Skills

By Daisie Huang, Software Engineer, Dryad Digital Repository.

What differentiates scientific coders from research software engineers? Scientists tend to be data-discoverers: they view data as a monolithic chunk to be examined and explore it at a fairly fine scale. Research Software Engineers (and software engineers in general) tend to figure out the goal first and then build a machine to do it well. In order for scientists to fully leverage the discoveries of their predecessors, software engineers are needed to automate and simplify the tasks that scientists already know how to do.

Scientists want to explore. Engineers want to build

I've been thinking a lot about the role of coding in science. As a software engineer turned scientist, my research is extremely computational in nature: I work with genomes, which are really just long character strings with biological properties. My work depends on software developed by myself and many, many other scientists. Scientists are, by and large, inquisitive and intelligent people who are fast learners and can quickly pick up new skills, so it seems natural that many would teach themselves programming. When I first started talking to scientist-coders, I thought that perhaps I could relate to them from a programming perspective, and maybe bring some experience in formal software design practices to teaching scientists about coding. I started working with…

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JobCentre.jpgBy Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

There are more unemployed graduates in computer science than in any other discipline (see my last post). In an attempt to understand the issue, David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Skills, recently held a workshop that brought together leading representatives from industry and academia, and the Software Sustainability Institute. In this post, I’ll discuss my take on some of the ideas that were discussed.

If you want good quality graduates you need to start young, so the first focus is schools. Programming has just been introduced to the national curriculum, which is a great first step. Now we need teachers who are both knowledgeable and - most importantly - passionate about computer science. Computer science is all too often taught by people whose first degree, and general interest, lies in another domain. We must attract talented computer scientists into teaching so that they can pass on their excitement about the subject to the next generation.

It’s a momentous day when you choose what to study at university: with a single decision, a bewildering range of…

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