UK Autumn School 2010: an enjoyable and educational experience

The Software Carpentry / UK Autumn School 2010 presented by Dr. Greg Wilson was an invigorating and inspiring educational event.

This one-week intensive Autumn School aimed to train PhD students and researchers in the software development skills required to build reliable research software quickly and with a minimum of effort, and so maximize the impact of their research.

The 22 students who attended the course are carrying out research in a variety of areas across the spectrum of audio and music research, with a varied level of background experience in software development (read something about the people at the Autumn School here).

We started with basic use of the Python interpreter and running simple Python programs—Python being a highly suitable language to convey useful concepts in software construction, as it is much easier than many to read and comprehend. Moving on to topics such as reading and writing files, the use of higher-level data structures such as dictionaries, test-driven development and the red-green-refactor cycle, we worked on a number of practical tasks and often in pairs.

A practical session on the use of version control to manage changes in software and data, including some useful thoughts on handling provenance and reproduceability issues for experimental results, proved one of the most popular subjects during the week.

Further sessions covered simple database management using SQLite for managing data such as experimental test results, rapid user-interface usability testing, use of libraries available with Python for audio processing, and how to communicate effectively about research work.

The content for the school was underpinned by a strong philosophical promotion of the importance of scientific method and the use of evidence in determining best practice for software development.

Video footage from the school is now available here.