Last Monday I attended the first (hopefully of many!) AGM of The UK Community of Research Software Engineers. The group has been formed to champion the cause of software engineers producing software of research, be they developers who are embedded in research groups, or academics who have found themselves developing and maintaining software. Throughout the day, there were a number of issues debated by the group.
While the career path for academics hinges on them publishing papers, developers contributing to research through their work often find that they dont get the opportunity to publish. One of the problems that RSE seeks to address is finding an alternative way of universities giving recognition to the contribution of software engineers to research.
Should universities seek to support development of research software centrally, or is it better done in departments? At UCL, they’ve formed a central group of developers, partly from core funding and partly from project funding, who can provide development effort to research projects. While this provides a useful core of development expertise, a central service can’t provide the same level of domain-specific knowledge that some research groups will require, and some institutions simply don’t have the skills base in central IT to provide the development support that researchers would find valuable.
Another approach for central support for research software engineers is to provide training and tools to support good software engineering practice. Version control, continuous integration and other common tools can be instilled in researchers’ workflows through collaboration with experienced developers, or through training initiatives such as Software Carpentry. Provisioning systems like GitLab and Jenkins centrally provides easy access to infrastructure which supports these practices.
These issues and more were discussed in groups over the day, and will continue to be discussed by the RSE community. If you’re a research software engineer, or just want to help champion their cause, you can visit the website and join the discussion group.