The R Consortium recently spoke with Dr. Péter Sólymos, organizer of Edmonton R User Group-Yegrug, Edmonton, Canada, about how his interest in learning R came up, how he currently uses it in his work, and the trends in the language over the next few years. But above all, Péter tells us about the challenges and progress involved in bringing the R community back to Edmonton last year.
Dr. Péter Sólymos is a Senior Data Scientist with a background in biology, environmental science, and computer programming. His work with the creation of end-to-end data analytics, statistics, and ML is focused on streamlining and improving decision-making. He currently facilitates evidence-based decision-making in the public services sector.
Why did you personally get interested in learning R? How do you use it in your work?
PS: I am a biologist by training, but early on I started doing a lot of computer work related to statistical analysis. Despite the computer work I was doing, I started learning R a little late. What really got me completely into programming with R was that I was teaching at the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest a while back. The Statistics department lost the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences (SPSS) license we were using at the time due to a funding issue, so we had to rewrite the curriculum and decided to go fully open source. We started using R, and the students were very interested in this. For a while, I felt like I was falling behind and needed to catch up. That is how I officially started learning R and I have definitely progressed, to the point where I can now teach it to other people. Since then I have been involved in all sorts of R-related things and the R community.
Previously, there was a user group in 2012 that students started to organize in the area for R, but it ended after two years, and just last year we decided it would be a good idea to bring the group back! It is amazing how useful the R language is. In my work, I use it for estimating all kinds of things, like vegetation- and weather-related power outage risk. I continue to use R in a lot of different ways, from machine learning to statistics and data processing.
What is the R community like in Edmonton?
Alberta has a very strong environmental industry presence, where R has also gained popularity over the past few years.
Who comes to these meetups? What industries do you see more in Edmonton?
PS: The Edmonton R User Group-Yegrug has been hosting events every month now for the past year. Fortunately, the number of attendees at these meetups has increased since the beginning. We also joined events with the CalgaryR group earlier this year, I did a presentation on “Hosting Data Apps” (https://hosting.analythium.io/ ), a website mostly about Shiny app hosting where I discussed my experience with Shiny. We were only a few members, some of my personal acquaintances included, later we started promoting events through Twitter and Linkedin and we started to make a little more noise. People started to get interested in attending, and we have had more than 30 people attending several virtual events. Since the group started, I have noticed that most of the people interested and those who are easier to reach are those in academia, but we still hope to reach more and more in other industries!
How has COVID affected your ability to connect with members? What techniques (Github, zoom, other) have you used to connect and collaborate with members? Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?
PS: At the beginning, due to COVID, we had to change the way we did things including virtual events only, but afterward it was an advantage because, through our online work, we were able to reach more people. The technique that we use that has worked mainly because most people are familiar with it, and it serves our purposes is Zoom. After our Meetups, we post information and resources through the group’s GitHub. We also use platforms like Meetup for all the tools it has, such as discussion forums, sending updates to attendees, and reaching these people easier by posting events in advance. We are trying to organize our first in-person event in November, we will be using several of these technologies moving forward to continue to reach more members as well as the local community in Edmonton.
What trends do you see in R language over the next year?
PS: The trends I see for the next year in the R language are the changes and focus on multilingual tools, leading to more interaction between them, and making it even easier to add stunning visualizations.
What is your favorite R event that you have attended? From a small meetup to a big conference!
PS: I attended the UseR! 2022 Conference, which was really amazing, it was a huge online event. I also gave a presentation on Best practices for Shiny apps with Docker. Another event I really liked was the rstudio::conf(2022), this one was in person, and for me, it was amazing that we are restarting these types of events. For rstudio::conf, they broadcasted the live event which made it easier as I was able to attend the events live from my home.
Of the Active Working Groups, which is your favorite? Why is it your favorite?
PS: I definitely think R-Ladies is a great one. I am not very sure if there is an active R-Ladies chapter here in Edmonton, but I know other similar groups like Women in Engineering (https://womeninengg.ca/), and I am glad that these kinds of activities take place.
When is your next event? What are your plans for the group for the coming year? Please give details!
PS: Our next event is on October 27th on Binary packages on Ubuntu with r2u by Dirk Eddelbuettel. We also plan a meetup event every last Thursday of the month, you can check out our Meetup for updates!
As for our plans for next year, we are very excited. Some colleagues have already expressed interest in speaking at either our usual meetups or at a larger-scale event next year.
How do I Join?
R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups around the world organize, share information and support each other. We have given grants over the past four years, encompassing over 65,000 members in 35 countries. We would like to include you! Cash grants and meetup.com accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute. We are now accepting applications!