9 ways Software Carpentry has changed my life

I recently left a position as an intern for Greg Wilson with Software Carpentry. I want to document the impact my involvement with SWC has had on my life and encourage anyone who is looking for a way to get involved in the open source community to consider entering via SWC.

(1) Greg (and SWC) always believed in me. I never once doubted my worth as a member of the organization. I knew that I belonged and that I was appreciated. I also knew that I was heard. I knew that Greg would be there to fight for me, that I always had someone on my side. I have been lucky to have some great mentors in my life, but I definitely took Greg’s support for granted. Now I know that when you find an expert professional mentor, you hold onto them tight. Don’t let them escape!

(2) Greg pushed me to be my best. I was recently reading a post called “20 things 20-year-olds don’t get” which says that (in your 20’s) you should be getting your butt kicked everyday. By that, the writer meant that you should improve everyday. Greg pushes me to do my best work with respect to academia, but he also pushes me to be healthy and effective at being a working-adult (and having a balance with real life).


Greg pushes me to go places and meet people that (as an introvert) I never would otherwise

(3) I got to travel and meet all different sorts of people. I worked in Toronto, Logan, UT, San Francisco, Monterey Bay, and Chicago. I had opportunities to go to Oklahoma, Virginia, and Massachusetts that I just didn’t get time for. I was able to live the dream of being a 20-something traveler, seeing the world.

Screenshot 2013-08-05 at 9.10.59 AM

Mountains in Logan, UT

(4) SWC has a comprehensive code of conduct. In a male-dominated world of engineers and computer scientists, it’s absolutely refreshing to be a part of a community that is as open and accepting as SWC is. SWC has also helped me connect with other groups, like PyLadies, that help me feel supported as a woman in tech. Overall, SWC taught me to expect the best of people, not to settle for the status quo treatment of women in tech.

Screenshot 2013-08-05 at 8.57.58 AM

(5) I was able to find a series of role models. Through SWC, I met people who define the essence of who I want to be as a professional. Titus Brown teaches me to be genuine and not to be afraid to make waves. Matt Davis teaches me to be patient, to listen, and never to be afraid to offer a helping hand. Tracy Teal teaches me to stand up for myself, to build an individual identity, to ask any questions I have. Ethan White teaches me how to be an engaging speaker and how to be welcoming to newcomers. And most of all, Greg Wilson teaches me the power of supporting another person, the power of believing in another person.

Watching Ethan White teach about the shell, inspiring research scientists

(6) I was never once treated as “the new kid.” There is no hazing. There is no Noogler hat. In fact, I believe SWC actually focuses on creating a truly open and accessible environment for newcomers and new-learners of all different levels in the open source software / scientific community. I know now the importance of treating even newcomers as full, contributing, valued members of a community.

(7) SWC taught me to believe in openness. To be fair, Titus Brown has had a huge hand in that lesson as well. But I am now a believer in tweeting and blogging my own work, documenting on GitHub, and generally sharing what I am doing in whatever ways possible. As I am transitioning into a job in a corporate environment, I am struggling with saying goodbye to the vast openness that I experienced when working with SWC. I miss it, and I still believe it is the best way to work.

(8) I had the opportunity to meet and befriend really awesome, talented, driven, exciting people through SWC. I’ve now added Dan McGlinn, Karthik Ram, Jessica McKellar, Jon Pipitone, Anthony Scopatz, and tons of others, to my circle of programmer-friends. They spice up my life, keep me inspired, and give me ideas for how to incorporate my own unique interests / personality into the work that I do.

An ipynb love letter I wrote using Matt Davis’s ipython blocks


Jon Pipitone from Toronto made me an art journal out of his old lab notebooks and left it as a surprise gift for me at a local cafe

(9) SWC is actually making a difference. The work I was doing with SWC was based on interviewing and surveying previous participants of the programming boot camps to find out if the workshops were having a significant impact. What I learned from those interviews, from meeting all those people, is that SWC and the messages they deliver about open science, reproducibility, and the fact that anyone can program, are actually making a difference in the lives of real people. Really, if you’re going to join a volunteer organization, what better group to join than one you know is already out there changing lives for the better? I knew I was making a difference in the world, actually having a positive and lasting impact.

My first chance teaching for SWC, at Utah State University

I already miss the collaboration that I was able to do with SWC in the past 8-10 months of my life, and I hope to be reintegrating with them soon as I am now finally adjusting to my new job. In the mean time, I want to encourage people who are looking for a clear, welcoming, supportive entrypoint into open source to check out Software Carpentry.


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