Highlights from the useR! 2018 conference in Brisbane

The fourteenth annual worldwide R user conference, useR!2018, was held last week in Brisbane, Australia and it was an outstanding success. The conference attracted around 600 users from around the world and — as the first held in the Southern hemisphere — brought many first-time conference-goers to useR!. (There were also a number of beginning R users as well, judging from the attendance at the beginner’s tutorial hosted by R-Ladies.) The program included 19 3-hour workshops, 6 keynote presentations, and more than 200 contributed talks, lightning talks and posters on using, extending, and deploying R.

If you weren’t able to make it to Brisbane, you can nonetheless relive the experience thanks to the recorded videos. Almost all of the tutorials, keynotes and talks are available to view for free, courtesy of the R Consortium. (A few remain to be posted, so keep an eye on the channel.) Here are a few of my personal highlights, based on talks I saw in Brisbane or have managed to catch online since then.

Keynote talks

Steph de Silva, Beyond Syntax: on the power and potentiality of deep open source communities. A moving look at how open source communities, and especially R, grow and evolve.

Bill Venables, Adventures with R. It was wonderful to see the story and details behind an elegantly designed experiment investigating spoken language, and this example was used to great effect to contrast the definitions of “Statistics” and “Data Science”. Bill also includes the best piece advice to give anyone joining a specialized group: “Everyone here is smart; distinguish yourself by being kind”.

Kelly O’Brian’s short history of RStudio was an interesting look at the impact of RStudio (the IDE and the company) on the R ecosystem.   

Thomas Lin Pedersen, The Grammar of Graphics. A really thought-provoking talk about the place of animations in the sphere of data visualization, and an introduction to the gganimate package which extends ggplot2 in a really elegant and powerful way.

Danielle Navarro, R for Pysychological Science. A great case study in introducing statistical programming to social scientists.

Roger Peng, Teaching R to New Users. A fascinating history of the R project, and how changes in the user community have been reflected in changes in programming frameworks. The companion essay summarizes the talk clearly and concisely.

Jenny Bryan, Code Smells and Feels. This was an amazing talk with practical recommendations for better R coding practices. The slides are available to view online.

Contributed talks

Bryan Galvin, Moving from Prototype to Production in R, a look inside the machine learning infrastructure at Netflix. Who says R doesn’t scale?

Peter Dalgaard, What’s in a Name? The secrets of the R build and release process, and the story behind their codenames.

Martin Maechler, Helping R to be (even more) Accurate. On R’s near-obsessive attention to the details of computational accuracy.

Rob Hyndman, Tidy Forecasting in R. The next generation of time series forecasting methods in R. 

Nicholas Tierney, Maxcovr: Find the best locations for facilities using the maximal covering location problem. Giftastic!

David Smith Speeding up computations in R with parallel programming in the cloud. My talk on the doAzureParallel package.

David Smith, The Voice of the R Community. My talk for the R Consortium with the results of their community survey.

In addition, several of my colleagues from Microsoft were in attendance (Microsoft was a proud Platinum sponsor of useR!2018) and delivered talks of their own:

Hong Ooi, SAR: a practical, rating-free hybrid recommender for large data

Angus Taylor, Deep Learning at Scale with Azure Batch AI

Miguel Fierro, Spark on Demand with AZTK

Fang Zhou, Jumpstart Machine Learning with Pre-Trained Models

Le Zhang, Build scalable Shiny applications for employee attrition prediction on Azure cloud

Looking back, looking ahead

Overall, I thought useR!2018 was a wonderful conference. Great talks, friendly people, and impeccably organized. Kudos to all of the organizing committee, and particularly Di Cook, for putting together such a fantastic event. Next year’s conference will be held in Toulouse, France and already has a great set of keynote speakers announced. But in the meantime, you can catch up on the talks from useR!2018 at the R Consortium YouTube channel linked below.

YouTube: R Consortium