Better Software, Bigger Impact

Since the term was first coined in 2012 , Research Software Engineering has experienced a rapid growth, first in the UK and then overseas.  Today there are at least 20 RSE groups at Universities and Research Institutes across the UK alone, alongside thousands of self-identifying RSEs, numerous national RSE associations, and since earlier this year, a registered Society of Research Software Engineering* to promote the role of RSEs in supporting research. 

The core proposition of RSEs is “Better Software, Better Research” – by improving the quality of software developed by researchers, we enable higher quality research.  Software quality is a broad topic, but the most common benefits of academic RSEs are:

  • improved reliability – fewer software errors leading to incorrect results
  • better performance – enabling more accurate and/or bigger science
  • reproducibility – increasing confidence in scientific results.

Since early 2018 the Hartree Centre has been building up an RSE capability of its own, but for slightly different reasons.  Rather than being measured on research output, Hartree Centre’s mission is to create economic impact through the application of HPC, data analytics and AI.  Most often this means taking existing research software, and applying it to solve industrial challenges.  One of the key challenges we have is crossing the “valley of death” from a proof-of-concept, where we demonstrate that a given tool, algorithm or method can in principle be used to solve a problem, to actual industry adoption of this approach.  While reliability and performance are still important here, often the key issues for a company adopting new software are usability, portability and security.

In practice, while our RSE team shares many skills in common with academic RSEs – such as employing best practices for use of version control, code review and automated testing – we specialise in areas like building simple User Interfaces for complex software, automating workflows involving HPC and deploying web applications securely to the cloud ready for industry use. 

Introducing some members of the Hartree Centre RSE team.

Our team has grown to 14 staff, comprising a range of roles from Degree Apprentices, RSEs with specialisms in HPC, AI and data analytics, to Full Stack Developers and a Software Architect. 

Just like academic RSEs, we’re at our best when working in collaboration, whether that’s with the other technology teams across the Hartree Centre, commercial clients, or our technology partners like IBM Research. 

Some of the projects we’ve been working on recently include:

We’re still recruiting – if you want be part of the Hartree RSE journey please apply here, we’d love to hear from you!

*Full disclosure: I’m a founding trustee of the society.

Meeting the Women of Silicon Roundabout – present and future!

Aiman Shaikh, one of our Research Software Engineers recently attended Women of Silicon Roundabout 2019 – one of the largest gatherings of female technologists in Europe – held at ExCeL London. In this blog post, Aiman tells us more about her motivations for attending the two day event aiming to make an impact on the gender gap and boost careers of attendees.

My main motivation for attending the conference was the opportunity to be among 6,000 attendees who were all like me: eager to connect, learn and take action on gender diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Women of Silicon Roundabout 2019 brought together a programme of inspirational keynotes, panel discussions, networking opportunities, technical classes, and career development workshops – it was the first and only conference I have attended where female technical speakers took centre stage.

For me, the chance to hear from inspirational leaders – many of whom were women – about emerging technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), data analytics, blockchain and cloud computing. This coupled with the strong messages throughout the conference about the importance of diversity and inclusion was truly incredible.

Over 6,000 delegates attended the two day event at ExCeL London.
Image credit: Women of Silicon Roundabout.

One of the many worthwhile sessions I attended was from Denise Jones, Senior Product Manager, LetGo. Denise discussed whether AI has given rise to new and distinctive ethical issues and she challenged the group with statements like “algorithms can predict user preference based on previous activity and based on other users who are like them” raising important questions about how we as technologists can be mindful of bias in our work with AI. It made me really consider the balance of collecting data to provide a better user experience and product personalisation as good thing but collecting too much data and over-targeting audiences can go wrong and be frustrating for users if it’s not relevant.

I also attended the “Confident Speaking for Women” workshop led by Sarah Palmer, Director of European Business Development at PowerSpeaking. This was an incredibly useful 60 minutes packed full of exercises specifically designed to improve presentation skills. It gave loads of helpful tips for ‘presentation newbies’ like myself such as the importance of trying things out in advance and how to project confidence and credibility, especially through using effective nonverbal language. I’m looking forward to implementing several of these strategies in my own conference talks!

Another real highlight of the conference was the Women of Colour networking lunch on the second day of the event. Organised by Google, it was a chance to ‘inspire and be inspired.’ I was fortunate enough to meet with so many role models in tech and find out from them how they progressed in their career, how they managed their work/life balance and grow my own professional networks. I was also lucky to be able to meet with groups of fantastic early career women who were keen to find out more about my job and the Hartree Centre. I really enjoyed telling them more about my role and day to day life as part of the Research Software Engineering team – I hope to see some of them apply for some of our job vacancies as they would be great assets to any team!

Aiman Shaikh | Research Software Engineer | Hartree Centre
Image credit: STFC

I loved this conference – it provided a much-needed, necessary platform to women in technology, inspiring attendees to talk and network with women working across different industries and using a variety of emerging technologies in their day to day jobs. I’ll certainly be taking many of the lessons learned back to the Hartree Centre – it has inspired me to think about AI and data analytics in some of my upcoming projects and how I can make sure I continue to incorporate diversity and inclusion in to my work and professional networks.

Research Software Engineering conference 2018 #RSE18

On 3rd September the peaceful campus of Birmingham University came alive with bubbling groups of research software engineers, talking in excited tones about their latest optimisation tool and favourite python library, as the third annual conference of Research Software Engineers was started!

A real global affair, #RSE18 had 314 delegates from 12 countries. That represents a nearly 50% increase over last year’s attendance and also a 7% increase in women attending compared to 2017.

Big News!

UK RSE Association is turning into the Society of Research Software Engineering! A legal, independent, professional organisation!

The UK RSE Association has seen significant growth since its inception in 2013, to over 1000 members. The community’s growth has made the informal, volunteer run format unsustainable. The move will enable the society to hold funds, employ staff, and operate as an independent organisation to represent the interests of the RSE community. Visit the RSE website for more information and sign up to receive updates.

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International Women’s Day 2018 | Janet Lane-Claypon

To mark International Women’s Day, Hartree Centre Data Scientist, Simon Goodchild writes a blog post to celebrate the work of a pioneering epidemiologist and doctor Janet Lane-Claypon. At the time of writing the post, Simon was studying medical statistics for the first time as part of a statistical society diploma and was surprised to have not previously heard about a woman who had invented two of the key techniques he was learning about!

Janet Lane-Claypon

How do you know that your treatment actually works?

How do you know whether something in the environment may impact upon your health?

These are some of the most basic and most important questions in medicine and epidemiology. Getting good answers is vital, and nowadays there are established procedures for finding sensible answers. Several of these can be traced back to the under-recognised work of Janet Lane-Claypon in the early part of the 20th century.

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Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Continual Service Improvement

The last in a series of blog posts from Dave Cable, Head of Service Operations here at The Hartree Centre summarises the steps we have taken to implement IT Service Management. 

In previous posts, I described three key components of ITIL infrastructure which we have implemented at the Hartree Centre – Service Operations, Service Design and Service Transition.  These are all inter-dependent and equal in stature.  However, there is one further area of ITIL which is slightly different because it underpins all of the above – Continual Service Improvement (CSI).  Continuous improvement is vital, because it ensures that processes and functions do not remain static.  They develop and improve in response to operational lessons learnt, leading to overall improvements in service quality.  Continuous improvement provides a feedback mechanism and tools to incorporate that feedback.  It can also work with quality management tools.

ITIL provides two complementary tools to implement CSI – the Deming Cycle, and the Seven-step Improvement Process.

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Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Service Design

The third in a series of blog posts from Dave Cable, Head of Service Operations here at The Hartree Centre gives us an introduction to service design, transition, configuration management and change management. 

In my previous post, I described the key aspects of the ITIL Service Operation area that we have implemented at the Hartree Centre.  In this post, I’ll move on to Service Design and Service Transition.

What is Service Design?

The ITIL area of Service Strategy considers all the business requirements for IT services, and from them constructs a high-level view of the range of services to be offered.  Service Design turns this high-level portfolio into a set of service specifications for inclusion in the organisation’s Service Catalogue.  It takes account of the requirements for information security, availability and capacity.  Service catalogue entries also include details of standard service levels (SLA metrics) and provide, where appropriate, pricing information.  Note that non-standard service levels may be negotiated with individual customers.

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Diversity & Inclusion in HPC

High Performance Computing (HPC) and High Performance Data Analytics (HPDA) – the provenance of the Hartree Centre – are rapidly expanding areas of importance to academia and industry, with myriad new employment opportunities arising. It is predicted that the gap between supply and demand of skilled staff will continue to grow. Despite the face that women make up 51% of the population, on average only around 15% of people working in IT are women. The proportion working in HPC and HPDA is even less. When taken in conjunction with recent evidence that diverse teams and organisations outperform less diverse competitors, there are sound business reasons why Diversity and Inclusion is a priority, as well as moral and social imperatives.

I am one of the founders of Women in HPC, which was formed in the UK by a small group of women who were interested in exploring the reasons why so few women were working in all areas of High Performance Computing. From small beginnings, it has grown into an organisation and network with global reach, holding programmes of events at the major international supercomputing and IT conferences.

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Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Service Operation

The second in a series of blog posts from Dave Cable, Head of Service Operations here at The Hartree Centre gives us an introduction to Service Operation, the primary interface for service delivery with customers.

In the first post of this series, I gave a brief description of IT Service Management and the specific implementation we have adopted, known as ITIL.  In this post, I describe how we have implemented one function and three key processes from the ITIL area of Service Operation.

What is Service Operation?

Service Operation is the collection of processes and functions that describe how to deliver services to customers at agreed levels.

Why is it important?

Service Operation represents the primary interface for service delivery with customers.  As such, it can win or lose business.  It also helps the service provider, by providing clear mechanisms for prioritising customer requests for assistance, and tools to identify deep-rooted issues that require additional effort to resolve.

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Inspiration, ideas and innovation: Girls in Tech outreach event

In this post, Katharina Reusch, a Software Engineer from IBM Research takes us through their second annual ‘Girls in Tech’ event held on Ada Lovelace Day.

It was that time of year for the second annual “Girls in Tech” outreach event, organised by Katharina Reusch from IBM Research in collaboration with the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). The event was sponsored and initiated by IBM UK Foundation (our Early Professionals Programme for Graduates, Apprentices, Interns and Futures) and the IBM Girls Who Can team. Girls Who Can is a support network within IBM UK Foundation, with the aim to provide a healthy and positive environment where not just women, but all the work force, can prosper and fulfil their potential. After a successful trial event with 80 girls back in October 2016, we decided to go even bigger this year and run a joint event at STFC’s Daresbury (DL) and Rutherford Laboratory (RAL) Campus with 90 girls at each site, aged 12-13.

We had a busy day, packed with activities to introduce the girls to our cutting-edge technologies and where our products fit in everyday life along with our aspirations for where future technologies can make an impact. This was illustrated with demonstrations of IBM and STFC projects currently underway in the UK.

 

The girls also had a chance to quiz us in a career Q&A session (the most popular session on the day!), to understand how to get into a technology career with all the different avenues available to them, from work experience, apprenticeships, graduate schemes and professional career development.

But a day learning about technology is nothing without a bit of hands-on experience: In the Arduino coding challenge, the girls had to code and wire up a temperature sensor for the Ada Lovelace Earth Observation Satellite. Again, this proved to be a very popular session with great feedback from both volunteers, teachers and pupils.

“Science and innovation wouldn’t be possible without inspired minds, great ideas and grand challenges.”

Science and Innovation wouldn’t be possible without inspired minds, great ideas and grand challenges, so for the third activity we set the girls a 60 minute innovation challenge: come up with an innovative idea, outline a prototype and do a 1-minute elevator pitch to everyone in the big lecture theatre at the end of the day. We were all amazed with the creativity, imagination and truly innovative ideas the girls came up with – we even noted some down some for our own work! We covered a wide spectrum of ideas from robots organising your daily schedule at home, medical robots for elderly, smart microwaves to self-learning hair salons.

The winning team at Daresbury invented “Reflect and Select”, a smart mirror in which you can try on online shopping items virtually in the mirror and purchase with one click – who would not buy into that idea? The winning team at RAL introduced a hovering wheel chair to allow disabled people a new found freedom in movement, a wonderful example for “out-of-the-box” thinking!

Throughout the day, the positive spirit and excitement caught everyone, volunteers, teachers and girls. Our IBM staff “had a blast working with the girls, such an inspiring crowd!” and said “the RAL event was excellent and even I felt inspired by all the science and technology on-site.” Teachers confirmed that “it was a great day and the girls enjoyed it; they were clearly talking more about the subject on the way home than going” and Dianne Kennedy from St. John Plessington High wrote to us after the event: “Thank you for the really enjoyable day.  The pupils really enjoyed the experience, hopefully this will encourage them to think about choosing a STEM subject” and Ruth Harrison from Lowton High School thought:

“the balance was right, it was wonderful to see young, vibrant, bright women inspiring our girls to think about a career in STEM and raise their aspirations –  whatever their academic ability.”

This feedback was also confirmed by the numbers as 77% (DL) / 80%(RAL) girls said they now want to find out more about STEM when they get home. We further asked whether the event made them more likely to consider choosing a science/technology degree at university or for an apprenticeship, with 53% (DL) / 63% (RAL) confirming this to be more encouraged and 32% (DL) / 19% (RAL) considering this as a career choice anyway.

We were so pleased with the feedback received from teachers and girls and are keen to plan the next event to inspire even more young pupils to join us in a truly rewarding career choice!

Last but not least, a big shout out for the IBMers Houda Achouri, Kashif Taj, Georgia Prosser, Jenni Marr and STFC’s Sophy Palmer, Phill Day and Wendy Cotterill to help make the event possible and the helpers on the day: Georgia Clarkson, Malgorzata Zimon, Blair Edwards, Martyn Spink, Lan Hoang, Flaviu Cipcigan, Anna Paola Carrieri, Dave Cable, Navatha Tirungari, Rob Allan, Roger Downing, Laura Johnston, Holly Halford, Gemma Reed, Julia Game, Shannon Wilson, Olivia O’Sullivan, Lisa Whimperley, Peter Kane, Greg Corbett, Tom Dack, Jeremy Spencer, Louise Davies, Tom Byrne, Chris Oliver, Jacob Ward, Mostafa Nabi, Sarah James, Rosie Davies, Kate Winfield, Eilidh Southren, Kyle Birtwell, Lauren Mowberry, Vicky Stowell, Dave Wilsher, Manny Olaiya, Preeti Kaur, and Ffion Argent.

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Shaping IT Service Management at The Hartree Centre: Introduction

The first in a series of blog posts from Dave Cable, Head of Service Operations here at The Hartree Centre gives us a gentle introduction in to the world of IT Service Management. Look out for future posts covering service operationservice design, and continual service improvement.

What is IT Service Management?

IT Service Management (ITSM) is the proper design, governance and operation of IT-related services to meet agreed customer needs within predictable cost and efficiency bounds.  It brings together policies, processes and people with the common goal of service delivery and continuous improvement.

Why is it important?

Any IT service provider needs a clear idea of what it is they are trying to deliver and to whom.  The provider also needs to understand the costs of providing services alongside any financial returns.  ITSM provides a mechanism for businesses to be able to meet these requirements.

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