According to the Research Software Engineers 'State of the Nation' Report 2017, "Most research would be impossible without software... With the emergence of software as the pre-eminent research tool used across all disciplines, comes the realisation that a significant majority of results are based, ultimately, on the skill of the experts who design and build it."
Historically, Research Software Engineers (RSEs) have lurked in the shadows of research programmes but, with an increasing demand for the unique skills they bring, the UK is taking the lead on changing that in the future.
STFC's Catherine Jones and Ilian Todorov are two of the skilled experts who are keen to raise awareness of how valuable, and indeed vital, RSEs are to every research project. They both gave presentations at the two-day RSE leaders event which was aimed at people running (or setting up) RSE groups and communities.around the world. The UK event enabled participants, who came from Europe, the USA, Canada, Brazil, Africa, New Zealand and Australia, as well as the UK, to share experiences and start collaborations.
"It was a very successful and engaging couple of days", said Catherine, who leads STFC's Software Engineering Group. "We discussed RSE career paths, software engineering tools, the importance of RSEs as an identifiable group, and how the emerging national groups can work together in an international context."
Following this event Catherine, who is based at the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL), and Alys Brett from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and who is a co-chair of the UK Research Software Engineer Association, invited US colleagues Ian Cosden from Princeton University and David Bernholdt from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory to spend a day viewing some of the UK national facilities.
The group continued discussing the software engineering landscape whilst touring JET (the Joint European Torus) at CCFE, which is the focal point of the European fusion energy research programme, and the STFC Data Centre at RAL, home to a number of facilities including the UK's Tier 1 data facility for the Large Hadron Collider at CERN,and the JASMIN super-data-cluster for environmental research. At RAL, the group were joined for their discussions by Barbara Montanari, Director of CoSeC (the Computational Science Centre for Research Communities) and Gordon Brown, Head of the STFC Ada Lovelace Division.
Catherine added, "It is always useful to work with your peers as you come back to work with fresh ideas and perspectives. As the event was an international one it identified areas which we all have in common, regardless of location, and it broadened the mind beyond national boundaries."
For the next step in this UK/USA collaboration, Catherine will be working with Ian Cosden on a survey of RSE group leaders.