Recapping the 1st BExIS User and Developer Conference 09/10 July 2015

 

Two weeks ago our 1st BExIS User and Developer Conference took place here in Jena, so it’s time to recap and note down a few thoughts.

 

As the name indicates, it was the first ever meeting of all BExIS 1 and BExIS 2 users and developers. We have been absolutely delighted that almost all projects running one of the two versions of BExIS were present with at least one person. Most of them even contributed to the discussion by having a presentation. In conjunction with the keynote talks by Lyubomir Penev and Ulrich Schwardmann we were able to offer a compelling program that attracted a total of 40 people, some even beyond the actual BExIS community. In the sessions we had a diversity of talks covering both, BExIS 1 and BExIS 2 platforms. Among the talks were reports on user experiences and usability, best practices, requests for improvement, technical solutions, and discussions on state of the art data management issues.

 

On the second day we had 2 tutorials and 2 hackathons. Especially the hackathon to link BExIS 2 with the R statistical package was very productive. The participants came up with a prototype to access data stored in BExIS 2 directly from R. The second hackathon was more conceptual and resulted in clearer picture how BExIS will handle geospatial data.

 

If you are interested in more details, the full program including abstracts, presentations, and further material is available at the conference website.

 

Looking at the list of attendees and affiliations one immediately recognizes the interdisciplinary nature of the current BExIS community, with people coming from biology, ecology, computer sciences, and geosciences. Not surprisingly, also their roles are diverse including data managers, researchers, software developers, project managers, and potential users. From a geographical perspective the community is still very much centered in Germany with two major hubs in Jena and Göttingen. Of course, this is for historical reasons, but that is something we would like to change over the next couple of years. A growing community that is well established and internationally recognized will certainly foster the sustainable development of the BExIS platform.

 

Given the positive feedback we received from many attendees it seems we are on the right track with this event. However there is always room for improvement. Overall it appeared that the “dev” part of the conference title was more appealing than the “user” part. For example, the End User Tutorial had attracted only a few people. For next year’s conference I see two ways to address this, either we shift the scope and focus on data managers and developers only (perhaps have a separate End User event), or we try to alter the program and format to engage more end users and scientist from related disciplines. I personally prefer the second option, but that’s something we need to evaluate and discuss.

 

Finally, it’s time to say thank you to those people, who made this conference possible and turned it into a success. First of all I would like to express my gratitude to DFG for providing the funding and having a dedicated funding scheme for such events. A word of thanks goes to all contributors who submitted abstracts and gave excellent presentations. A special thanks goes to Isabella and Annett for organizing the catering and their continuous support throughout the conference. Having our own conference website would not have been possible without the help of Sirko and Dorotheé, many thanks for that. Last but not least it’s time to say thanks to the University of Jena, especially the International Office, for hosting us in the beautiful “Haus auf der Mauer” and being extremely flexible and supportive.