I Went to ROpenSci Unconference and All I Got Were These Lousy Hex Stickers

Just kidding; it was amazing.

Last week, I traveled to San Francisco to participate in an unconference/hackathon organized and hosted by ROpenSci. This was my first R conference or meeting, and it was a such a great experience. I am still feeling a bit at a loss for words about what a tremendous time I had, actually, but I will make an attempt to share a bit about what it was like and what we did.

The unconference was a two-day event where participants worked on R packages, tutorials, and other projects oriented toward open data, data visualization, and open science using R. The participants are at various places in their careers, from being grad students to being very very very famous, and work in academia, industry, the non-profit world, and so forth. I am on the less experienced end of the spectrum (in fact, I’m sure I had the least R experience of anyone there this year!) and it was quite a learning opportunity to interact and collaborate with such knowledgeable, talented people.

I worked on an R package with David Robinson for text mining using tidy data principles. We are going to clean some parts of it up a bit and get it ready for wider consumption ASAP, but we got so much done at the unconference. Working on it in this type of environment was so beneficial. For example, neither David nor I have a formal background in natural language processing but Kenneth Benoit was there (working on some interesting text encoding issues) and we could ask him questions and get perspective. Working with David was just great in general. Almost all of my programming work, from grad school until now, has been done basically in isolation, so building something interesting and cool with a generous, proficient partner was a new but fun experience. I learned a lot, specifically about how functions evaluate arguments, and more about dplyr, and about how pair programming works.

Sean Kross put together all the projects that participants worked on during this year’s unconference here, and that list is full of great work. Sean is someone else I was so delighted to meet and interact with; Sean is the lead developer of Swirl, which I used a lot as I have learned R. I could say something similar about everyone I got a chance to get to know, though! It was just a delightful group of people. I have never been to a technical meeting/conference that had such healthy representation from women, either.

To sum up, it was an amazing experience, I learned so much, and I was so pleased to meet and collaborate with such accomplished, generous people. If you ever get the chance to participate, I say jump at the opportunity. I hear that ROpenSci organized an unconference in Australia this year for the first time, for those people for whom the Bay Area is not so accessible.

And I did get those hex stickers; my laptop looks much cooler now.

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