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Code/Astro workshop brings together programmers from around the world

From July 10 to July 14, 2023 49 in-person and 38 remote participants from around the world attended the 4th annual Code/Astro workshop, a week-long astronomy software development program that teaches fundamental software engineering skills and best practices for building sustainable open-source packages for astronomy applications. Organized by CIERA Professor Jason Wang and incoming CIERA Postdoctoral Fellow Sarah Blunt, Code/Astro provided participants with hands-on software engineering experience, culminating in the development of a small Python package from scratch.

Participants of the 2023 Code/Astro workshop pose in rows in the CIERA Sky Lounge. Organizers Jason Wang and Sarah Blunt make "C" and "A" symbols with their hands in front of the group. Zoom participants are superimposed above the in-person attendees.

“Code/Astro was one of the best workshops I have ever attended and definitely the most useful one,” said Gemma Gonzalez-Tora, Code/Astro participant and PhD researcher at European Southern Observatory in Germany. “Creating our own pip-installable package was something I would have never imagined capable of achieving, but Code/Astro made it possible! I think everyone that codes in Python should attend to this workshop.”

Each day of the workshop, participants gathered for synchronous instruction in the morning and broke out into working groups during the afternoon. Just after lunch, organizers also offered optional lessons for those seeking more in-depth guidance. In addition, 12 Teaching Assistants, many of which participated in earlier Code/Astro workshops themselves, provided further instruction to remote and in-person attendees.

“Code/Astro this year was fantastic! My favorite part of TAing was watching the project groups come together across the week,” shared Rae Holcomb, graduate student at the University of California, Irvine. “We have so many students from all over the world, different skill levels, and different astronomy interests, and yet across just a few days you can see people form friendships, gain confidence in their coding abilities, and making something cool together!”

The Code/Astro workshop is free, open to all career levels, and motivated by the growing usage of open-source software in astronomical research. “Code/Astro has always been one of the highlights of my year. We rely on open-source software so much in astronomy research, and there’s always been a clear lack of formal education in software development for astronomers, so that’s what inspired us to start Code/Astro”, explained Professor Jason Wang. “The enthusiasm and demand for the workshop shows a clear need for it in the field, and all the positive feedback we receive motivates us to keep organizing it each year. This year, I was blown away by the phenomenal python packages that participants were able to develop in the span of just 4 days ranging from neutron star equations of state to finding objects to observe at public observing nights to automating rides to the airport.”

Code/Astro is made possible thanks to support by the Heising-Simons Foundation.