By Aleksandra Pawlik.
The Software Carpentry Bootcamp for Women in Science and Engineering in Boston took place last week. This was not only the biggest Software Carpentry bootcamp so far but also, as the name suggests, the first where all the participants, instructors, helpers and organisers were women. The bootcamp was sponsored by the Mozilla Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, J.P. Morgan, NumFOCUS, Microsoft Corporation, the Python Software Foundation, Intel and King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
There were almost 120 participants split into three groups: beginners, intermediate and advanced, depending on the level of their experience in programming. I was an instructor for the advanced group along with Jessica McKellar and Sheeri K. Cabral.
Teaching the advanced group had both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, we had the comfort of being able to refer to some common programming concepts like variables, looping or argument passing. On the other hand, we had to teach quite complex things within a relatively limited period of time. This meant that we could not really afford to allocate, for example, an hour for an exercise which would allow the participants to engage with the material and try out the new stuff on their own.
Over two days we covered six topics. Day 1 started with a warm-up as Jessica introduced the shell. Then we jumped straight into version control which was a new topic for most of the group, before Sheeri taught SQL.
Day 2 was a Python day with a morning introduction to programming in the language, which was slightly disrupted by installation issues. IPython Notebook is a very good tool to teach at the bootcamps and SciPy, NumPy as well as matplotlib are essential for doing science with Python. That said, and even though Anaconda made it much easier to install all these, it is still sometimes difficult to get it all working together.
A few participants didn't get IPython Notebook up but they were still able to follow the module through the IPython Notebook Viewer and used the terminal to work with the code snippets. It was not an ideal solution, but we were fortunate that the advanced group was able to deal with this bit of overhead. Scientific Python was taught by Jessica who also prepared a bonus exercise to practice further Python and SQL integrating bits of version control. Day 2 finished with a module on testing.
The Software Carpentry bootcamp for Women in Science and Engineering was not only about teaching. It was also a great networking opportunity and an occassion to discuss the situation of females in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). During the discussion panel at the end of Day 1, we talked about the challenges and predjudices that women in technology have to face, the contrasts that come of sometimes being the only female in the team, and the ways to overcome difficulties.
In conclusion, the Software Carpentry Bootcamp in Boston highlighted two important things. The first one was that there are some very talented and hard-working women doing computing in science and engineering. The second thing was that females are still under-represented in many scientific domains and changing this situation is just as important as improving computing skills among researchers.
Terri Yu who was a helper for the advanced group at the WiSE bootcamp also shared her experiences on her blog.