Dirk Eddelbuettel, the useR! 2014 Interview

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First things first, Dirk Eddelbuettel was recently named ordinary. This seems contradictory, since Dirk is a known HPC expert, an organizer of the R in Finance conference, the creator of Rcpp, and a Debian contributor. These are only a few of the many accolades bestowed upon Dirk without even a hint of puffery. And yet, Dirk Eddelbuettel is considered ordinary. What makes Dirk ordinary? It should be mentioned that to the Vienna-based nonprofit that provides R’s leadership, the R Foundation for Statistical Computing, ‘ordinary’ means something quite different to the lay person. Ordinary members provide guidance and direction for the R Project for Statistical Computing. It’s hard to imagine someone more qualified than Dirk for this task.

A longtime R user, Dirk’s professional life is in finance as a self-described quant (one of the ‘Rocket Scientists of Wall Street’). Dirk has worked for some of the largest financial organizations in the world, and has open sourced packages which allow for tasks ranging from vanilla options pricing to discounted cash flow analysis. Even though the world of finance is a “massive net importer” of open source tools, he has succeeded in providing finance packages for the open source community. In addition to these contributions, he has also provided the larger R community with the infinitely useful Rcpp package.

Rcpp is the most widely used language extension for R, and this package provides a novel and seamless method of integrating high performance C++ code with R without requiring the usual extension incantations. Dirk’s book, Seamless R and C++ Integration with Rcpp (Springer, 2013) makes it surprisingly easy to pick up the Rcpp basics in an afternoon. For example, I recently found myself facing a CPU-bound data manipulation task and was able to convert the code from R to Inline C++ using Rcpp – and my code received a 26x speedup for a few hours of work invested.

It’s easy to see why, with all of these contributions, the R Foundation would find Dirk ordinary. I was incredibly fortunate at useR! 2014 to sit down with Dirk and have a long conversation about many of these ordinary topics, the video of which is included here. Enjoy!

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