Software and research: the Institute's Blog

Misconceptions still inhibit talented women from careers in computing

By Rane Johnson-Stempson, Microsoft Research, Education & Scholarly Communications Principal Research Director.

As I travel around the world, talking with girls and women about the tremendous opportunities for doing good while doing well in IT careers, I’m continually amazed by how few female students seriously consider studying computer science. Although the technology sector is poised for exponential job growth over the next several years, there’s a glaring lack of women entering the field. Since the 1980s, the number of computer science degrees awarded to women has steadily declined, to the point where women account for only 17 percent of computer science graduates in the UK today. 

You would think that employment prospects alone would make women consider tech careers, especially after the tough economic times we’ve been through. Let’s take a step back and look at the economics of the technology sector. In the UK, the technology sector has played a key role in helping the economy bounce back from the double-dip recessions of 2008-2009 and 2011-2012. It has, for instance, provided 30% of the jobs growth in London since 2009. Nationwide, employment in the IT industry grew 5.5% between 2009 and 2012, and it is up an astonishing 20 percent in London (more than three times faster than the sector average) since the recession. Today, more than 1.3 million people work in the UK’s technology sector. 

Recomputation.org contributes to "a cornerstone of science"

By Steve Crouch, Consultancy Leader.

Reproducibility - the ability for people other than the original researcher to reproduce a scientific result - is a cornerstone of science (it is also the theme of this year's Collaboration Workshop). A collaboration between the Software Sustainability Institute and recomputation.org will make it easy to submit recomputable experiments to a public repository and for other researchers to reproduce them.

Recomputation.org allows the reproduction of scientific results generated using software. The software is packaged with all its dependencies as a virtual machine, which is hosted on the Recomputation.org site so that others can download it and reproduce the original experiment. "Recomputing past experiments is really important to securing reproducibility in Computer Science" said Ian Gent, creator of recomputation.org "not only that, it means new researchers can look inside machines and borrow from the experimental techniques of predecessors. So we can not only recompute past experiments but make new ones better."

Software Carpentry at TGAC

By Aleksandra Pawlik, Training Leader.

Last month The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) hosted their first Software Carpentry bootcamp. The bootcamp was open to biologists and, in total, 25 of them attended the event. We covered the core Software Carpentry topics, such as using command line to automate tasks, good programming practice with Python, debugging and testing, and version control. We also added an introduction to data analysis with pandas, the Python Data Analysis Library.

Endless possibilities of Computer Science: women in software

By Collette Curry, Postgraduate Computer Scientist at Manchester Metropolitan University.

This article is one of the articles in our series Women in Software, in which we hear perspectives on a range of issues related to women who study and work with computers and software.

I always had a natural curiosity about computers, but never dreamed I’d be studying artificial intelligence at such a high level!

When I was younger, my brother had a Sinclair Spectrum computer, this captured my imagination as all I had seen before it were primitive games on the television played via simple games consoles. I soon managed to get my hands on a Sinclair ZX81 with a 16k expansion pack, tape player and a small Sinclair printer from a friend who didn’t want them anymore. I found myself spending hours and hours looking over code for games printed in computer magazines and learning, often through trial and error, to improve on them. I was in awe at the adventure type games that were available and decided to have a go at coding one myself.  This was no mean feat as the 16k pack only had to move slightly and the program was lost and had to be reloaded.  I persevered and before long had a workable game to play with. This was the beginning of my involvement with computers.

Re-imagining the lab, or, when science meets art

LabBook being used with a tablet and stylusBy Mike Jackson, Software Architect.

LabBook is a mobile app and online service to securely record and share experimental notes. LabBook's developers - Mark Woodbridge, Geraint Barton and Derek Huntley of Imperial College London's Bioinformatics Support Service - asked us for consultancy as part of our open call. I've been working with them to provide advice on the LabBook software, how it is developed, and how it can be moved towards an open source product.

Last week, I attended presentations by students on the Royal College of Art's Information Experience Design masters course, led by Kevin Walker. Previous courses have seen students working with galleries and museums. This year, for the first time, students worked with scientists as part of a project with the LabBook team on "Re-imagining the lab". Pairs of students shadowed lab scientists at work to understand how scientists work within the complex physical space of the laboratory and how technology might affect their use of this space. 

Being creative and shaping the world: women in software

By Catherine De Roure, Undergraduate Computer Scientist at Bath University.

This article is the first in our series Women in Software, in which we hear perspectives on a range of issues related to women who study and work with computers and software.

I always joke that a degree in Computer Science was the best decision I never made. You see, I never actively sought this career; it was one I very much stumbled in to. Would I change it? Not a chance.

At the age of 17, full of big dreams, I was convinced I was going to be an architect. I wanted to study a discipline that allowed me to use physics and maths with a bit of creative flare. I wanted to make things from nothing, start with a blank canvas and shape the world. But unfortunately, I was unsuccessful in my applications. This, in turn, caused my impulsive seventeen-year-old self to drastically decide that she wanted to study something completely different altogether… but what? I needed something that allowed me to have that creative freedom.

Women in software: what's your view?

By Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

There's a huge difference in the number of men and women who study computer science (about 84% men to 16% women according to a report from the CPHC) - and that difference continues into employment. We've asked a group of women from different backgrounds and career stages to give us their view on women in software, which will be published in a new blog series starting today. We're looking for more authors, so please info [at] software [dot] ac [dot] uk (let us know) if you would like to take part.

We're looking for a 800-1000 word perspective on an aspect of women in software. It could be about your own work, what drew you to computer science, or your views on why so few women choose a career in software. We also want to hear about your views on the current situation of education and employment of women in software, ideas for improving the gender balance, and role models who could help attract women into the field.

If you would like to write for us, please info [at] software [dot] ac [dot] uk (contact us) and provide a short (a paragraph or two) synopsis of your idea.

The first post will be released at 14.00 today, with other posts following in the coming weeks. Keep an eye on our blog or Twitter for more news.

CW14: an amazing event about software and reproducibility

By Shoaib Sufi, Community Leader.

This year’s Collaborations Workshop (CW14) takes place from March 26th-28th 2014 in Oxford, with a Hackday starting on the evening of March 27th through to March 28th. The theme of CW14 is software in your reproducible research.

The event takes place at the Oxford e-Research Centre (OeRC) with refreshments and free wi-fi provided. There will also be a conference dinner at St John’s College on the evening of March 26th.

GitHub and Microsoft Research will be on hand with the latest advice on using the cloud for research and open-source collaborative tooling for your research software. 

The Software Sustainability Institute team will be there too, so if you are interested in our Open Call for projects, would like some ad hoc consultancy, or are interested in running a Software Carpentry bootcamp, do speak to us at the event.

Publishing open-source software – the impact of the BioJS collection

By Michael Markie, F1000 Research.

Two weeks ago F1000Research launched its article collection series with the publication of the BioJS collection, guest edited by F1000Research editorial board member Manuel Corpas from The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), UK.

BioJS is an open-source community of developers who are concerned with the handling and visualisation of biological data on the web. Initiated at EMBL-EBI and coordinated by TGAC, it has so far created 39 different software components in a very short space of time. One of the main reasons for building the community was to introduce a standardised way in which biological web visualisation tools should be implemented and shared. BioJS have come up with a centralised registry and a minimum set of guidelines to enable users and developers alike to have the opportunity to reuse, combine and extend the existing functionality. These guidelines have been put into place to minimise the learning curve for developers. Once they know how to build one component, then creating new ones should be straightforward. Once they know how to extend a component, it should be easy for them to extend any other. BioJS provides an open-source community for biologically oriented JavaScript developers to create applications, share code and increase the visibility of their work. I think Manuel Corpas puts it best when explaining the BioJS components as “a set of standard Lego-like pieces for building web applications that display biological data”.

Curved display technologies for public spaces

By Dr Julie R. Williamson, SICSA Fellow in Multimodal Interaction at the University of Glasgow.

This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.

Public displays have the potential to dramatically change urban life, but current public displays and interfaces go unnoticed or completely ignored by the majority of passers-by. This presents a serious problem for the impact and uptake of touch sensitive displays if only a small minority of passers-by will approach these displays and discover their interactive qualities. To change the way people think about public displays, we are designing and evaluating spherical touch sensitive displays for public spaces.

The project is a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and Pufferfish Ltd. Using the cutting edge display technology developed by Pufferfish Ltd, a spherical display called the PufferSphere®, we are employing computer vision techniques to understand how people use the display and how we can improve the user experience. The approach is based on social signal processing, where software is used to automatically extract and analyse social behaviours from digital signals. In this case, we are extracting pedestrian traffic from video data as an interesting social signal for public displays.