I spoke at posit::conf(2023)

By Millie O. Symns in R Conferences Posit Reflections

September 25, 2023

NOTE: I updated all that I could find for the list of my favorite talks with links.

Guess who was a speaker?!

I just got through experiencing one of my favorite times in the year - posit::conf!! And this year, I was a speaker!

But let us back it up and review some of my favorite highlights.


I didn’t attend any workshops this year, but there were such cool ones. I recommend checking out the materials if you are curious about any of them and did not get to attend. There were a few shiny and package development related ones, but these are the materials I am going to check these out:


For the conference days, the flow of talks and keynotes was different than in years past that I have experienced. This time, our mornings started with keynotes back-to-back with a break in between and talks in the afternoon.

Opening story

The opening to the conference was beyond inspiring. You go to this conference to learn how people use the same tools as you for their projects in their respective sectors. Still, you don’t always hear such a moving story about how R and RStudio were influential in the ongoing success of a project that directly impacts nature and the Penobscot Indian Nation. The illustration in this video was also stunning and enhanced the storytelling. In one of the talks, Jan Paul and Angie Reed provided more details on their story later in the conference. I would love to see a keynote in the future that features folks like this in keynotes to hear more of the ways data science tools are used and their direct impact outside of your standard tech data team stories.

Day 1 Keynotes

This year’s keynotes seemed themed around data science teams, large language models (a nod to the AI explosion), and navigating organizational structures.

I enjoyed the framework Elaine McVey and David Meza introduced in their keynote on creating useful data science insights in environments that may not be immediately set up for success. It was a good reminder that spaces will often hire for what they think they need, but many more structures need to be built before we get to any end goal of data visualizations or reports. Having data around does not mean that data is valid or can be used for analysis. David Meza’s example of taking his laptop everywhere to present information because he had to use CSV files that lived on his machine at one point, cut me to my soul because I know that experience oh too well. :grimace:

Jeremey Howard’s keynote was the first recording presented at the conference. It was interesting to see how large language models could be incorporated directly into coding work. At this point, I don’t have a direct application or interest in including LLMs the way he walked through it in his keynote, so I didn’t extract any take-homes for myself.

Day 2 Keynotes

For the second day of keynotes, I loved Kara Woo’s talk on how she implemented R in her organization’s operation. It feels unheard of to have R used in the way through all processes (at least for my world), so I was getting a peak-through of a utopia where that happens. Having R and other languages incorporated into everything from your APIs to reporting and visualizations and beyond gives the space and flexibility to solve problems as they arise, and it doesn’t have to rely entirely on one person or department.

I noted when Kara said, “R can be used to solve more than just data science problems.” I quickly forget that you can use R and other languages for so much more than data or web applications. That was a little ah-ha moment for me.

Lastly, JD Long’s keynote on abstractions was a good way to round out the conference with the keynotes. I wasn’t familiar with the term before, so I had to use some context clues and googling to understand what he was talking about. I rounded it up to abstractions being another word for tool, whether hardware, software, or general organizational structures. Some things I noted from his talk was not to let trying to learn all the abstractions create a bottleneck for you or think that is what gets you to be a “data scientist.” Working with others who know more about whatever tool you are stuck on is okay. Another note I had was not to blame an abstraction. Take the time to understand it to see what is going on (I am undoubtedly quick to blame any software for not understanding what I am trying to do 😁 ).


There were SO MANY great talks this year. This year felt like it concentrated on the updates and examples of all the things that Quarto can do and a celebration for Shiny and all it can do. Some of my favorites outside of my track were:

My speaker experience

Thanks, Jadey Ryan for snapping this picture! ❤️

Getting to be a speaker this year made the experience memorable. I had imagery of being a speaker at posit::conf on my core values vision board this year, so it felt magical to be living the vision. I spent August and the first couple of weeks up to the conference working on my slides with the help of some coaching sessions provided by Posit through Articulation Inc. They were incredible, helping me craft my narrative in a way that got my point across smoothly and concisely. I was nervous about the talk throughout the coaching sessions, but when I landed in Chicago, that nervousness quickly morphed into productive excitement.

It felt surreal chatting with people this time, having the word “speaker” on my name tag and letting people know about my talk, for a good chunk of folks replying, “Oh! I saw that. I am looking forward to it.” That is absolutely wild to me!

Talks in my track

I may be biased, but the talks in my track were top-tier, best of the best! Everyone was so good! Here are the talks in order and my thoughts:

  • Sustainable Growth of Global Communities: R-Ladies' Next Ten Years - by Riva Quiroga : The most immaculate slides and presentation in the conference. Hands down! It was a keynote-level delivery. We learned about the changes made to R-Ladies and what the future is in store for the global community.

  • How to Keep Your Data Science Meetup Sustainable - by Ted Laderes : Sooo great! Such a needed talk, especially in the weird post-pandemic world we live in, and community organizers are trying to figure things out. This talk was a sweet love letter to the folks working hard to keep communities together online and in-person.

  • Side Effects of a Year of Blogging - by Millie Symns (aka me) : I mean…what can I say? I did it! Haha! It went so well. Lots of folks were super kind to come up to me after or find me in the halls to say they loved the talk and felt very inspired to create the blog or start that project they were thinking of. Apparently, I am also hilarious and have great handwriting (just stating the facts here).

  • Black Hair and Data Science Have More in Common Than You Think - by Kari Jordan : This was the blackest talk I have ever witnessed in data science, and I needed every morsel of it and then some. Kari puts together such a beautiful framework and analogies to the connection of Black hair and data science I have ever heard. She must go on tour with this because the little girl within me was BEAMING with joy.

Next year

I would love to be a speaker again, although I don’t know what I would talk about. We can see how those cards play out. Next year, posit::conf(2024) will be in Seattle! I hope to be there to live out my Gray’s Anatomy landscape dreams.

Posted on:
September 25, 2023
8 minute read, 1517 words
R Conferences Posit Reflections
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