Why did I join RStudio (now Posit)?

June 1, 2024 by Michael Chow

Travel back to 2021, and I find myself doing two things:

I didn’t plan to do either of those things: the van a result of getting cagey in a Philly apartment, rstudio::conf() a funky place to talk about python packages at the time.

After the conference, I ended up working as a consultant building out a data warehousing team for the California Department of Transportation1. But I think the experience of rstudio::conf() loomed large. After a year scaling to a 9 person team, I turned down a promotion to Director of Data Science, in order to focus back on my passion: open source tools for data analysis.

Open source tools are a neat area of work. Getting the design right means that a lot of people experience a multiplier in productivity. Getting the design wrong often means longlasting bizarreness. As a cognitive psychologist, I’m fascinated by the ways in which tools affect how people think and talk about data work.

Moreover, I think RStudio is a special place for open source2. Of course, you don’t have to work at a place to collaborate with folks there. But from the outside you’re stuck with only the most obvious collaborations. For example, nowhere near my radar when joining was working with Rich Iannone on Great Tables. It’s worth it just to meet folks and hear their big freaky dreams.

  1. See what I learned in my Coalesce conf talk; or what we worked on in Hunter Owen’s posit::conf talk ↩︎

  2. Consider Hadley Wickham’s focus on making data analysis easier, faster, and more fun, Jenny Bryan’s low-tech common sense about the design of file names, or Julia Silge’s weekly modelling code-alongs. There’s a lot of engineering groups building open source, but RStudio seems to excel at thoughtful, empathetic, human-centered design. ↩︎

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