By Simon Hettrick

Software Sustainability Institute




9 May 2018 - What is Research Software Engineering? University of Surrey     @sjh5000      ORCID: 0000-0002-6809-5195

A brief history of Research Software Engineers

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There appears to be a lot of software out there...

...someone should really do something about it

Is software


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Witnesses struggled to point to a sector of the economy that was unaffected by digital technologies.”

- Make or Break: The UK’s Digital Future, Select Committee on Digital Skills

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Fundamental to


Develop own code




44,000 research grants, 7 Research Councils


of total spend invested into software-reliant research in 2017

31 repositories

~600,000 papers




of papers indicate software reliance in 2017


researchers in UK


researchers using software in UK?


researchers using software in UK?


researchers using software in UK?

£3 billion

RCUK annual budget

£2.8 billion

investment into software-reliant research?

£2 billion

investment into software-reliant research?

£1.1 billion

investment into software-reliant research?



Good news!


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of researchers who develop

code have no training


of group leaders looking to commercialise code would not feel comfortable sharing their code


of REF 2014 case studies mention software


 more paper outcomes registered in Researchfish® than software outcomes


No career path for software experts in academia










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Software Sustainability Institute

Cultivating better, more sustainable research software to enable world-class research





29 projects

All 7 Research Councils

Over 4500 learners

137 trainers

80 guides, 50000 views 

RSE campaign

Demographic studies

Finance and career studies

112 Fellows across domains

Over 20 workshops



20,000+ monthly visits

Vibrant Twitter community





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Collaborations Workshop

"Developing the profession of a scientific software engineer and the career track of software developers in academia"

- James Hetherington

10,000 jobs assessed

~400 related to software development (4%)


Analyst Developer Analyst Programmer Analyst Programmer - SITS (x 3) Analyst/Programmer Applications Developer Applied Scientist Architectural Robotics Developer Assistant Data Programmer Assistant Project Manager Atmospheric Correction and Radiative Transfer Model Scientist Audio Software Developer - KTP Associate Bioinformatician Bioinformatician In Potato Genomics and Genetics Bioinformatician/Computational Bioscientist in Microbiology Bioinformaticians Bioinformatics Analyst Bioinformatics Postdoctoral Researcher Bioinformatics scientist Biometric Software Systems Developer Biorespository Software Developer C++ / 3D Graphics Software Engineer Casebooks Project Editor (Research Assistant/Associate) Climate Researcher (Research Associate) Clinical Study Programmer CoMPLEX Research Associate Computational Biologist / Bioinformatician Computational Scientist Computational Scientist in Computational Fluid Dynamics & Industrial Applications Computational Scientist in Structural Mechanics and Industrial Applications Computer Scientist Computer Vision Researcher Content Developer/Programmer Control Engineer-IMG - 3 posts CREATe Data Specialist Data Analyst Data Integration Coordinator Data Manager x3 Database and Software Engineer Database Manager/Researcher Database Programmer Digital Media Technician E-Learning Portal Manager (KTP Associate) e-Learning Systems Development Analyst e-Learning Systems Development Analyst (Moodle, SQL) E-Learning Web Developer E-Portfolio Learning Technologist Embedded Systems Engineer Engineering Technician Environmental Scientist EPSRC Studentship on Algorithmic Construction of Finsler-Lyapunov Functions Experimental Officer in Bioinformatics Experimental Psychologist Finance Assistant Gaia Alerts Software Developer Gaia Software Developer (Gaia UK Team) GIS Applications Specialist Graduate Programmer / Software Developer Graphics Programmer Health Data Manager / Scientist High Throughput Bioinformatician High Throughput Sequencing Bioinformatician (Two posts) HIVE Manager/ HIVE Co-ordinator HIVE Senior Researcher and Technical Lead Hydro-informatics Scientific Software Developer Image Analysis Manager for Cancer Imaging Information Systems Developer Instrumentation Engineer Investigator Statistician IT Developer IT Services Manager IT Services Specialist (e-Learning Systems) IT Support Technician (Unix / Windows Systems) Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Associate: Innovent Technologies LTD Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTP) Associate - Software Developer KTP Associate - Robot Vision Scientist (Research Fellow) KTP Associate (Fixed Term Contract for 24 months) KTP Associate (Precision Agriculture Data Analyst) KTP Associate – Graduate Web Developer KTP Associate: Electronics / Robotics Engineer Learning Technologist Leicester Respiratory BRU IT Developer Linguist / Psycholinguist Maker Space Technician Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher Marie Curie Early Stage Researcher in Radar Rainfall for Integrated Water Quality Modelling Marine Earth Observation Scientists Medical Statistician Medical Statistician/Senior Medical Statistician Metrology Engineer Mobile Application Developer NASC IT Support - Programmer and Systems Administrator (Fixed-term) NIHR Research Methods Fellow PDRA on EU Project on Automated Multisensor Surveillance Planning Officer Policy Modeller 2014 Post - Doctoral Research Assistant INSTRON Post Doctoral Research Worker Post Doctoral Researcher in the application of Digital Technology Post-Doctoral Research Assistant in Simulation and Visualization Post-Doctoral Research Associate Post-Doctoral Research Associate (Pathogen Genomics) Post-Doctoral Research Fellow Postdoctoral Fellow - population genetics / evolutionary genetic Postdoctoral Fellow in Bioinformatics Postdoctoral Fellow in Cancer Therapeutics Postdoctoral Research Assistant Postdoctoral Research Associate Postdoctoral Research Fellow Postdoctoral Research Scientist Postdoctoral Researcher in Declarative (Logic and Functional) Programming Postdoctoral Researcher Postdoctoral Scientist Postdoctoral statistician Postdoctoral Training Fellow - Statistical and Computational Genetics of Autism Principal / Senior Bioinformatician Principal Bioinformatician Product Development Engineer (Rail) Publishing Portal Web Developer Radio Frequency Engineer Reader in Computer Science Reporting Analyst Research (Software) Engineer Research Assistant Research Associate Research Fellow Research Image Data Manager, Biomedical Engineering Research Officer Research Officer – Social Protection Research postgraduate Research Programmer Research Scientist Research Scientist / Senior Research Scientist Research Scientist in Machine Learning and Computer Vision Research Software Developer Research Software Developer for the Herchel Smith Professor of Organic Chemistry Research Software Engineer Research Studentship Research Worker Researcher SAP Trainee Technical Analyst Scientific Officer with Michela Garofalo Scientist SEAHA Studentship: Extracting epidemiological data from collections SEEG Data Archive Manager Senior / Research Associate in Clinical Integration and Image Analysis for Fetal Surgery Senior Analyst Programmer (Business Analysis) Senior Analyst/Programmer Senior Bioinformatician Senior Bioinformatician / Bioinformatician Senior Computational Statistician - Spatial Models Senior Data Acquisition Scientist / Data Acquisition Scientist Senior Data Manager Senior Database Administrator Senior IT Developer Analyst Senior Mathematical Modeller Senior Media Developer Senior Postdoctoral Researcher - Evolutionary and Computational Analysis of Infectious Disease (Phylodynamics) Senior Research Assistant Senior Research Associate Senior Research Associate – Molecular Modelling & Simmulation Senior Research Associate in Quantitative Clinical MRI Senior Research Fellow Senior Research Fellow/Research Fellow in Vibration Diagnostics and Prognostics/Digital Signal Processing Senior Research Laboratory Technician Senior Research Technician Senior Software Developer in Bioinformatics Senior Software Engineer / Software Engineer Senior Statistical Epidemiologist Senior Systems Administrator Senior Technician / Demonstrator (UCMK) Senior Web Developer SharePoint Developer Software Developer Software Developer (Bioinformatics) Software Developer (KTP Associate) Software Developer x 2 Software Developer/Programmer Software Developers in e-Learning Software Engineer Software/ Database Developer (KTP Associate) Sports Programme Manager Statistical Geneticist Statistical Programmer/Data Scientist Statistician Statistician/Epidemiologist Student and Enrolment Services Manager SWCAR Information Assistant System Administrator Systems Developer Systems, Data and Applications Team Leader Teaching Fellow in Computational Methods UTRCI Research Scientist, Control Systems Web Application Programmer Web Developer  


194 different job titles

We need a name...












Creating a community

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Workshop for RSEs

11 September 2013






29 April 2018

What about RSE careers?

RSE Groups

RSE Conference

202 attendees

14 countries

3-4 September 2018

RSE Fellowship

2017 Fellows:

2015 Fellows:

The Society of Research Software Engineering

Research Software Communities

A very brief history of Research Software Engineers


A not-so-brief history of Research Software Engineers


RSE State of the Nation Report 2017


What does an average RSE

look like?

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Called a Research Associate

(12% of respondents)

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Holds a PhD

(67% of respondents)

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Computer scientist or physicist

(27% of respondents)

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Average of 13 years of experience

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Considers themselves a

professional software developer

(58% of respondents)

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(84% of respondents)

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35-44 years old

(40% of respondents)

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Earns £32-43k

(47% of respondents)

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Uses Linux

(61% of respondents)

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Uses Python

(15% of respondents)

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7 out of 10 satisfaction with current position

(28% of respondents)

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7 out of 10 satisfaction with career

(25% of respondents)

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  1. Wants to work in a research environment

  2. Wants to advance research

  3. Wants to develop software

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Not just the UK

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Country Gender PhDs Background Reason to work
Canada n/a 45% IT n/a
Germany 83% male 48% Physics Research environment
Netherlands 89% male 11% Comp. sci. N/A
UK 84% male 67% Comp. sci./physics Research environment
USA 82% male 60% Comp. sci. Advance research
South Africa 92% male 68% Physics Research environment

What have we achieved?

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"It's a noble goal and all, but you won't change anything"

- Anonymous

"Genius is one percent inspiration,

ninety-nine percent perspiration"

- Thomas Edison

  1. Recognition

  2. A career path, albeit still informal

  3. A growth in the number of software experts

  4. Greater access to skills for researchers



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 © Simon Hettrick

These slides are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International