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.
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:
- optimising a weather forecast model and deploying it to the cloud
- optimising code using new profiling tools
- building AI chatbots for healthcare.
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.