DevTech Attends the 2023 Posit Conference

Posit graphic with photo Chicago sky rises and river

At DevTech, we are committed to staying at the cutting edge of analytical technology and professional development. Recently, two of our senior staff members had the opportunity to attend the 2023 Posit Conference, and we’re excited to share what they learned.

The 2023 Posit Conference, held in Chicago from September 17th to 20th, brought together experts, professionals, and data enthusiasts from various industries to discuss the latest trends, best practices, and innovations in the popular programming languages and tools Posit, R, and Python. Our team members were sent to attend carefully selected full-day workshops that would apply directly to the daily work undertaken by our USAID Data Services’ Research, Analytics, and Visualization (RAV) team. A summary of the workshops and key takeaways for our work are included below.

  1. Advanced Quarto: This workshop focused on applications using Quarto, Posit’s successor to Rmarkdown for creating multi-format publications, including dynamic and static documents, books, presentations, blogs, and websites. The instructor led the class through the second day of the Quarto workshops to cover advanced applications for rendering multiple documents at once, how to use extensions to automate updates to content, and tips for creating advanced interactive and styled slideshows. DevTech is now exploring options for incorporating Quarto into some of our existing products and creating new ones to enhance the client experience.
  2. Fundamentals of Package Development: This session walked participants through the process of creating a from scratch a package (a group of related custom R functions) using devtools and usethis packages. It covered such topics as documentation, testing, creating custom error messages, and finally publishing to a shared code repository, such as Github. By the end of the day, students had created a simple package called libminer to explore local file systems. Along the way, the instructor introduced new programming techniques, interesting packages, and provided insights related to the process of submitting packages to the Comprehensive R Archive Network (CRAN) for public use and maintaining them. The Data Services team that runs USAID’s IDEA platform already has some ideas about creating custom packages for internal use that can help streamline workflows and reduce time for finalizing deliverables.
  3. Package Development Masterclass: This workshop focused on how to elevate existing packages to meet industry best practices with specific emphasis on advanced function writing, package update workflow, and unit testing. These lessons will be applied to improve the existing USAID COVID Tools package, a private R package developed by the USAID Data Services team to responsibly automate COVID-related data processing, and enhance the future development of team wide packages to increase programming efficiency.
  4. R User to R Programmer: This session focused on function writing and iteration, supporting participants to build core skills related to reducing code duplication. Lessons from this workshop are directly applicable to the majority of code that we write. The interactive examples and workshop materials will be used to disseminate knowledge across the RAV unit R user group through our R working group sessions.

Beyond the workshops, there were numerous networking opportunities facilitated through the conference instant messaging Discord government and public sector group, where our team was able to discuss solutions and ideas to overcome common shared problems in our work. Issues discussed included open source software, artificial intelligence, machine learning, useful obscure R packages, hosting Shiny dashboards, and more!

Overall, our team came back with new ideas, new energy, and plenty of resources to share. Looking forward to next year!

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