The Oxford Software Carpentry Boot Camp … one year on.

In October 2012 I organised a Software Carpentry Boot Camp at the University of Oxford. I’ve previously posted the feedback I gathered immediately before and after the boot camp, but thought it would be interesting to see if all that enthusiasm actually translated into deeds i.e. did the attendees actually change how they worked as result of the boot camp? So almost exactly a year after the boot camp I sent around a similar survey to the attendees. Inevitably some email addresses were now invalid so I only received responses from 13 of the attendees (as compared to 25 immediately after the workshop). To encourage responses, I only asked three questions and two of these followed on from questions I had previously asked. So what did I find out?

1. How would you describe your expertise in the following tools?


This was broadly encouraging: no tool was described as “never heard of it” and bash had a big shift compared to before the boot camp and now everyone either “used it regularly” or “used it but don’t understand it”. We had a big focus on python and the numpy and scipy modules, as well as MDAnalysis, which is a python module specific to my field — people’s expertise in these does appear to have been improved by the workshop with some attendees “using [them] regularly” or now “expert”. Some tools, such as version control, make or unit testing only progressed from “never heard of it / used occasionally ” to “used occasionally / use it but don’t understand it”, illustrating how difficult it is to change behaviour.

2. I use the tools and methods listed below to help my research.


Immediately after the boot camp I asked “I intend using the tools to help my research” and most attendees appeared willing to give the tools a go. A year on a different picture emerges. People are using bash, python, num

py, scipy and MDAnalysis but are not making much use of version control, make or unit testing. This correlates with their perception, as tested by the first question, since after all if you don’t use something you won’t become proficient.


3. A year on, the workshop really encouraged me to change how I do my research.

Ten people agreed or strongly agreed whilst three people were indifferent. So, overall I think the boot camp was a success, but this feedback also illustrates the difficultly of changing behaviour, especially with short, intensive courses. One shot of Software Carpentry is not necessarily enough…

I’ll finish with the comments that three people were kind enough to leave.

“The workshop was really good but I think it covered only basic applications. Maybe in future workshops a part can cover more advanced applications for more advanced users.”

“Thanks for the really useful course! I have used the skills a lot in the past year, especially for small jobs, which helped me get things done quicker.”

“What about another Software Carpentry workshop? I’d be keen as long as we would expand on the material covered last year.”

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