This report provides a history of the U. K.’s Research Software Engineers campaign and a snapshot of the state of the U.K.’s Research Software Engineer (RSE) community. As I understand it, the term was coined at a U. K. Software Sustainability Institute (SSI) workshop, and now refers to an 800 strong community in the U.K. You can download the report from Zenodo. I urge all of you interested in career paths for academic software engineers to read it.
Briefly, modern research is next to impossible without quality software (one survey in the UK reported that 92% of researchers across all disciplines used research software). By extension, a a significant majority of research results are based on the skill of software engineering experts. Nevertheless, the work of software experts in academia remains poorly recognized, and they earn much less than their counterparts in industry. They are often hired as researchers, and are their careers are measured by the quality of research they are left unable to perform.
The report details these difficult straits, such as restrictions related to human resources, finances and funding policies, as well a culture in universities that tends to overlook the importance of software. Various solutions tried to date succeeded largely in making the software engineering community transient and unrecognized. Thus, since 2012, a community of these experts has grown around a campaign to raise awareness of the software community, who now now in many cases identify as Research Software Engineers.
A grass-roots campaign, initiated and still supported by the Software Sustainability Institute and now coordinated by the research software engineering community itself has led to thje rapid growth of an active community of almost 800 Research Software Engineers, generated significant international interest, seen the proliferation of a new type of group in academia that increases access to software expertise, and led to the creation of a fellowship that builds on these successes. Case studies in the document describing the careers of RSEs illuminate all the issues described in this post.
Despite the successes, the report recognizes that much work still needs to be done in engaging all research stakeholders – universities and funding agencies – in implementing software career paths across the U.K.
Growth of the UK RSE Community: