As I’ve said before, when it comes to programming I’m a firm believer in the “learn by doing” approach. is a project which exemplifies this.

exercism logo

I came across earlier this year while exploring GitHub looking for an open source project to contribute to. The premise is fairly simple:

  • pick a language that you’d like to learn or improve on
  • fetch an exercise via the Command Line Interface (CLI)
  • code up and submit a solution for the exercise
  • return to the site to get feedback on your solution and/or to compare it to the solutions others have come up with

The problems are very simple to begin with, (usually starting out with the traditional “Hello, World!”), progressing to more difficult problems further on. It’s aimed at both newbies and experienced developers, with the philosophy being that for newer programmers the exercises are achievable but “with enough complexity to uncover bite-sized knowledge gaps”, whereas for more experienced developers, the problems “provide a balance of constraints and freedom and encourage you to explore trade-offs and best-practices”.

lolcat code reviews

More experienced developers are also encouraged to get involved reviewing the solutions of others and/or to contribute to the project which is all completely open source, whether it is the website itself, API’s, the CLI, documentation or track content. The site is also well suited to those with experience in one or more languages who are wanting to ramp up in a new language, or to get a sense of the how the idiomatic approach to a problem might differ from language to language.

There are currently 35 active language tracks, with another 20+ language tracks planned or upcoming (essentially in an incubation stage). One of those which is hopefully soon-to-be-launched is the R language track, which I’ve been contributing to over the past two months and am pretty excited about.

exercism R logo

If you’re interested, there are a number of ways you can get involved:

  • Firstly, give the R language track a try! (you’ll need to login on using your GitHub account)
  • Once you’ve submitted a solution to a problem, you’ll be able to see other peoples submissions and are encouraged to comment on these and get discussions going around style and best practice, pros and cons of different approaches etc.
  • If you encounter any problems along the way (e.g. setup/install instructions, fetching or submitting exercises, running tests etc) then raise it via the online chat support in order to get help and/or bring it to someone’s attention if something needs to be fixed
  • With regard to the above, if you encounter an issue which applies specifically to the R track, then please open an issue on the R track repo
  • Consider becoming a mentor for the R track (if you’re interested, please reach out to me on Twitter or via my contact page)
  • Checkout the list of unimplemented exercises for the R track and follow the instructions there to submit a pull request
  • Lastly, look through's contributing doc, which outlines a number of other ways you can get involved (either with a specific language track, or across other areas of the project as well)

Based on my involvement so far the community seems very friendly and open, and I think its a great open source initiative, so there’s no reason why the #rstats community shouldn’t be well represented there.

On that note, a big thank you to exercism’s contributors, and especially to Jonathan Boiser and Katrina Owen for being friendly, helpful and supportive of my involvement in the project thus far. You guys are excellent role models for the greater open source community.