GitHub Beginners in Data Science: Here’s an Easy Way to Start!

If you are an aspiring data scientist, you will need to know how GitHub works. You will probably want to use it for your projects.

GitHub beginners often feel really stupid (like I did) when they first encounter the online web site at GitHub.com. Even if programmers have expertise in other software, when they are GitHub beginners, they often feel like they are starting over when they first look at the web site.

GitHub beginners in data science often benefit from starting with some basic activities. I recently held a GitHub beginners workshop as part of my Public Health to Data Science rebrand program. In the workshop, we covered the following beginning activities:

  • Setting up their GitHub account
  • Modifying their GitHub profile
  • Searching for and exploring GitHub user profiles and repositories
  • “Starring” repositories and “following” profiles
  • Creating a “test” GitHub repository
  • Creating folders and subfolders in the test repository using “.gitkeep”, and
  • Using R Markdown and Notepad to add a “sexy” README to the repository.

Let’s walk through these together.

GitHub Beginners Have to Set up an Account and Profile

First, you will have to go to GitHub.com and set up your account and your profile. Here is a screen shot of my GitHub profile below.

On GitHub, you can fill out a personal profile. This can help you connect with collaborators to share programming code.

It’s important to have the following ready to input into your profile:

  • A profile pic (of you or another image)
  • A username you’ve selected for GitHub
  • A short bio that will attract other likeminded GitHub users
  • Contact and social media information

Below is an example of us working on your GitHub profiles during the recent workshop.

Watch Monika Wahi's data science tutorials on YouTube!

Watch how to create and modify a profile on GitHub.

In our workshop, we had a lot of trouble using the search function on GitHub to find known repositories and users. Watch a clip from our GitHub beginners workshop below to see how we solved this.

Watch Monika Wahi's data science tutorials on YouTube!

Watch us search and find users and repositories on GitHub.

Starring Repositories and Following Profiles

GitHub beginners (and some not-so-beginners) may not be aware of the social media functions on GitHub.

  • You can “star” repositories. This is like bookmarking them so you can return to them. There is a “star” menu that you can choose to see all the repositories you have starred. You can remove the star if you no longer want to bookmark them.
  • You can “follow” people. But, you cannot “follow” repositories. If you want to “follow” a repository (e.g., be notified of updates to it), you actually have to follow the user who has the repository.
Watch Monika Wahi's data science tutorials on YouTube!

Learn about following users and starring repositories on GitHub.

Creating a “Test” GitHub Repository

Let’s face it – GitHub is not particularly intuitive. Therefore, it’s often beneficial for GitHub beginners to create a test repository so they can practice using the GitHub features without breaking anything important.

In our GitHub beginners workshop, one of the participants created a test repository – and this was actually more confusing than I thought it would be. We cleared up the confusion by adding a .gitkeep file, as shown in the clip below.

Watch Monika Wahi's data science tutorials on YouTube!

Watch us start a new repository and add a .gitkeep file.

Adding a README in R Markdown

This is an awesome trick I learned – which is how to use Notepad to create a “sexy” README in R Markdown, and then upload it to a GitHub repository. It really makes you appear “too cool for school” compared to your contemporaries. Watch us practicing this maneuver in the workshop in the clip below.

Updated February 28, 2023. Revised banners June 18, 2023.

Watch Monika Wahi's data science tutorials on YouTube!

Watch us create and upload a Notepad README file in R Markdown to GitHub.

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