Photo by delfi de la Rua on Unsplash.

Authors: Julia Damerow, Martin Thomas Horsch, Stephan Janosch

At the RSE Leadership Workshop in September 2020, this working group came together to discuss two main objectives. Part of the time, we talked about plans to provide a single entry point to the international RSE community. This discussion was based on previous work by which the website was established. The main goals were to make all relevant information on RSE communities around the world findable and accessible both to insiders and outsiders, and to explore the idea of a digital marketplace. Such a marketplace was envisioned to be a place where people and institutions could find the RSE support that they require and that would let individual RSEs and RSE groups acquire new projects. The other topic, we discussed was the idea of creating an RSE “profile map” that could serve as a tool for RSEs and non-RSEs alike to describe the different tasks and skill sets of an RSE. Since such a profile map would need a home, we considered this being part of the single entry point discussion.

Single Entry Point and Marketplace for the RSE Community

Previous work has already created a website at that serves as an umbrella for the different RSE communities around the world. However, the general opinion seems to be that this website could be more than what it currently is. It could (and possibly should) become the single entry point for the RSE community. The website could serve as a gateway for anyone interested in RSE work or the RSE job profile to find geographically or intellectually relevant RSE communities. It could also map out how the different communities relate to each other, and to communicate communities-spanning activities (such as the RSE Leadership workshop or the RSE conference).

We explored several possible changes and additions to the existing website and categorized them as either realizable immediately, realizable in the medium- to long-term, or as needing decisions/discussion from other groups. Below is the list of items we discussed and crowd-sourced with the rest of the workshop participants.

Realizable immediately

  • The list of associations should be checked and updated as necessary.
  • A list of domain-specific RSE communities should be added.
  • An event section that lists past events (RSE Leadership workshops, conferences) and future events should be added.
  • A resource section could be added that would link to other relevant RSE sources (e.g. journals where RSEs can submit their work).
  • Recommendations of a standardized description for RSE use cases (draft) could be provided.

Realizable in the medium- to long-term

  • The website could aggregate other RSE blogs, or at least pull blog posts that are of interest to the wider RSE community.
  • The website could host a crowd-sourced map of RSEs and RSE groups around the world.
  • Similar to the aggregated blog, the website could aggregate the Twitter feeds and event calendars from the different RSE communities.
  • The resource section could also contain information on ongoing (large) projects, open source initiatives that seek contributions, relevant funding agencies, etc.

Needing discussion/decisions from other groups

  • It would be useful if the website had some concrete ways to get in touch with someone, e.g. through an email address. This however raises the question of who will be responsible for the website and its maintenance (in which “who” might refer to an organization/association and not necessarily to a person).
  • Another question is the implementation of the website. Jekyll, while easy to use, does put certain limitations on the functionality. If, for example, the community would like to add a forum to the site, another solution might be better suited. For this though, questions about who will ultimately be responsible for the site and its maintenance need to be decided.
  • Some social aspects might be nice to have. If users could create searchable profiles and add projects they would like to collaborate on, the community could use such a “marketplace” to connect across countries and disciplines.

RSE Profile Map

The profession of an RSE, as rapidly growing as it is, is still not as widely known as we might like it to be. There are probably many people out there that do RSE work but do not realize that there is a whole community for them. Similarly, the message of the importance of RSEs in science has still not reached every corner of the world. One possible reason (even if it is a minor one) is that RSEs do many different tasks, have many different responsibilities, and have very different skill sets. This makes it on the one hand hard to find the community in the first place (just recently someone told me: “Thank you! I didn’t know what to call the job I want to do until you said Research Software Engineer!”), and on the other hand, it makes it difficult for people who are not RSEs but who would like to work with one to define and communicate the expertise they are looking for.

To help with these issues, we discussed creating a map (which might be a list at first) that would try to give a broad overview of all the different skills and competencies an RSE might have. Such a map would allow people doing RSE work to identify with the community, but also give “outsiders” an idea of all the different skills an RSE might have or require. From our experiences, we agreed that it does seem like most RSEs have a wide range of responsibilities from programming over operations to project and people management often paired with research tasks, while many (or even most?) software engineers in the industry only have to focus on one or maybe two of these areas.

As a first step towards our end goal of an RSE Profile map, we compiled a list of tasks and competencies that we gathered from other categorizations and by going through job postings. The resulting list is meant as a starting point for a discussion. It needs the input from the community to make it as comprehensive and useful as possible. We are obviously not all-knowing, so this list is bound to be incomplete and there are most likely categorizations that should be discussed. Over the next couple of weeks, we would like the community to engage in a discussion that will lead to a more complete list that can then be published on the RSE website and hopefully be turned into some kind of map. We left out many things and specific technologies in order to keep the list manageable but we are open to making this list more specific if the community finds this useful.

If you have any suggestions on how to change this list, please join the Slack channel #rse-profile-map for any in-depth discussion or leave a comment in this Google Doc.

RSE Tasks and Competencies

  • Software Development (in the 2018 survey called “developing software”)
    • Requirements gathering/analysis/formulation
    • Technology evaluation
    • Programming/implementation
      • Software Architecture
      • Cross-platform development
      • Maintenance
        • Bug fixing
        • Version upgrades
    • Testing
    • Distributed systems
      • Cloud computing
      • Grid computing
    • Client-server architectures/web applications
      • Frontend
        • Frameworks
        • UX
        • Testing
      • Backend
      • Web services (API development)
    • Desktop applications
    • Embedded systems/software
    • Real-time systems software
  • User interface
    • UX design
    • Graphic design
  • Areas of CS
    • Algorithm
      • development
      • evaluation
    • Framework development
    • Formal languages and automata theory
    • Logic
    • Randomness, geometry and discrete structures
    • Semantics and reasoning
    • Agent-based modelling
    • Artificial intelligence
      • Machine Learning (Deep learning, neural nets, etc.)
    • Computer vision
    • Information retrieval
    • Data mining
    • High performance computing
    • Signal detection/processing
    • Cryptography
      • Blockchain
    • Compiler construction/design
    • GPU programming
    • Scientific computing
    • Computer networking
    • Operating systems
  • Domain-specific topics
    • GIS
    • Bioinformatics
    • Industrial control systems
    • Simulation
  • Around Software
    • Project management
    • Software aspects
      • Interoperability
      • Quality
      • Performance
      • Reliability
      • Fault tolerance
      • Safety
      • Usability
    • Operating
      • System administration
      • Incident response
      • Continuous Integration/Deployment
      • DevOps
      • Containerization
    • Process development (best practices, software quality, etc.)
    • Support
      • End-user support
      • Maintenance of support systems
    • Documentation
      • Developer documentation
      • End-user documentation
      • Reports (stats, progress reports, etc.)
  • Data management systems/information storage systems
    • Database design and models
      • Relational
      • NoSQL
      • Document Repositories
    • Data structures
    • Query languages
    • Database administration
  • Data
    • Data visualization
    • Data management
    • Data analysis
  • People-related
    • People management (2018 survey: Management?)(2018 survey: Management)
    • Technical leadership (2018 survey: Management)
    • Software advertising
    • Software feedback gathering
    • Training (2018 survey: Teaching)
      • Teaching
      • Consulting
      • Mentoring
    • Funding/Grants
      • Communication
      • Reporting
      • Grant writing
    • Networking/communication
      • Stakeholders
      • Collaborators
      • Users
      • General public
  • Research output (2018 survey: Research)
    • Presentation of results (e.g. meetings, workshops, conferences, …)
    • Scientific writing
  • Community (2018 survey: other activities)
    • Lobbying
    • Open source development
  • Other (2018 survey: other activities)
    • Domain-specific knowledge
      • Domains according to
        • Geistes- und Sozialwissenschaften
        • Lebenswissenschaften
        • Naturwissenschaften
        • Ingenieurwissenschaften
      • Domains according to nature
    • Statistical methods
    • Use of analysis software
  • Other tasks as assigned

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