Mark Woodbridge

14963879736_f7c42086ea_z.jpgBy Mark Woodbridge, Research Software Engineering Team Lead

This is the first in a series of blog posts by the Research Software Engineering team at Imperial College London describing activities funded by their RSE Cloud Computing Award. The team is exploring the use of selected Microsoft Azure services to accelerate the delivery of RSE projects via a cloud-first approach. This post was originally published at the Imperial London College Research Software Engineering team blog. 

A great way to explore an unfamiliar cloud platform is to deploy a familiar tool and compare the process with that used for an on-premise installation. In this case we’ll set up an open source continuous delivery system (Drone) to carry out automated testing of a simple Python project hosted on GitHub. Drone is not as capable or flexible as alternatives like Jenkins (which we’ll consider in a subsequent post) but it’s a lot simpler and a suitable example…

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RSEsBy Caroline Jay, University of Manchester, Albert Solernou, University of Leeds, and Mark Woodbridge, Imperial College London

At present, few higher education institutions in the UK - or indeed internationally - employ a central team of dedicated research software engineers (RSEs) who sit outside of any specific academic department. The allocation of baseline funding to software developers is considered a risky activity when every member of staff represents a significant ongoing cost which has to be recovered. A cautious approach to employing people in what may be perceived as a completely new role is understandable, particularly in an uncertain financial climate.

Nevertheless, permanently employing RSEs has the potential to pay huge dividends, a fact borne out by the institutions who have established central pools, including the University of Manchester, UCL and the Turing Institute, and rapidly expanded their teams.

Institutional benefits of employing RSEs

A primary benefit of including software engineers on the baseline can be summed up by the Software Sustainability Institute mantra of “better software, better research”. Involving professional software engineers in research projects leads to better quality data, analysis and results, which has a direct impact on the scientific evidence base. Higher…

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TenReasonsToBeAnRSE.jpgBy Chris Cannam, Dirk Gorissen, James Hetherington, Cass Johnston, Simon Hettrick and Mark Woodbridge.

Anthony Finkelstein wrote a great post about the benefits of being a software engineer: you can call yourself an engineer without getting your hands dirty, and you can wear jeans and a T-shirt to work (if you feel like being smart). All good points, but it got us thinking, whilst it may be good to be a software engineer, it's even better to be a research software engineer. And here's why.

(And if you're interested in this post, you should attend our workshop for research software engineers on 11 September in Oxford.)

1. Right at the cutting edge of science

You can read books and watch documentaries about research, but that's old news. If you really want to know what's going on, you have to work with the researchers themselves.

Research software engineers work right at the frontiers of science: they are the people who researchers work with in order to turn theories into results. And unlike researchers, Research Software Engineers don't have to pay for this privilege by writing papers.

2. Travel the world

Fancy a trip to Singapore, Rio, Hawaii, LA, Hong Kong, or Shanghai? Become a research software engineer.

We're not saying that you'll be…

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OpenAndClosed2.jpgBy Mark Woodbridge, software developer, Bioinformatics Support Service, Imperial College London.

This is the first article in a new series called a day in the software life. In this series, we will be asking researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.

I'm a research software engineer developing tools to help life scientists organise, analyse and share their data. This is a varied and rewarding role but with its challenges - not least keeping up to date with both technology and the relevant research whilst trying to build robust, usable, self-sustaining software and getting credit for doing so. However, one thing that makes it enjoyable is being part of a wider development community. The innumerable open source software projects that enable or accelerate development of the tools that we build for others are an invaluable resource and were the basis of a recent…

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Mark.jpgBy Mark Woodbridge, Bioinformatics Support Service, Imperial College London.

This year will mark my tenth anniversary as a software developer, most of which I have spent in academia. I started out developing a web application in Java using Eclipse on Linux. This much hasn’t changed, despite the rise of Android, NoSQL, HTML5, DVCS and many other technologies and tools. Neither have the basic principles of software architecture, testing, and usability. So I’m lucky that I was encouraged to pick up good habits at the start of my career.

But there have been other invariants. I’m still not sure whether I’m really a post-doc or a member of staff, whether I’m a researcher, an engineer or a programmer, and how my career should develop accordingly. As a computer scientist, I still often feel completely unqualified to communicate effectively with specialists in the department in which I work. And I still do a bad job of explaining my job to friends and family, who assume that all IT people in universities either lecture on programming or fix computers.

Initiatives such as the Software Sustainability Institute and DevCSI (thanks to JISC and the EPSRC) cannot by themselves solve these problems, but they can make a huge difference not only in pursuing their stated goals (such as promoting best practice, building communities around software and promoting the use of local developers) but, as part of this process, providing…

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