The R Consortium recently reached out to Abbie Brookes, Senior Analyst and AI Consultant at Datacove, co-founder and organizer of the Manchester R User Group. During the conversation, Abbie discussed her active participation in the R community and the rapid growth of the community in different parts of the United Kingdom, particularly in Manchester, London, Brighton, and Bristol.
Zac Nash, the other co-founder of Manchester R and a Data Scientist, began his career as a PhD Researcher in Computer Science at Bangor University and in 2022, publishing his research paper ‘Tracking the Fine Scale Movements of Fish using Autonomous Maritime Robotics: A Systematic State of the Art Review’ (Nash et al 2021, viewable here: Tracking the fine scale movements of fish using autonomous maritime robotics: A systematic state of the art review – ScienceDirect) Zac started a job as a Data Scientist at Datacove in 2022, developing machine learning and AI products for many different clients. Zac still actively attends and engages in the Manchester R community, and now works as a Senior Data Engineer at Fresh Egg – a digital marketing consultancy in Worthing, West Sussex. Here he continues to develop new skills within the data space and participate in the R and Python communities, at his home in Manchester and near his work in West Sussex.
Please share your background and involvement with the RUGS group
Abbie Brookes, co-founder and organizer of the Manchester R User Group
I started working for Datacove in the summer of 2022. Datacove is a Data and Analytics Consultancy Team. They work across multiple sectors, specializing in customer and marketing analytics, reporting and visualization techniques, web analytics, R and Python training, and much more! Our company director, Jeremy Horne, who is well-known in the Brighton R community on the south coast, has been deeply involved in the R scene since late 2005. His journey began in London, where he made many friends and connections, inspiring him to create Brighton R.
When I joined Datacove, I took on the role of co-organizing Brighton R. We operated as a remote company with team members on the south coast and the north of the UK. My ex-colleague Zac, who is based in Manchester, pointed out the lack of significant tech communities and idea-sharing groups. Inspired by our success in Brighton, we established a similar initiative in Manchester. Despite the challenge of the long commute, Zac and I worked together to rejuvenate the R scene in Manchester, starting with our first major event in June 2023, followed by another one in October. Our expansion from Brighton to Manchester highlights the growth and impact of our community-driven R initiatives.
Can you share what the R community is like in Manchester, United Kingdom?
The Manchester R User Group was considered our largest R community until London R! We consistently attract a lot of attendees, more so than our other groups. It’s an incredibly lively and passionate group, and the level of engagement is just fantastic.
What I find particularly rewarding about the Manchester group is its inclusivity. We see diverse individuals from various backgrounds and minorities in the data field. This diversity is important to me, especially as a woman in a STEM field. Women in tech or data fields are often in the minority, and it’s refreshing to see a different dynamic in Manchester.
Our attendees range from complete beginners who have never engaged with R before to seasoned professionals in the field since the early 2000s. It’s this mix of experience levels that makes our meetups so enriching.
We’ve also been fortunate to receive strong support from local companies. A tech recruitment firm, Better Placed, sponsored our last event in October and is sponsoring our next one in March. They provide an amazing venue with a stunning bar adorned with palm trees, serving champagne, craft beers, and cocktails, plus the usual pizzas and chips because everyone loves that at a meetup.
After our events, we often take the group to a pub, adding to the experience as a community. Manchester’s nightlife is vibrant, with many young professionals and great bars. Our last meetup even had impromptu dancers at the bar, making it a unique and quirky experience. It’s a fun and unusual meetup, but that’s what makes it so memorable and enjoyable.
You have a Meetup on Manchester R Meetup in March 2024. Can you share more on the topic covered? Why this topic?
Our next event is scheduled for the 14th of March 2024 (Manchester R Meetup! March 2024). Unfortunately, I can’t share much information about the speakers yet, you’ll just have to join the group to find out! We typically announce the speakers about one to two months before the event, but I assure you, we have a great lineup planned. We’ve hosted many interesting talks in the past.
For instance, we had a fascinating geospatial talk at our last event in October. We’ve also had presentations from people within our company, including our director. Additionally, we’ve had speakers from Posit and various maintainers of R packages. One notable talk was about the ‘Arrow’ package, which was fantastic.
So, for now, we’ll just have to wait and see. We will inform the R Consortium when everything is confirmed and ready to be announced.
Who is the target audience for attending this event?
Our target audience is incredibly broad and inclusive. To join our events, all you need is an interest in data and a desire to enjoy time with others who share similar passions. We welcome absolutely anyone, regardless of their career stage or academic background. Whether you’re a complete novice in the field or possess extensive knowledge, our events are designed to cater to all levels.
We carefully curate our talks to ensure they’re enjoyable and accessible, regardless of the attendees’ expertise. We provide introductory talks for beginners, and for those with more experience, we offer content that delves into deeper expertise. Even in our more advanced talks, we include steps on getting involved and starting, ensuring nobody feels left out.
An essential part of our events is the interactive aspect. There’s always an opportunity to ask questions; we often share example code. This approach ensures that everyone, no matter their knowledge level, feels welcomed and can benefit from our events. We’re dedicated to creating an inclusive environment where everyone can learn, share, and grow.
Any techniques you recommend using for planning for or during the event? (Github, zoom, other) Can these techniques be used to make your group more inclusive to people that are unable to attend physical events in the future?
Of course, I’d happily explain how we accommodate those who can’t attend our events in person. Firstly, we always ensure that our event venues are disability-friendly and accessible. However, we have alternatives for those who prefer not to attend in person.
For our Brighton events, which have been running for over three years, we livestream them on YouTube every time. This allows anyone, regardless of location or ability to attend physically, to participate in our events. We’re planning to implement the same for our Manchester events soon. It’s still in its early stages, so we haven’t set up live streaming yet, but it’s definitely on our agenda. The only challenge is ensuring we have the right technical equipment to provide a high-quality streaming experience.
Additionally, we accommodate speakers who can’t be present physically. Often, speakers join us via Zoom, and we broadcast their presentations to the attendees in the room. We understand that not all speakers are able or willing to come in person, but we still want to include their valuable insights. A good talk can be delivered over Zoom, and we believe in leveraging technology to make our events as inclusive and engaging as possible, regardless of physical presence.
Please share any additional details you would like included in the blog.
The most interesting thing happening right now is the expansion of our meetup groups. As I’ve mentioned, it’s becoming complex because we’re growing rapidly. We started with Brighton R, which has been running for over three years. From there, we expanded to Manchester R, which has been active for about half a year.
Our director loves the R community; therefore, we take pride in organizing Brighton R, Brighton Py, and Manchester R – with our new ‘Shiny’ editions of London R and Bristol R to come soon, hopefully! Plus, keep your eyes peeled for some huge announcements coming soon. I can’t reveal it just yet. It’s scheduled for next year, and I can barely contain my excitement about it. Our expansion has a lot of momentum, and seeing our community grow is incredibly exciting.
We would like to get to know you more on the personal side. Can you please tell me about yourself? For example, hobbies/interests or anything you want to share about yourself.
My hobbies and interests initially leaned more towards academia, which is surprising to most people, considering I’m now a senior data analyst. I pursued a psychology degree, primarily fascinated by its research, statistics, and coding aspects. This interest led me to conduct a significant research project during my degree, coincidentally during the pandemic. This timing posed challenges, as all my lectures were online and difficult to navigate.
My research project focused on at-home interventions for managing anxiety related to the COVID-19 pandemic. I used the programming language R extensively for this project. Interestingly, during this project, I realized my preference for data and coding over psychology. As a result, I transitioned into the data field, leaving most of the psychology aspects behind.
My path to data science has been unconventional. Unlike many who may go directly from a mathematics or computer science degree into data, I took a unique and somewhat unexpected route from psychology to data science. It’s an odd path, but I’ve embraced it.
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 meetup.com accounts are awarded based on the intended use of the funds and the amount of money available to distribute.