Research Software Engineer (Magnetic Field Researcher), Geomagnetism, British Geological Survey (NERC)
I study Earth's magnetic field and its magnetic connection to the Sun. I'm interested in reproducible, reliable research and in recognizing software as a valuable product of scientific endeavor.
I help predict potentially hazardous space weather that could damage the power distribution network. I also help the maps app on your phone work out which way you are facing. Software underpins everything all of this; I’m particularly interested in machine learning, inverting big matrices, parallel data processing pipelines, and running real-time services. For me sustainable software is software which is easy to use; easy to adapt and; above all, easy to understand. Lots of my time is spent fixing bugs or trying to reason about software that was written as a private love letter to the hardware: not as something for humans to understand. I want to spend less time doing that stuff and have more time and space to think creatively about my research. By investing the time today to write software sustainably, we can give gift of time to our future selves: time to think and explore and experiment more in your domain. Spending today writing software unsustainably shackles our future selves to having to maintain whatever mess it was we threw together as quickly as possible. I believe unsustainable research software is symptomatic of a wider malaise within academia. A broken incentive system is the likely cause of not only bad software but also the reproducibility crisis, p-hacking and general falling standards of academic integrity. Yet, with some 70% of research underpinned by code, efforts to improve software quality can have large, positive, downstream effects on reproducibility throughout research as a whole. Software is an output of research activity in its own right, not least because it often contains lots more information about how to solve a given research problem than can fit in a paper. We should recognise this and start taking care over its quality.
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Check out contributions by and mentions of Laurence Billingham on www.software.ac.uk