Impressions from useR! 2019

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This year, the greater R community gathering useR! took place in sunny Toulouse in July, bringing together over 1000 practitioners from both academia and industry.

useR! 2019 Toulouse

The event spanned over five days, including:

  • a tidyverse day
  • one full day of workshops
  • 6 keynotes and a few sponsor talks
  • contributed talks and lightning talks over 6 parallel sessions
  • a poster session
  • a rich social program.

Here are a few impressions from Francesca, Nikki and Riccardo who attended the conference on behalf of Mirai Solutions.

Satellite Events

On Monday, ahead of the main conference, multiple satellite activities were available for the R aficionados already in town.

Forwards organized a series of meetings between forwards friends, diversity scholarship awardees and the “newbies”.

A tidyverse developer day also took place at the conference venue, where attendees could work on tidyverse-related issues, learn about coding best practices and documentation, as well as being exposed to git and the development workflow.

Tutorial Day

An extremely rich offer of tutorials, with two blocks of nine parallel sessions, made it very difficult to make up our mind and choose where to go. Topics ranged from development workflows to visualization, Shiny, machine learning, data analysis and modeling. This showed once again how diverse the R language is!

The day closed with a welcome apero hosted by the Mayor of Toulouse in the City Hall and a hilarious translation from French to nerd-English by Romain François.

First Conference Day

What better start than with Music? The useR! 2019 organizers set the mood right by hosting the performance of Moultaqa Salam (“Meet and peace”), a group melting perfectly the different souls and sounds of South-West Europe and North Africa.

Julia Stewart Lowndes, aka @juliesquid opened with an inspiring talk about open source and collaboration. R can be The Force to do better science in less time and Twitter can help building the community where sharing and communication can take place.

The famous wizard Hadley Wickham gave a talk about the latest enhancements of data tidying, proving that he does not just live in the internet, but also attends conferences!

Next a unicorn made it to the stage to show us the many little tricks hidden in dplyr. He had a very nice little helper, which reminds us all of the importance of supporting working parents with the potential difficulties they may face.

Miraier Riccardo gave a talk on Shiny app deployment and integration into a custom website gallery, where he presented the challenges and steps for embedding and integrating a Shiny app into an existing website. As an example he used SmaRP, a Shiny app designed to guide people working in Switzerland towards a strategic retirement plan, previously presented at eRum in 2018.

Shiny has been a prominent topic with two sessions covering aspects ranging from Shiny development workflows with package golem to scalable, enterprise-level applications.

Julie Josse closed the day’s work with an academic-flavoured presentation about her research on dealing with missing numbers. However the fun continued with the conference dinner, taking place at the amazing Cité de l’Espace, where we had a lovely time gazing at the interesting exhibitions and tasting nice French specialties!

Second Conference Day

Joe Cheng’s opening keynote premiered the brand new shinymeta, a R package tackling the issue of reproducibility with Shiny by providing tools for capturing logic in a Shiny app and exposing it as code that can be run outside of Shiny.

In the lightning talks session on “Workflow and Development”, Miraier Nikki presented CompareWith, a Meld-based R package, which provides user-friendly RStudio addins to perform diff and merge tasks. The slides from her talk can be found here.

The two “Programming” sessions were a great source of updates and novelty. Of particular interest were the introduction of the new embracing operator to simplify creating tidy eval functions, and Davis Vaughan’s talk about the new package rray that makes array calculations much easier. Colin Gillespie’s talk about Security and R was also one of the highlights.

The very interesting session on “Community and Conferences” work gave a nice overview of how R is spreading in Africa and Latin America. It also featured a panel on the truth about satRdays, which offered a set of useful tips for organizing a (successful) event.

Closing the day was a poster session with a nice apero. It was extremely fun to first see the presenters advertising their posters in a 30 seconds time-slot, some giving directions to the location of their poster, some having to step off stage while still talking. Overall a great occasion to network and get a glimpse of various interesting projects.

Third Conference Day

The last day of useR! 2019 featured a last round of lightning and regular talks. Many notable presentations were in the “Performance” session, which included interesting updates about packages data.table and future. A new promising package pak for managing package installation and dependencies was introduced by Gábor Csárdi, whereas Jim Hester showed how package vroom can boost importing large data-sets.

The closing keynote by Julien Cornebise about ‘AI for Good’ in the R and Python ecosystems conveyed an extremely powerful message on how to use data science for good, e.g. to measure violence and abuse against women on Twitter or find burned villages in Darfur via satellite images. Checking out his talk is highly recommended.

Finally Heather Turner got awarded for her central role in the R community and we would like to add our voice in praising her commitment.

Closing Remarks

If you could not attend a talk or would like to listen to one again, video recordings of the presentations are (will be) available online on the R Consortium Youtube channel, while slides of the talks are downloadable from the useR! 2019 website.

Overall it was a very enjoyable and insightful event and a great venue in Toulouse. We look forward to useR! 2020 in St. Louis! Before that, and closer for Europeans, we’ll be sure to attend eRum2020, which Mirai Solutions is also supporting actively and takes place in Milan May 27th-30th.

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