The R Consortium recently interviewed Szilard Pafka with the Real Data Science USA R Group (formerly known as the Los Angeles R User Group). The former Los Angeles R useR Group had been based in Los Angeles for more than 10 years, but after organizer Szilard moved to Texas, he kept the group going and even expanded!
Szilard caught up with the R Consortium, a year after transitioning from an organizer of a single meetup group to now a national Meetup with members all over the United States and the world!
What is the biggest difference between running an R User Group in Texas compared with California?
SP: The R Group – Real Data Science USA Meetup (formerly Los Angeles R User Group before moving to Texas in July 2021) is still a meetup group with only online events as of August 2022. Therefore, running it from Texas is in many ways similar to running it during the first year of the COVID pandemic in LA. Being virtual for a while has also reached a wider audience (meetup members) from other US states and even internationally. To serve this new community, the focus of the meetup group will be online events for the foreseeable future.
What are the pros and cons of bringing local community events to a broader virtual audience?
SP: The main pros are being able to reach a larger audience and also having access to a larger pool of speakers. Over the last 15+ years, I have built a large network of personal connections in the data science field, and more than half of them are from the R community. However, most of these great people are from outside the Los Angeles or Houston areas and therefore it was not as easy to have them committed to travel and come to speak at the meetup.
With going virtual (actually not by design, but by the necessity imposed by Covid) the effective pool of speakers I can invite to talk at the meetup (and will also accept/come) has increased by a factor of 10. This is because the cost of “travel” to give a talk has decreased dramatically. This increased pool of speakers also leads to an ever-increased quality of talks (I have always preferred and focused on quality vs quantity, but now we can do even better). Some additional smaller pros of going virtual are also less work with setting up (e.g. no need to have a place hosting the event), though this R Group has always been lucky in having very generous and readily available hosts. Also, fewer people complaining about the lack of their favorite pizza flavor or free parking (just kidding 🙂).
Being virtual has of course some cons as well. The biggest one is not being able to do a proper networking session after the talk(s). Having been able to interact with fellow R users over a pizza or some beer was one of the key components of the R user group and one of the most enjoyable and useful benefits. I have countless stories about friends who made new acquaintances during these networking sessions or who managed to get a new job this way.
Can you tell us about one recent presentation or speaker that was especially interesting and what the topic was and why was it so interesting?
SP: Our last event was a talk “A Decade of Using R” by Gergely Daroczi. The talk was just as impressive as the title sounds! Gergely is a well-known figure in the R community and has tremendous knowledge and experience with using R in real life. In this talk, Gergely shared with us several real-world projects he had worked on over many years at several companies, most of them along the line of using R in production. Numerous components of his work were not particularly specific to a given problem or company and therefore he was able to share them publicly as general R packages (most of them on CRAN) (e.g. his logging package). He also gave us a peek into using R along with other technologies in production back in the heydays when these tools were rougher on the edges. Overall, Gergely’s talk not only gives lots of insights into many aspects of using R in production, but it is also fun to watch. It is available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ze-zf_-viE.
What are your plans for the group for the coming year?
This year, I’ve been busy with other kinds of projects, but this coming year I’m committed to doing more for this R Group and organizing more events. I already have the next event in mind, and it is again along the lines of using R in real-world projects / in production, also with an industry leader speaker (for now a secret). In fact, the “Real Data Science” in the meetup group’s name shows the commitment to exactly those kinds of topics (knowledge most relevant to practitioners).
When is your next event? Please give details!
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!