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.

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.

Continue reading “From a Computing GCSE to being Deputy Director”

Bringing big data to life | TechUK’s Big Data in Action Roadshow comes to Manchester

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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-images-information-exchange-image9317559

Last week, the Hartree Centre sponsored TechUK’s Big Data in Action Roadshow in Manchester, held as part of a series of events across the UK to demonstrate the tools and technologies available for businesses to use, explore and get value from their data. Read on to find out how the day unfolded. Continue reading “Bringing big data to life | TechUK’s Big Data in Action Roadshow comes to Manchester”

Through the gears: boosting car industry competitiveness

 

The visualisation facilities at the Hartree Centre have been used to help car manufacturers reduce time and money from their innovation processes

Now that the summer break is pretty much over (what was that I hear some of you shout?), I thought it was time for us to publish another post on here. In this post I touch a little on the automotive industry.

The automotive industry is one of those sectors that countries tend to use as a barometer of their overall industrial and economic performance. In the UK, the sector enjoyed a pretty buoyant 2015 all things considered. Continue reading “Through the gears: boosting car industry competitiveness”

Creating a cognitive eco-system – day one of the Hartree Hack

Twitter Learn create compete

This week sees the Hartree Centre run its first hackathon event at Daresbury. A three day event which brings together developers, designers and companies from a range of sectors all with the aim of creating the next big thing in web or mobile-based applications using IBM Watson APIs.

Duncan Sime introducing the Hartree Centre at the Hartree Hack
Duncan Sime introducing the Hartree Centre at the Hartree Hack

I’m a football fan. A Manchester United supporter for 40 odd years. The football was so poor last night (although we did win 3-1, I prefer a match that lifts you out of your seat), that I ended up having the “what are you doing tomorrow?” conversation with my significant other mid-way through the first half of the match.  Continue reading “Creating a cognitive eco-system – day one of the Hartree Hack”

Introducing the Hartree Centre Chemistry and Materials Programme

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http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-image-brain-interface-blue-binary-code-digitally-generated-image42555041

In civil and mechanical engineering, the design process is done almost entirely by computer (think about the way bridges are designed). A long-held goal in radical chemical and materials product design is to shift from an ad-hoc, labour intensive and expensive process towards a more robust and adaptive computer aided paradigm.

Continue reading “Introducing the Hartree Centre Chemistry and Materials Programme”

Not just ‘big’ – bringing big data into line

What’s in a name? When it comes to taming big data, it’s easy to just see the challenge as being one of scale – just as the name implies. But as a non-specialist working in this area, I quickly discovered that it’s more complicated than that. And I’d like to use this post to explain why that’s the case.

Continue reading “Not just ‘big’ – bringing big data into line”

Why big data and cognitive computing are perfect partners

Welcome to our new Hartree Centre blog.

Our first few posts aim to shine a light on what’s happening here at Hartree and how this relates both to wider trends in cutting-edge computing and to the key challenges and opportunities facing UK industry today. It’s a chance for us to get to know each other a little better… so please do let us know what you think and what you’d like to hear from us about.

Let’s begin. If you’re fairly new to the world of big data, high performance computing and cognitive technologies then we hope that this is the place to start. So where better to kick off than with that ‘fashionable’ concept of big data… Continue reading “Why big data and cognitive computing are perfect partners”