Coding problems? Just pop over!

Launch of code walk-in consultations at TU Delft

Authors: Nicolas Dintzner, Kees den Heijer, Marta Teperek

On Wednesday 24th of January, the data stewards at TU Delft organised the first (might  be re-named in the future) “code walk-in consultation” hosted at the Faculty of Civil Engineering.  

The main objective of this event was to provide support to researchers facing software and/or data processing related issues.  To this end, we gathered data stewards (Esther, Kees, Nicolas) and data champions (Joseph Weston, Victor Koppejan) and got ready for… whatever software issue troubled people on that day!

Several people turned up ranging from MSc students to a full professor (Mark van Koningsveld, one of our data champions). The participants came in with rather interesting and diverse problems. From data plots in Python, to Fortran compiler behavior, we had our hands full for a little while! Code was reviewed, some of it was compiled (more than once), tests were run and some participants saw their problems being solved on the spot, while others only got some ideas for resolutions.

Everything happened in a relaxed atmosphere. People came in and where greeted by a member of the team. They described their issue(s) and based on this, we decided who among the stewards and champions had the most experience in that domain or was the most likely to be able to help. Then, we opened the laptop of the problem-giver and started hacking away.

Here are a few take-away points from this first session:

  • Bring-your-laptop is a great practice: having working code to play with is really valuable to get started quickly and get to the core problem
  • An external point of view is always useful: we did not manage to solve all issues, but at least, we provided some insights on what could be the possible causes and a course of action to move forward.
  • Minimum working examples are welcome: having a small size example of the issue at hand (when relevant) is quite useful to get to the core of the problem quickly. While not necessary for walk-in sessions (we’ll help you with what you have!), such test cases are useful when the error scenario involves remote code execution, or complex setups.

From a pure data stewardship perspective, such sessions are quite valuable as well. We get to see what researchers work on, what  tools are used and what kind of issues that brings. For instance, we had no idea that people were still working with Fortran 77 code.

So far, we received little feedback, but the little we have is quite encouraging:

Thank you! That is very helpful to see. I also really appreciated all your help this morning at the coding consultation.

So, we’ll keep organizing those code walk-ins, but most likely with a cooler name.  We will start to do so on a monthly basis.

In the meantime be aware that you can get in touch with your faculty data steward at any time for a bit of help regarding your software/data issues!

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