Codefest to focus on collaboration and results

Here’s a concept: a conference where people get real work done.

I’m not attempting to be snarky or to criticize the many worthwhile conferences offered to professionals every year; I’m simply paraphrasing a statement on the Open Science Codefest website. OSCodefest will bring together scientists and programmers involved in developing scientific software who think their work could benefit from collaboration with other researchers, software engineers and developers.

The conference will be held Sept. 2 – 4 in Santa Barbara, CA, and is sponsored by the Institute for Sustainable Earth and Environmental Software (ISEES) at UC Santa Barbara’s National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) with support from the Water Science Software Institute (WSSI) project led by RENCI. Both ISEES and WSSI are early-stage efforts to create institutes to sustain scientific software, funded by the National Science Foundation. The conference planners, including conference co-chair Chris Lenhardt, RENCI’s expert on environmental data science and systems, plan to build on their experience conducting hackathons, where programmers and scientists sit down face-to-face for several days and leave with a product: better software capable of making the process of scientific discovery less tedious and more productive.

This hands-on, unconference-style gathering is a chance to turn ideas into tangible results in real time. It draws on successful open source development models used in business and elsewhere, where developers are constantly taking input from the user community, refining and improving code, and introducing new versions that incorporate that feedback.

In addition to Lenhardt, RENCI’s presence will include the HydroShare team, led by Ray Idaszak, director of collaborative environments. HydroShare is an NSF-funded web-based system being developed to enable easy sharing of hydrologic data and models. When completed, HydroShare will allow scientists to retrieve data and models to their desktops, use grid and cloud-based computing resources from their desktops, and publish their research results (including raw data) to the system.

Among the Codefest activities, developers and scientists will focus on improving one of the key HydroShare software resources, the Regional Hydro-Ecologic Simulation System (RHESSys), a modeling framework that simulates carbon, water and nutrient fluxes. Co-developed by Larry Band, a Hydroshare co-PI and director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Institute for the Environment, RHESSys seeks to understand the behavior of water at the watershed level and its impact on humans and natural and built environments.

Improving RHESSys during a three-day conference certainly qualifies as getting real work done—work that could have much broader impacts. So, roll up your sleeves Codefest participants, and good luck. This will not be your typical conference.

-Karen Green