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Posit lays off R Markdown, knitr creator Yihui Xie

Yihui Xie, well-known in the R community as the creator of R packages such as R Markdown, knitr, blogdown, and bookdown, has been laid off from Posit, where he worked as a full-time software developer. Xie announced the layoff, which happened at the end of December, in a blog post this week. He said he would continue working as a part-time contractor for Posit to maintain some of his packages.

“I was quite surprised but only for a short moment,” he wrote. “I fully respected Posit’s decision and quickly accepted the conclusion that my contribution no longer deserved a full-time job here.”

Some R users reacted with shock. “Absolutely devastating news. I would not have accomplished what I have accomplished in the last decade without Yihui’s work on knitr,” research software engineer Zhian N. Kamvar posted on Mastodon.  “If you’ve ever encountered a website, report, or book built with RStats in recent memory, you have Yihui to thank. Until he gets a new position, he’s looking for sponsorship” on GitHub.

As of this afternoon, Xie had more than 150 GitHub sponsors. (Disclosure: This list includes me; I used his bookdown package when writing my book Practical R for Mass Communication and Journalism.)

Xie’s departure after 10 years at Posit is another signal that the company, formerly RStudio, is focusing on products that offer interoperability between R and Python. An example of the company’s recent shift is the Quarto open source technical publishing platform, announced in 2022, which is language-agnostic and equally supports both R and Python, as well as Julia and Observable JavaScript.

The company said at the time that Quarto was the next generation of R Markdown, although R Markdown would not go away. However, users were told to expect that cool new features would be targeted at Quarto.

The month before Xie was let go, Python pandas creator Wes McKinney joined Posit, also a signal that the company was serious about broadening its focus beyond R. McKinney said at the time that he would “advocate for the needs of the PyData ecosystem in Posit’s work as well as continue advancing critical open-source initiatives.”

Xie’s packages like R Markdown and knitr were a key attraction for many R users, easing the task of presenting the results of data analysis in engaging ways. His work also aimed to “make R and reproducible research more accessible”, Xie said. His xaringan R Markdown extension, for example, was an R implementation of the remark.js JavaScript library, allowing for interactive slide presentations of R-based analysis.

Xie said Posit has “generously provided funding for me to continue, as a contractor, to support and extend knitr, rmarkdown, and various packages in this ecosystem. I look forward to continuing my collaboration with the Posit team on our shared areas of interest.” The DT package is not among the packages being maintained, however. Xie said that Posit plans to find a new maintainer for that one.

“The end of a relationship often does not imply anything wrong or a failure of either party,” Xie wrote. “Instead, it can simply indicate a mismatch, which is normal.”

Copyright © 2024 IDG Communications, Inc.


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