Section 4 Help Sessions

Help sessions of many kinds have been created within Carpentries member institutions. What is common is that such sessions be regularly scheduled and frequent, and provide a neutral space where people can come together to support each other with technical challenges.

Events of this type include Hacky Hour, PhTea, Code and Pizza, SkillShares, or Office Hours. These kinds of events can be slow to get started, with it sometimes taking weeks or months to develop a steady cohort of regulars. To get started, think about assembling an ‘anchoring’ group that can offer a range of useful skills. These might be sysadmins, bioinformaticians, a GIS librarian, a person with data management knowledge, HPC or other technical support staff, and graduate students from a range of disciplines. If this seems completely unattainable, start out with small. Hacky Hours have been started by two people and have then seen them grow. The key is to start, and not to get discouraged if people don’t flock in for advice at first. Word of mouth will help populate it as time goes by.

Mature community help sessions become as useful to the so-called experts as they are for the novice and intermediate researchers. Having them in an informal setting with the ability to order food/coffee/beer at your own expense is also popular. In other cases, a budget for pizza and/or snacks is requested to provide extra enticement.

4.1 Hacky Hour

Hacky Hours are informal, regularly scheduled meetups where researchers can bring research IT-related issues for discussion or help.

These might include issues with Python, R, HPC, statistics, MatLab or other software.

They are generally volunteer-run, and aim to build referral networks and communities of practice around research software and skills.

4.1.1 Starting a Hacky Hour

4.1.1.1 Finding a location

A cafe or restaurant on or near campus is a nice informal location. Take over a large table and put up a sign to try and attract people in and make sure they find you. Sometimes it’s obvious which group is the hacky hour, they all have laptops out!

If a cafe isn’t available somewhere that people can bring food to is a good alternative. Having free food available is always a good way to attract people. If this isn’t possible then booking a room at lunch time and suggesting people bring their lunch can work instead.

Traditional lecture theatres should be avoided as it’s not the best type of room to have lots of small discussions in. A room with several smaller round tables works best.

4.1.1.2 Choosing a Time

It can be difficult to find a time that fits for everyone. It might be a good idea to try out different times or to alternate between different time slots. Try to find a slot that doesn’t clash with major meetings or seminars amongst groups who are likely to come. You might not initially know when all these are but will find that people will start to say they’d like to come but can’t make it due to a clash. If you’re using a cafe, try to find a quiet time when there will be space and not too much background noise.

4.1.1.3 Promoting a Hacky Hour

  • Put up posters and flyers in places where researchers might see them. For
  • example in/near research student offices. Send emails to mailing lists of
  • people who might be interested. For example research students, research staff
  • and HPC users. Get it added to your university’s events calendar or sent onto
  • events mailing lists. Mention them in Software Carpentry workshops or any
  • other relevant presentations. Tell anyone you know who’s looking for help that
  • it’s a good time to ask. Tell anyone you know who might offer help that it’s a
  • good time to offer it. If providing this kind of support isn’t really their
  • job it can be a good way of restricting it to just an hour a week.

4.1.1.4 Some Hacky Hour resources

4.1.1.4.1 Hacky Hour groups around the world

Australia:

New Zealand:

UK

Germany

USA