Building Communities Together at ozunconf, 2017

Nicholas Tierney  


October 31, 2017

Just last week we organised the 2nd rOpenSci ozunconference, the sibling rOpenSci unconference, held in Australia. Last year it was held in Brisbane, this time around, the ozunconf was hosted in Melbourne, from October 26-27, 2017.

At the ozunconf, we brought together 45 R-software users and developers, scientists, and open data enthusiasts from academia, industry, government, and non-profits. Participants travelled from far and wide, with people coming from 6 cities around Australia, 2 cities in New Zealand, and one city in the USA. Before the ozunconf we discussed and dreamt up projects to work on for a few days, then met up and brought about a bakers dozen of them into reality.

Upskilling participants

On Day 0, one day before the ozunconf, Roger Peng and I ran a half day training session on how to develop R packages and share them on GitHub. The participants picked things up really quickly, and by the end of the session, everyone could make an R package, and push it to GitHub. We also introduced them to the wonders of RMarkdown. The event then kicked on to the R-Ladies Melbourne special one year anniversary event, which featured a great talk and introduction to Random Forests by Elisabeth Vogel.

Bringing people together

Before the ozunconf, we discussed various ideas for projects in the GitHub issues. Things really started to pick up in the last week and we ended up at 41 issues - almost as many issues as participants.

Day one kicked off with decorating some hex cookies, baked by Di Cook. This uncovered a fun fact that Stefan Milton Bache - creator of the beloved pipe operator (%>%) from the magrittr package, apparently also created the first #rstats hex sticker.

We then stuck the various projects that had been discussed throughout the week around the room and participants sticker voted on projects that they were interested in working on. Introductions were made, and quotes like these (from Steph de Silva) led to entertaining discussions around data:

We were really lucky to be in the beautiful Monash City Campus, a place that almost seems to have been designed for an unconf, with some classroom style space, as well as plenty of nooks and crannies to sit in, including an outdoor astroturfed garden complete with bean bags and native flora.

The venue even seemed to reflect our love of hex stickers, providing a nice hex sticker themed carpet:

We had some great sponsors for this event, including rOpenSci, RStudio The RConsortium, The Ingham Institute, and Monash Business School. The event was also organised by myself, Di Cook, Rob Hyndman, and also Miles McBain.

We wrapped up at the end of day 2, giving each projects group three minutes to debrief on their projects, using the unconf style - only the README.md (mostly!). You can check out all the ozunconf projects here, thanks to a template from Sean Kross. Soon we will publish a series of short posts covering some of these great fun projects.

Here’s a quick taster:

  • realtime. Realtime streamingplots built on the p5.js library.

  • stow. A simplified version control interface to git, from within R.

  • icon. Easily access and insert web icons into HTML and PDF documents.

  • ochRe. Provide Australia-themed Colour Palettes.

We’ll share a quick summary of all of the projects over the coming weeks.

What’s Your Story?

Some key #ozunconf lessons from Steph de Silva

  • The opportunity to try but not succeed is a luxury to be savoured
  • Mistakes make you a better programmer
  • The best thing about R isn’t the language, it’s the number of people around who want to help
  • Your skills are valuable, so your productivity is too. Investing in the tools that maximise it is worthwhile.
  • git really is out to get you.

A few people have already written about their unconf17 experience. Have you? Share the link in the comments below and we’ll add it here.

Projects posts

Community posts

Introducing people to the rOpenSci community

rOpenSci has had a profound impact on me and my work. At the end of 2015 I got in touch with them to discuss arranging an unconference in Australia, and they welcomed me and my friends. Today, I am proud to be welcoming those from the ozunconf to this big, kind, wonderful community, and say, as Shannon Ellis summed up: “Hey! You there! You are welcome here”. It was also really great to have a diverse group of participants at the ozunconf, and in particular, that 40% of participants were women or other underrepresented genders.

Starts, not ends

One thing that I’ve realised in my involvement with organising and attending these events is that when the unconf ends, it feels a bit sad, sure, to say goodbye to the environment, the community, the friends, and the projects. At the last unconf in LA, we were sending out a stream of tweets, “it’s not over until it’s over”. But, in reflection, standing back, taking it all in, the unconference doesn’t really end - it just starts. It starts many new things - projects, ideas, collaborations, and friendships.

The ozunconf comes to an end. Now, let’s get started.