Software Carpentry Bootcamp: An organiser’s story

Categories: resource, Workshops
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: November 27, 2014

Lisa and I have been involved in two Software Carpentry Bootcamps this year: firstly the hosts of a Bootcamp in April at the University of Warwick, and the second, just last week, at a Bootcamp co-organised with the Centre for Genomic Research at the University of Liverpool. A few people at the Liverpool event expressed interest in organising their own workshops, so we thought we would talk you through the stages of hosting a bootcamp and share our experiences to help you decide whether you want to run one of your own.

 

1. Early planning: Decide where the event will be, who will pay, who your audience is and what topics you want to be covered.

It is (now) not free to host a Software Carpentry event. When we organised the Warwick Bootcamp, Software Carpentry was subsidised by the Mozilla Foundation, but since the recent move to its own Software Carpentry Foundation, events now command a fee (TBC) – it’s still a non-profit organisation though.

Software Carpentry trainers are volunteers but you will need to be able to reimburse their travel, food and accommodation expenses. They can come from anywhere in the world, so budget for transatlantic flights!

Other costs you will need to think about include venue hire, and travel, food and accommodation for the workshop participants. It is also up to you whether you want to charge people to attend the workshop to recoup some or all of your costs. For our first bootcamp at Warwick we had sufficient funding to make the event free for attendees, and we paid for one nights’ accommodation too. Because it was free, we did get some last-minute drop-outs, but we had a long waiting list to fill the empty spaces. At the Liverpool event, trainees paid a small registration fee, and paid for their accommodation themselves. Both events booked up quickly and were oversubscribed, so either model works.

We provided lunch and refreshments during both workshops (caffeine breaks are definitely recommended!), and also organised a dinner on the first night of the workshop.

Both of our bootcamps were for complete beginners, but if there are specific topics you need to cover, Software Carpentry can tailor a programme to your needs.

 

2. First contact with Software Carpentry: If you’re in the UK, the Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) in Edinburgh is your point of contact for organising Software Carpentry events. There is information and an email address on the Software Carpentry website.

Discuss your ideas for the bootcamp with Software Carpentry. We worked with Aleksandra Pawlik and Giacamo Peru from SSI over Skype and via email. Software Carpentry requires core topics to be covered, so there may be some negotiating as you work it out. As our bootcamps were for absolute beginners, unlike most Software Carpentry events, this took some time but was not at all difficult to sort out.

Decide on a date, making sure to consider other events that might limit both trainees and instructors.

The Software Carpentry website suggests being flexible with the dates to make finding instructors easier. I think this would mean pulling a bootcamp together very quickly, which might be ok for an institutional event but was impossible for us.

3. Early logistical arrangements: Book venue, arrange catering, book accommodation…

Make sure your venue has good WiFi, a few wired access points just in case, a projector and somewhere to have tea/coffee/lunch close by. If you have attendees from industry rather than academic institutions, remember that they might not be able to access the Eduroam network, so arrange to have some guest WiFi access codes.

Work out if you want your trainees to use their own laptops or computers you provide – the workshop can cater to both Mac and Windows users so this is not an issue. If you decide on laptops, make sure your venue has enough accessible power sockets.

If you want your delegates to benefit from networking as well as training, try to make a block booking at a hotel and definitely arrange dinner on the first night of the bootcamp. If your budget does not allow for this, do it anyway if possible – trainees can opt in or out of paying for it themselves.

 

4. Publicise and take registration

For our first event, we advertised via our mailing lists and accepted trainees on a first-come first-served basis. It worked fine for that one, but if you want to do this make sure you are clear on your criteria for accepting people. This might be institutional, funder, career-stage or a specific research theme.

For our second event, we took applications and selected trainees. This was more work, but in the few months between bootcamps Software Carpentry had a bigger profile and we got a few applications from people who did not fit our scope. As the bootcamp was highly subsidised and our funding was mostly from NERC via CGR, with some from BBSRC via GARNet, we unfortunately had to turn away some trainees with ‘the wrong’ backgrounds.

 

5. Worry about confirming instructors: The Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) manage this bit in the UK.

Here’s the thing: Software Carpentry instructors are volunteers. When the date of your workshop is confirmed a call is sent out for instructors. They might not be confirmed until a few weeks before your bootcamp, by which time you’ll probably already have a delegate list.

I definitely advise budgeting for an expensive instructor – SSI will try and get you a local instructor, but we ended up flying one of ours from Vancouver. She was an excellent trainer and very nice to boot though, so we didn’t mind!

At GARNet we like to have everything confirmed before we open registration, so needless to say this bit was quite stressful for us! But it worked out fine both times, so my best advice is just hand it over into Aleksandra and Giacamo’s capable hands. It will be fine.

 

6. Find helpers: You’ll need 1 helper for every 6 trainees or so.

Though GARNet events are tailored to plant scientists, there is no discipline-specific content in a Software Carpentry bootcamp. Therefore, for our first bootcamp, we emailed Warwick Systems Biology, Mathematics and Computer Science departments to find willing students. Being a Software Carpentry helper is a nice addition to their CV, especially if they’re looking at jobs as trainers, teachers or working in teams with computer-illiterate scientists.

For the Liverpool bootcamp, the local organisers just asked a few people to help out. This is probably a more reliable option if you can manage it, but our student volunteers from Warwick were excellent.

 

7. Confirm bootcamp tutorials and schedule with instructors: The SSI will facilitate this.

The instructors will set up a webpage with the schedule, tutorials, and necessary preparation for the bootcamp – this will include installation instructions if your trainees are using their own laptops.

 

8. Final arrangements: Email trainees information about venue and advanced preparation.

Make sure everyone knows how to get to the venue, where they should register, where they’re staying (if relevant), what they need to install on their laptops, and to let you know if they’re unable to attend.

Check with instructors you have everything they’ll need – you’ll definitely need post-it notes. And take it from me, it’s hard to source the red ones they’ll ask you for so you’ll have to get creative.

 

9. Book dinner for your team: Free food is a great motivator!

Your bootcamp is likely to be the first time your instructors, helpers and organisers have met, and it might be the first time some of them have been involved with Software Carpentry. Having dinner together the night before the workshop is a great way of thanking them for helping out, getting to know each other, and is an opportunity for the instructors to let the helpers know more about their role in the bootcamp.

 

If you want to know more about our bootcamps, see these pages:

The Software Carpentry website is: http://software-carpentry.org/

And the Software Sustainability Institute, who manage Software Carpentry in the UK: http://www.software.ac.uk/

 



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