<span class="var-sub_title">Software Engineers: Careers in Research</span> SC18 Proceedings

The International Conference for High Performance Computing, Networking, Storage, and Analysis

Software Engineers: Careers in Research


Authors: Benjamin Pritchard (Molecular Sciences Software Institute, Virginia Tech), Catherine Jones (Science and Technology Facilities Council, UK; UK Research and Innovation), Jay Jay Billings (Oak Ridge National Laboratory)

Abstract: Research organizations are increasingly performing some sort of software development as part of their research. Such software is often developed by researchers with a combined expertise in both programming and a deep understanding of the research being performed. While such developer/scientists are indispensable, they often do not have formal career paths, and often lack recognition within academia.

Researchers in these roles are often designated Research Software Engineers in the UK, US, and Europe, with the term also gaining traction around the world. This BoF aims to raise awareness of the role and bring the community together to address challenges.


Long Description: High Performance Computing (HPC) and Computational Science and Engineering (CSE) necessarily requires the development of high-quality software, and the developers of this software are critical to the impact of HPC and CSE and the larger scientific community.

There is now increasing recognition that such development often requires both expertise in software development, and a deep understanding of the scientific field for which the software is being written. It is now being recognized that the role represents a unique combination of skills. Recently, the term “Research Software Engineer” (RSE) has been applied to such roles. Originating in the UK, the term RSE has become more widely recognised around the world over the past two years.

Although RSE positions are widely-regarded as extremely important, there lacks a formal recognition of their unique qualities. Often, these positions are pigeonholed into the existing hierarchy of scientific positions, such as postdoctoral associates and research scientists. However, this classification does not adequately describe the responsibilities of RSEs, and can cause particular issues with RSE in terms of career progression. This lack of a defined position and career outlook often leads to many promising practitioners to abandon research altogether.

This BoF will demonstrate how different countries are seeking to address a number of key questions regarding RSE positions. These questions include creation of career paths that don’t limit people’s aspirations, training and management of RSE, and their continuing education and advancement. Enabling this community to better reflect the diversity of the wider population will also be addressed. The goal of this BoF is to bring people together to raise awareness of the RSE role (whatever it is called) and use the experience of the wider community to address common challenges.

The SC Conference Series provides an ideal venue for this kind of discussion - a large fraction of the attendees are RSEs, researchers working closely with RSEs, or researchers who would benefit from collaboration with RSEs. In addition, Supercomputing has an international reach, and Supercomputing conferences are unique in the number and breadth of relevant policy makers and shapers that are in attendance.

The discussion of the professionalization of career paths in this area has been raised in previous Supercomputing workshops and BoFs on the closely related topic of software engineering for HPC and CSE, including those submitted for SC18. We expect a high level of interest given the attendees of similar events in the wider computational science and engineering community, and the interest when speakers on this topic have spoken at the previous three Supercomputing conferences and elsewhere.

The session leaders represent a broad spectrum of people involved in this community with strong links to the respective networks in the USA and Europe. The outcome of this BoF will be a report which outlines the similarities and differences in key issues facing the establishment of careers in different countries, and recommendations for where the international community represented by Supercomputing attendees can work together to raise awareness of the value of this role and address challenges.





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