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Coding Boot Camp Proves a Success at UAlbany

From left, Informatics colleagues Peter Brandon, Jennifer Goodall, and George Berg organized the boot camp. (Photo by Paul Miller)

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 3, 2015) – The University at Albany recently hosted its Inaugural Software Carpentry Boot Camp, sponsored by the Informatics Department in the College of Computing and Information (CCI). A group of 25 UAlbany undergraduate and graduate students immersed themselves in the weekend boot camp to learn more about core computing skills.

“Since I want to be a data analyst, knowledge of SQL (Structured Query Language) is crucial to succeed,” said Nikki Gupta, a sophomore informatics major and business minor from Albany, N.Y.  “Because of this workshop, I have acquired the basic SQL knowledge which is the standard language for relational database management systems. I also learned about different possible ways of dealing efficiently with large amounts of data.”

The sessions are offered by Software Carpentry, a volunteer organization whose goal is to make scientists more productive, by teaching basic computing skills. Founded in 1998, Software Carpentry runs short, intensive workshops that cover program design, version control, testing, and task automation.

According to Software Carpentry, while computing is an integral part of every aspect of science, most scientists are never taught how to build, use, validate, and share software. As a result, many spend hours or days doing things badly that could be done well in just a few minutes.

The onsite workshop covers the core skills needed to be productive in a small research team so students can spend less time struggling with software and more time conducting research.

“This was such a great opportunity for students from all fields to experience the power of data analytics,” said Jennifer Goodall, director of the College of Computing and Information Women in Technology program, who organized the workshop with her Informatics colleagues Peter Brandon and George Berg. The event was also sponsored by CCI, the departments of Computer Science, Informatics and Sociology, and UAlbany’s Office of the Vice President for Research.

“I think the coolest part is that it was data analysis for the sciences, so it was highly technical and interdisciplinary. But we had students from all sorts of degrees attend. Data analytics is a really big deal,” she added.

"This workshop reinforced the importance of programming literacy and the power of creative visualizations,” said Brandon, a sociology professor who also teaches Informatics. Berg is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Informatics.

This was the first time the event was held, but likely not the last, according to Goodall, as demand for the workshop was double what organizers had expected.

“The most exciting part of the workshop was trying to solve the challenges that the instructors gave us after covering each topic. Every challenge presented me with an opportunity to apply the knowledge that I gained,” said Gupta, who has been using Paint, Word, and Excel since she was in the fourth grade, thanks to the influence of her father, a software developer.

“As a kid, I had fun making pages in simple HTML. And now, it is my hobby to design web pages, and I am still learning more about making more interactive websites,” said Gupta. To her, informatics “acts as a bridge between technology and any other field, ranging from economics to health care. It involves making data more sensible for the average person.”

Michael Corey, a social science researcher from Facebook, told the students the tools they were learning at boot camp are highly useful to him in his job.

“Every job nowadays involves some kind of data and using that data to solve problems,” said Goodall.

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About the University at Albany
A comprehensive public research university, the University at Albany offers more than 120 undergraduate majors and minors and 125 master's, doctoral, and graduate certificate programs. UAlbany is a leader among all New York State colleges and universities in such diverse fields as atmospheric and environmental sciences, business, criminal justice, emergency preparedness, engineering and applied sciences, informatics, public administration, social welfare, and sociology taught by an extensive roster of faculty experts. It also offers expanded academic and research opportunities for students through an affiliation with Albany Law School. With a curriculum enhanced by 600 study-abroad opportunities, UAlbany launches great careers.