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Spatial Data Science Using R in Berlin, Germany

By September 5, 2023Blog

The Berlin R User Group fosters a diverse and vibrant R community in Berlin. Rafael Camargo shared some insights from his experience regarding the potential of R and some anecdotes for organizers of RUGs. The Berlin RUG is currently looking for sponsors to host their physical events, and companies interested in hosting the group can contact Rafael. 

The group is hosting a physical event using R for spatial data analysis on September 26, 2023.

Rafael is a Spatial Data Scientist working at Quantis as a Sustainability Expert. He has a Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies and a Master’s in Environmental planning.

Please share your background and involvement with the RUGS group.

I was first introduced to R during my Master’s studies in 2016. A Ph.D. student encouraged me to use R for data analysis, and I grew fond of it.

Later, during my Master’s thesis, I used it as well. After completing my Master’s degree, I used to work for WWF, a nature conservation organization. My responsibilities included maintaining a web tool and conducting spatial analysis.

In my job, I noticed repetitive tasks which I found tedious. I started automating tasks and report generation using R Markdown and, later, Quarto to reduce repetition. I am one of the early adopters of Quarto and heavily use it for my work. I work for a consultancy firm, and again, with a strong focus on automating processes. I use Notebooks in my work for documentation and reproducibility. 

Can you share what the R community is like in Berlin? 

The R community in Berlin is very welcoming and has this spirit of helping each other.  I joined the Berlin RUG around the same time I started using R. ‌The group hosted monthly meetings with talks on a diverse range of topics by speakers from industry, academia, and freelancers. Some speakers offered courses in R and used this opportunity to market their courses while giving back to the community. 

Just before COVID hit, there was a shift towards machine learning topics. I think this shift mirrored the industry’s growing interest in machine learning applications. There are more speakers keen to give machine learning-related talks. The audience also grew, and we saw more people joining our meetups who were new to R but eager to learn about machine learning.

Within our group, we see members from diverse backgrounds. For example, small financial institutions use R to optimize interest rates through bank APIs, professionals in biomedicine doing statistics, health insurance exploring spatial analysis, and experts in real estate using R for house price prediction.

Overall, it’s a pleasant mix of academia and applied industry. Companies using machine learning are considering R for industry applications.

You have a Meetup on Spatial Data Science with R: {sf}, {stars}, and other packages. Can you share more on the topic covered? Why this topic? 

I’m particularly excited about our upcoming meetup on Spatial Data Science with R. I’ve been advocating for this topic. We’re fortunate to have Edzer Pebesma, a prominent developer and maintainer of various R packages for spatial analysis. He’ll deliver a talk at the end of September, covering material from his latest book, “Spatial Data Science using R,” and the latest advancements in the field. And, of course, leveraging the packages he has developed over the years.

Any tips you would like to share with other R Users Group Organizers that can be helpful for hosting successful events?   

I can share a few insights from my experience as a RUG organizer. When I joined as a participant, our meetups were hosted at a company-sponsored venue with a dedicated room accommodating up to 50 people. They also generously provided drinks and snacks for the participants. 

After joining the organizing committee, I learned about the company’s flexibility and willingness to accommodate our event requests. We were somewhat reactive,  with potential speakers approaching us with proposed dates, and we coordinated with the company to find a suitable date. I would negotiate with the speaker to ensure the talks were concise, with enough time for discussion. 

Fortunately, the company managed the event logistics, including venue and refreshments, so my role was minimal. However, they stepped down as sponsors last year after COVID-19, and we are actively seeking new sponsors. This has been particularly difficult due to our busy schedules. So, I would recommend organizers be more proactive in reaching out to sponsors and not rely on only one sponsor.

Additionally, I would like to take this opportunity to reach out to any companies in Berlin who can offer us space to host our events. 

Would you like to add anything else for the readers?

In the past 5 years, engaging with several global organizations and multinational corporations, I realized that many organizations outside the research, software development, e-commerce, or marketing domains also rely heavily on data-driven solutions.  However, ‌I see a lack of awareness among organizations about the true potential of R. Many people are surprised to know that R can be used for domains beyond statistics when I talk about my work with R. Many global organizations still rely on manual work using Excel, which is much prone to errors. They are unaware of R’s capabilities and recent developments. I wish more people knew about the user-friendly functionalities of Tidyverse, Posit Connect, and other tools available in R.