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In-Person Shiny in Production Conference Hosted by North East Data Science Group in Newcastle, UK

By December 19, 2023Blog

The North East Data Scientists group hosts the annual Shiny in Production Conference. Colin Gillespie shared the details of the event, how it’s grown in its second year, and how planning is proceeding for next year. We talked with Colin a year and a half ago. We wanted to find out about recent activities with the North East Data Science group and ask about the Shiny in Production Conference. Colin also talked about R’s prevailing use in academia and Newcastle’s industry.

Colin holds a PhD in statistics from the University of Strathclyde. He is a senior lecturer at Newcastle University and also CTO of Jumping Rivers. He is the author of the book “Efficient R Programming” published by O’Reilly Media.

Please share about your background and involvement with the RUGS group.

I’m Colin Gillespie, and I’ve been using R for a long time. I started using it in 1999-2000 during my PhD, so I’ve used it for about 23-24 years. After my PhD, I did the usual academic career stuff. Then, in 2016, I co-founded Jumping Rivers, which does R consultancy.

In terms of events, we established the R user group in 2015 or 2016. However, the R user group lasted a few years before we rebranded to North East Data Science, which now covers a mixture of R and other data science topics. Sometimes, the topics are more specific to R, while at other times, they are more general. The benefit of changing the name was that five times more people attended the event. We went from 10 people to perhaps 30 or 40 – a significant increase. These events have been running continuously since 2016. We had a meetup two months ago, and another one is scheduled for January.

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

Newcastle is a city in the northeast of England. The city has three universities with strong academic involvement in R. All three universities use R for undergraduate teaching. They also use it extensively for postgraduate teaching. In terms of businesses, several government agencies and banks are located in the city, and these organizations also use R. In addition, a few other companies in the city have adopted R.

You hosted the Shiny in Production Conference in October 2023. Why focus on Shiny? 

Shiny in Production, 2023 Speakers

The motivation behind starting this conference was that no in-person Shiny conference was being run. There are more generic R and Posit Conferences that are hosted every year. We do a lot of Shiny and did not see an in-person conference with tutorials and talks. 

It’s the second time we have hosted this conference. We held it last year in October and held it again this year on the 12th and 13th of October. We have also set dates for Shiny in Production 2024, which will also be in October.

This year, we had a variety of speakers. We had three tutorials: one on Python and Shiny, another on React for Shiny apps, and another on testing Shiny apps. The following day, we had a TOPS, a combination of invited and submitted abstracts. We had over 100 people attend, and they represented a variety of industries, including pharma, banking, insurance, tech startups, academia, and marketing companies.

The talks are recorded, and the recordings are available on YouTube but take a little while before being released. We spend substantial time editing videos and adding subtitles to ensure they are fully accessible. The process takes several weeks to complete.

What trends do you currently see in R language and your industry? Any trends you see developing in the near future?

For many attendees at the conference, the focus was on improving an existing application. These data scientists had learned a little bit about Shiny and were able to create something quite nice quickly. However, a point is reached where they need to take it to the next level – for example, ensuring that the app deploys consistently and has tests. 

One area that we have been working with several companies on is making Shiny apps accessible. This involves adhering to the WCAG 2.1 guidelines, which are guidelines that help to ensure accessibility. For example, the guidelines address whether a screen reader can navigate the app and whether keyboard shortcuts can be used. So, are the colors sensible, and do they have sufficient contrast?

How do I Join?

R Consortium’s R User Group and Small Conference Support Program (RUGS) provides grants to help R groups organize, share information, and support each other worldwide. 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 accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute.