SC17 Denver, CO

Software Engineers: Careers in Research

Authors: Neil Chue Hong (University of Edinburgh)

Abstract: Many people in research organizations around the world combine expertise in programming with an intricate understanding of research. Although this combination of skills is extremely valuable, these people often lack a formal career path, particularly in the academic system. There is no easy way to recognise their contributions, reward them, or represent their views.

In the UK (and increasingly in Europe), the term Research Software Engineer is used to describe this important role, while the US does not have a single term. This BoF aims to raise awareness of the role and bring the community together to address challenges.

Long Description: Software underpins all aspects of High Performance Computing and Computational Science and Engineering: its development - and developers - is critical to the impact of HPC and CSE.

Recently, there has been much interest in the Research Software Engineer (RSE) role, which sits between the traditional roles of the “researcher who codes” and the “software engineer assigned to a project”, equally capable of working in a leading research team and developing high-quality software. While not a new role, the increasing recognition that it is distinct from the research associate or software developer jobs it has traditionally been hidden in has led to increasing questions about the proper way of nurturing careers and creating career paths, as it is clear that many promising people drop out to pursue other careers.

This BoF will demonstrate how different countries are seeking to address a number of key questions including: how do we create career paths that don’t limit people’s aspirations, how we build up centers of excellence, and how we ensure that this community reflects the diversity of the wider population. The goal of this BoF is to bring people together to raise awareness of the Research Software Engineer role (whatever it is called) and bring the community together 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 (though they may not be formally identified or formally identify themselves as such), or researchers who either work closely with RSEs or would benefit from working with them. 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 SC17. 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 SC15 and SC16.

The session leaders represent a wide 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.

Conference Presentation: pdf

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