supports teaching basic programming to early-career scientists through 2-day workshops. The goal of these workshops is to provide programming tools that are immediately useful, and an introduction to best-practices (or just good-enough practices) in scientific computing. For some researchers, a Software Carpentry workshop can be a “one stop shop” to learn enough programming to further their research. For others, it can be an entry point to a deeper study of scientific computing.

A typical workshop includes lessons on the Unix shell, programming in a popular scientific programming language (e.g. Python, R, or MATLAB), and version-control and collaboration using Git and Github. Instructors strive to make their teaching highly interactive, leaning heavily on live-coding and hands-on exercise as opposed to lecture. The lessons themselves are developed and improved by a large community of instructors. All of the lessons are shared on Github and anyone can suggest a modification. After thousands of revisions from hundreds of contributors, the lesson plans are highly polished and anticipate many common misunderstandings.

Back to BU, Research Computing Services recently hosted a Software Carpentry Instructor Training workshop, and anticipates hosting our first Software Carpentry workshop this coming summer. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you are interested in attending or hosting a workshop.