Author: Reshama Shaikh
We speak with Yanina Belline Saibene about her experience in communities.
About Yanina Belline Saibene
Yanina Bellini Saibene is the rOpenSci Community Manager and R-Ladies project lead + Leadership Team. She teaches coding skill since 1993. She co-founded MetaDocencia and LatinR and is a member of The Carpentries Executive Council. She is also a member of the R Consortium Infrastructure Steering Committee, MiR, Open Heroines and Sociedad Argentina de Informática (SADIO). She is Topic Editor at Journal of Open Source Education and Scientific Committe Electronic Journal of SADIO. She teach at UNAB, Autral, UCES, and UDE Universities.
She leads the multilingual project at rOpenSci and is co-editor of the translation of Teaching Tech Together. She volunteers to bring R4DS, The Carpentries lessons, R-Ladies material, and Posit Cheatsheets to Spanish-speaking audience. She also enjoys organizing event and conferences and talk about her many projects.
Hey, Shani. Actually, first if you want to say your name is spelled Y-A-N-I-N-A. Do you want to say how it’s pronounced?
Yeah, sure. My name you can say Shanina how I will say my name, but it’s okay if you also say Yanina.
Great! So trying to – let’s talk a little bit about how we met. How did we first meet?
I think it was because Code for Science and Society, we both got a grant from them and we share some of their meetings as grantees. And yeah, we chat there and we have the opportunity to know each other and then we just continue having meetings and catch up and sharing resources. So yes was in Code for Science and Society.
That’s true. And now I remember in June of 2021, Data Umbrella organized the Latin America scikit-learn Sprint and I had reached out to you to help spread the word and ideas on how to connect with the Latin America community. So you were very helpful with that. Thank you.
So hang on. Okay, so to start, do you want to share what communities that you are a part of?
Okay, well, most of my involvement in international communities come from the R community, from the R world, the programming languages, and I start being part of R-Ladies as a very important community for me. And then I create some community in Latin America. For example, LatinR, which starts as a conference, but we believe that it’s a community. And then I also participate at rOpenSci, and now I’m the community manager of rOpenSci. And I have been part of other different groups related with R, like Minorities in R, RForwards and the people who organize other conference like UseR.
So yeah, a lot of are in my life in the community aspect. And then more locally, I’m part of several community related with research and research software development. So some of them are professional association and other are also group of people who get together to do interesting things or things that we enjoy together here in Argentina. I’m based in Argentina in South America.
And you’re also part of the Carpentries as well, right?
Yes, of course I’m part of the Carpentry. More related with education and also yes, computational skills. I start as an instructor like we all do. Then I become a trainer and now I’m part of the executive council. And yes, I mostly teach in Spanish workshops and instructor trainers. So I try to teach people how to teach so they can do that also in Latin America in their native language.
Right. Yeah. Teaching people how to teach has such a compounding impact, right?
Yes. And the material that Carpentry have is so practical. It is based in evidence, but you can see an immediate impact in the way you teach. You can see the improvement. So it’s really nice when you have this science translate to action. And I think that carpentries do that very well.
Yeah. So how did you first become when and how did you first become involved in the R community?
Was in 2017, I remember that because that same years I create Santa Rosa R-Ladies chapter here in my city. But the theme was through Twitter, actually. And I say we kind of sad because of what’s happening in that network. I leave Twitter some weeks ago, definitely, I mean, I stopped interacting several months ago and I just don’t log in anymore. But I was checking my timeline and I see a blog post from a person from Uruguay, Daniela Vasquez, and she talked about R-Ladies and how she get involved doing translations, how she co found Buenos Aires, R-Ladies chapter, the capital in my country. So I start follow her and I start to pay attention. And at some point, Buenos Aires has their first event. And I asked for the material of that event and they answered me, saying, here is the material. Do you want to create a chapter in your city? And I say yes. And that is how everything starts. So yeah, was amazing.
Yeah, it’s worth accentuating that. A lot of people were connected through Twitter. Social media has had such a profound impact on it. By the way, I have an invite to Blue Sky if you would like it. So let me know.
All right, I’ll send it to you after this webinar, it’s really been instrumental in connecting people in the tech community. Why did you get involved in the community and how is it important to you?
Yeah, for me, I was a researcher for 24 years and in the institution that I work, what we call transfer and extension of science is a very important aspect. So we really value to bring the science we do to the people who will use it. And also the beneficiary of our research are part of our decision table. They are sitting the board of director at national, regional and local level. So we have this integration with the people who will use what we do. And also, I’m a person who come from a humble home and I was able to get a university education because we have free and public education. So teach to other people computing skills. That is my degree. And the things that I do was a way to give back and was a way to people use what I was developing as a researcher. So I come from the computer science world and I build platform software and data products. So for me, it was important that that is useful, that really has a goal and a practicing use for the people in my city, in migration, in my country. And I found that community has a huge impact in that way. You can offer for free skills and knowledge and information firsthand an opportunity to your local community. So I think that it changed my life personally and I think that provide a lot of opportunity for a lot of people sometimes when you are in the global soul as I am and at that point in 2017 I didn’t speak English. So the way that you can access information, opportunities, collaborations are scars because you have a lot of barriers and the art community through R-Ladies at the beginning give me that. Give me a safe space to make mistake with my language. A safe space for made silly and I go to use this sign that is silly questions. Like they are not silly questions but sometimes you feel like oh my God, this is so basic. Should I be asking this? And have a safe space where you know that if you do this basic question, someone will answer you very happy to help you about that. And not only in things related with the language, but also about cultural things, about opportunities, about information, how I write a good grant, how I apply for a scholarship, how should I communicate this aspect of my life to the international community? So there are a lot of aspect, not only the computational skills. And because of this community, I reach several others. So I start to be aware about developments, about, for example, these teaching practices from Carpentries. And you start to have a more wide world, a more big world that you can be part. And then you start to realize that you can be as good at anyone there. So you can be part and you can contribute with useful contributions. I mean, you can be part of that. And sometimes that is not so clear for some of us. So yeah, I found in community a way to have a huge impact and sometimes a faster impact that you have in other kind of activity.
How would you define community?
For me it’s a group of people who enjoy doing something and they get together to help each other to learn and to enjoy about that something they enjoy. And for me it’s very important the group aspect like a place where you feel okay, you feel part. For me belonging is important and that you feel important, you feel that people cares about you and you grow and as a professional, as impersonal aspect yes, a place where you can go not only to learn but to share and that you feel okay and you feel part of.
That’s a great definition. So you belong to a lot of different communities. We can focus on the R community here. How do you contribute to the R (Rstats) community?
Some examples yeah, my first contribution was to organize a chapter here so the people who wants to learn or share things about art can get together and share what they know. So here we organize meetings, sometimes we have only one meetings in the month and sometimes we have severals. For example, when we do workshops, that usually is four or five weekly meetings where we go through basic stuff or more advanced stuff, depending on the person who are going to deliver the workshop. Then the other things I want one of the co-founders of Latina the conference. So we create a conference about art here in Latin America. It is a trilingual event. So we speak Spanish, Portuguese and English. Because are the main language in Latin. America. So I have been organizing being chair of the conference since the beginning. We are in the 6th year running this and this year is going to be in Uruguay in Montevideo. We go back to in person meeting. So that is another contribution then as community manager of Aropenci, I run the Champions program. So we also select people from marginalized or historical group. We pair them with a mentor. We also training them how to contribute to open source, how to build packages, how to become a reviewer of software so they can be part of our OpenSci community. And I also do a lot of translations to Spanish, but not only translate material to my native. Language so more people can access. Language is a huge barrier, but I also contribute to create infrastructure to do translation. So for our OpenSci with the team at Mael, Elio, Paola and now Pedro from Brazil, we create a set of packages of workflow and translation guidelines to do our open site translation but for others community to use too. So I have been involved in translate books for how to teach dr. 40s book some data too so that becomes really useful material for teaching and for the groups that are in Latin America. You can have your event using everything in your native language in Spanish, so you don’t have to rely in English material in order to create the event or to do the workshop or to give your students if you are a university professor or someone who teach about these skills. And then if some user group, R-Ladies chapter or our UseR group, or some universities invite me to give a talk, I usually do no charge, so I try to also give back in that way.
You’re involved in so many things. I sometimes wonder if you have extra hours in your days than other people do. Because I see you doing how do you do it?
I will tell you my secret if you allow me two things that help me to do all these things. First, I never do this alone. I’m always lucky enough to be part of amazing teams of people. So it’s not that every single things that I say to you, I’m the only one who made this. So I’m part of team of people who do this effort, and I have the privilege to be one of the member of those teams. And then it’s my family. They know that I love doing this and they help me organizing the time, splitting the task at home. And even my kids, I’m working from home now, even they know my schedules. And today I was working and they were here doing school homework. My family is also a big support to be able to be present in my community when I need it with them, when I also have to do it.
Great. So what are three things that are so important (inaudible 17:15) over and over again?
Can you repeat? I lost a little bit.
Yeah. What are three things that maybe the. Three priorities that keep you back to the community again and again?
The three main things…..?
That keep you coming back to this.
Oh, yes. Well, I think that being part of this team, like-minded people, people that have this goal to improve their reality of their community, and I mean, we have these same goals. I will summarize that we all trying to get a better wall. We want to improve the local and the global community that we live, and to know that we share some values about how we want that world to be is something that bring me coming here. Yes, I want to be part of that. I want to put my beat on improving that world. So I hope that my kids can live in a better world than the one that I have. That is something that I think we can do through community. The other thing is the measurable impact that you have. I mean, as a researcher, I see changes because of the work we do in 24 years. And with community, the impact is in two, three years, you can see how others people’s life change in a positive way. So you can measure those positive changes almost immediately. I mean, you can expect 20 years for a change in society on how we work. And when you see it in a more short time, it’s kind, okay, this is worth it. We can do some of the things faster. And that is good. That is cool. And the other thing is the challenge. I feel a challenge every day to do things that I never thought that I could be able to do. So, I mean, now I’m here speaking with you in English, feeling very comfortable because we know each other too, but you know that I have this I’m not still so confident with this second language because I learned it six, seven years ago. So I’m kind of new to do this. And I never thought that I could be doing this or could be being the community manager of an international, global community as our OpenSci that I’m so glad and so happy to do in that work that challenged me every single day. I have one mentor who teach me this idea of the three payments. So you have a payment that go to your pocket. The money, the one who pays the bills, the one we all need. A payment on your heart. How what you do makes you feel that makes you feel good. Do you think that is useful? That you are improving the life of others? And then the payment in the brain, how challenged this is how much you learn, how much you grow because of the tax you are doing. And I think the community give me the three payments in a very high rate, so I get that.
Yeah that’s great. I think it’s definitely worth extenuating that community work can also we learn a lot of different skills from that. And as well, there’s all these opportunities for leadership skills as well that sometimes aren’t the same opportunities that are available at the work at the current, say, employment position. But the community work can help build those skills as well.
So we talked a bit about all the positive, the fun aspects of community. Let’s talk a little bit about the challenges of community. So what are you observed in community or some sort of problems that are out there that are worth sort of acknowledging and discussing?
Yes, of course we are talking about community are built by people. Yeah the people and the connection between them is what the community is. So as we are persons, we are going to have disagreements, we are going to have different motivations, we are going to have different goals that can become point of challenge, point of how you say, where you disagree and you need to discuss point of disagreement that happens in every single human activity. So community are not lacking that. So we are going to have these issues too. For me one of the biggest one is that this community of practice related with technology and open source relay a lot on volunteer work and when I say volunteer work I mean people do this and don’t get paid money for doing. A lot of us found other kind of payment as I just say we find this useful, fulfilling for us in other aspects but you need to pay the bills. So at some points the amount of time that you can give to the community will change according how your life situation change and it’s not only that perhaps you need to work more because of the money but perhaps you become a mom as happens to me. So then you are not going to have so much time to give to the community. So I think we need to discuss and find ways to try to balance or try to find ways to have more people participating or be able to participate if they want to and to contribute and the volunteer aspect has a lot to do with that. I’m not saying that paying for everything is the solution because I don’t see that can be possible in the short run perhaps we need to think about that in the long run perhaps, for example in this situation that I am today, I will say don’t pay me, allow me to contribute, volunteer for example for R-Ladies, for Carpentries that I don’t get paid for volunteer day because I have another job that allow me to do that. It’s not that what I do for Carpentries, I do in our open site time. Not I do in my free time, but I have that free time because I have this chap that allow me to do this, perhaps to say, okay, allow me to do this volunteer and pay other people who can’t volunteer so we have more diverse voices. The other things that I see is that because of this volunteer aspect and because how the culture of the community are, we tend to burn out some of our members. So we put a lot of expectations and a lot of request over people who do this, because they love it, but they have a family, they have another job, they have other responsibilities, they have a life to take care plus this work in community. So how we take care our members don’t reach the burnout aspect that is something that we need to also discuss on how we function as a technology community. The other thing is the recognition of the contribution and how we value the community that have this open source aspect usually value a lot. Coding contribution and the other type of contribution are kind of second class activities and I’m not saying that it is really hard to compare but organizing a conference is a hell of work and I would like to be so valued as doing a lot of commit to a software and other kind of contribution to we need to rethink how we value and how we recognize those contributions so the people who do that get the credit that they deserve. The other things, all of these are related with my experience and the other thing is how we create sustainable community where the transition of power is smoothly done. That’s also sometimes hard. The founders and the leadership and the core teams and the governance and yeah, sometimes what happened is that the idea was small. And then grow up so fast that you are fighting with the pains of this fast grow and you don’t know how to handle that. And sometimes that burn out the people who start. And I think we should be grateful with the people who start this initiative and this community and take care of them so they don’t burn out I’m going to say this again. They don’t leave the community with a bad feeling when they create something useful and that are impacting a lot of people’s life and that happens in almost all this community that I know that happens at some point so I will really like that. We discuss and talk and create tools to manage the human aspect of community. Not only the tech aspect of community, because you can manage that. And if we have clear rules, we learn how to do that. I’m pretty proud of the process of transition of leadership that we did at R-Ladies. It took a lot of job but I think that we achieved a smooth transition of leadership and power because that is transition of power and when you are talking about power there is always, how you say, it is a difficult thing to do.
Yeah, I mean, transition of powers are very choppy waters because and I totally have seen this over and over where a community starts very small and in a wonderful way it grows. And in the beginning, it’s almost a little too small for a formal governance plan and it has to grow with it. And then at some point, it is difficult for the transition. So you just mentioned that you have successfully done a transition for a very large community. Are there some tips that you would give other communities on how to even maybe it’s just the top few tips or something on what made it a successful transition?
I think that the base was that the old team has the willing of the success of the community. So we are all in the same goal. And if that success mean to do a change in the leadership because in the case of R-Ladies, because of the people who create this and found this was running this for ten years, which is a lot. So at some point they also need to take a break, a pretty well deserved break. But we all have this call of let’s do the best for the community. And the other thing is trust. We trust that we all want that and that we all will doing the best in our capacity to achieve that goal. So that I will say that is basic that we are all in an agreement. We want to do this change and we are all trusting in our capacity and we are doing the best for the community and then knowing that it’s going to take sometimes this takes a lot of month I think that a year for us to do the process because some of us were onboarding to learn how the leadership team run the community. So we can be sure that we have access to everything that we know, all the details that we can actually run. The organization and the previous leadership team, they are available to any questions that we have in case that we face some situation because it’s strange. You don’t see it in all this time that we were working together to learning how to run R-Ladies and then to be very transparent and clear with the wider community on the change and how we are doing to do this announcement altogether, the team that are stepping down and the team that are getting the new responsibility so everything is you don’t have any place to people thinking or creating theories of what is going on. So I think that transparency is also an important aspect of being successful on doing this and then that the team that will take over. With this time that you are seeing how things are running. You have a very clear idea the time and the complexity that this will take. So you know what you are getting into. Because be clear about that is also important because otherwise I say yes to something. And now I’m realizing that it is more big than I realized at the beginning. So with this time you also are able to know how much time and how much effort you will have to put on the community and how much help you will need also that help you to decide that. But yes, I will summarize as same goal, really having the same goal and the trust on the team that are doing that.
Well, congratulations for successful transition. It is no small feat so it’s nice to see that it’s happened and it’s good to know that that community is well supported moving forward. Congrats.
Is there an example of when you have left a community and why you left a community and how you left the community?
I have left some communities, for example minorities in our forwards, the user working group because of time essentially because even when you say that I do a lot of things, I stepped out of several others. I also stopped organizing some local conferences here in Argentina for Sadio when the association of Computer Science Professionals because I can’t do everything. So on those one I retire from this community letting them know in advance at least one month so they can also looking for someone who do the things that I used to do and I can also explain anything or give the credentials or the documents of whatever the people that will take the roles needs to do. And they’re mostly a nice way to live. And I appreciate the time that I spend there, the things that I learned. And I truly hope that I did something that was useful and positive for the community too. And then I have some other experience where I live with this sense of I would like to still be part, but I’m not longer being there anymore because I disagree with what is going on in the community. And that are the more painful one, that are the one who give you this sense of – I feel like drain. I think that is the word. But sometimes you vote with your feet, right? You don’t have other choice. And after you try to discuss and you see that the disagreement is not – you are not going to be in an agreement ever, I think for me, the decision is I fight this and perhaps damage the community or step down and allow the community to grow. And I look for another space to be able to contribute in the way that I think that we should contribute or do things in other space. And I decide to do that. So for some communities to say okay, I don’t feel that this space is for me anymore. I enjoy the ride for the time that lasts. I’m proud of what we did and was wonderful during this time. We create something amazing and now it’s time for me to looking for that space in other place and start to build in other place and for me that other place was our open site. Not always you need to create something new. You can also join existing community and start contributing and helping there. You don’t always need to create a new thing. You can also be part of things that already exist and align with your values, with your way of work, what you want to create in this world, so, yes.
I think that’s a good point that there are a lot of opportunities for different communities and if one doesn’t work, there’s many other that might be a better fit.
Yes, and it is okay. There are cycles, there are things that start and end and I think that we all should try to rescue the positive aspect of that moment. I mean, this happens a lot as a researcher where you are changing the group of people that you work. I know that sometimes a group of people get together, do amazing things for a period of time and then for any reason, for a lot of different reason that doesn’t work anymore and you go to other group and you start create there. So it’s not the end of the world and sometimes it’s going to be more painful than others when you can compromise, when you can discuss that and to grow over that first disagreement, sometimes you just can. That is okay too for me – was painful in some of this experience but I like to think about the good things we create and the people that I know and the things that I learn and the people that I help. That the other aspect that made me leave the community.
Great. Is there anything you want to share with people? Let’s face for people who sort of attend events or for them to be more involved, is there something that you wish that you had known earlier that you would want other people to know or you think that people might not know that might be helpful for them to know?
I think that try to find a community that you like the topic or the way they do things and don’t be afraid to ask, to introduce yourself and to ask how you can contribute and you don’t need to be an expert to be part of a community and to start to contribute. You don’t even need to speak well the main language of that community. Usually our communities need a lot of people who do some tasks. So there is high chance that some of your skills will. Match some need of the community. So I will say that if you go to some of all this community that I mentioned and you ask how you can help and you can be part, you are going to get an answer and several options on how you can start to get involved. And the path of each one of us in our communities are going to be different. And I can assure anyone that the path will be like mine. But usually you get a lot of perks to be part of this community and that benefits come from learning new things for improve your skills in different aspects, not only technical in knowing new people, knowing new organizations, and to have first-hand information on different kind of opportunities. And for me, it’s also a source of friendship. I have a lot of new friends that I don’t even know in person. But it has helped me a lot in not only my professional aspect, but also in my personal life. People that to speak and discuss things that concern me or to share joy that is so important as to get support when things are not going so well. So you also have a bunch of friends there to support you, to go to them, to ask for advice, for support, for they enjoy and be happy when you grow too. That is another things that I have in the communities so I would say that don’t be afraid of embarrassed to go to some community and try to start contributing and if that doesn’t work then go to the other, you are going to find one that suits you very well.
Totally agree on that point.