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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Work experience at the Hartree Centre

In this post we talk about developing activities for the Hartree Centre work experience programme and what happened when we challenged 6 students to work together to build a 20-node mini super computer.

STFC runs a work experience programme every year with applicants expressing an interest in placements within the centre. Initially, we had a view of taking just one student to join our Future Technologies team but after hearing about other placements, we wanted to move away from the ‘lone student’ experience and offer a group-based opportunity. We hoped that this would show students how we operate here in multi-disciplinary teams working together to solve challenges. As a result, 6 students from local colleges joined us for 2 weeks to find out more about life here at the Hartree Centre.

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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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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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From a Computing GCSE to being Deputy Director

“Life is like a large pond, you are surrounded by lilypads and depending on your capabilities and circumstances you have to pick the next one to step onto.”

When I was younger, growing up in Wigan I was mainly interested in three things: football, computers and radio control cars. At school, I decided to study A Levels in maths, physics and chemistry and then went off to study chemistry at the University of Leeds with no fixed idea of what I wanted to do or where I was going afterwards.

After a period of unemployment, I was lucky enough to get a job as a Research Chemist with Crosfield, a Unilever company at the time. This involved working with Crosfield silica to remove protein from beer, essentially increasing the shelf-life of the product. To me, this was great, I was a beer scientist at the age of 21! I enjoyed the challenge of working on new formulations and eventually discovered a way of improving the shelf-life of beer using 50-70% less material than previous methods. At first, the brewers we worked with did not seem to buy in to the idea so the sales staff invited me out with them to explain the process to our customers. That was my first taste of sales and I really enjoyed it so I started to try to go out with the sales team as much as I could.

My next ‘career leap’ was in to telesales and this turned out to be a terrible idea as it really did not suit the way I liked to work and how I liked to develop customer relationships and insight. From there, I went to work for Dionex in a regional sales role with a remit for selling chromatography columns that separate chemical components. It was this position that helped me to recognise that I was actually quite good at sales and learned an important point:

“people do not just buy kit, they buy answers to the problems they want to solve.”

This led me back to my interest in computing where I taught myself how to use a macro-based scripting process that increased the efficiency of the sales process, helping me to match solutions to customer problems.

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