Oxford Research Software Developers Network (Oxford RSDN)

On 05 May 2015 an email was circulated within the Digital Humanities at Oxford (University) calling colleagues that were working as research software (including data) developers. The idea was to keep in touch, share experiences and learn from each other; as well finding similar roles when contracts end (as University of Oxford works a lot with fixed-term contracts).

Part of the email from :

The Oxford e-Research Centre, Computer Science and the Digital Humanities are working to set up a University-wide network of “Research Software Developers” (RSDs): those who combine expertise in programming with an intricate understanding of research, and support the work of researchers in developing the (usually bespoke) software that is fundamental to so much of modern research. Many such people are employed across the University, but are not always well supported by cross-university structures. As a result they are often isolated and difficult to retain within the University. We are thus looking to connect these individuals in order to share expertise, provide appropriate advanced training, and facilitate re-employment with the University, hence optimising the use of their skills to enhance the University’s research.

A central support for the network will be a register of RSDs and their expertise, combined with a community forum and virtual employment exchange. Otherwise what the network does will be largely up to the members, but our ideas include regular meetings with talks from members or external speakers on new technologies, techniques they’ve found useful, case studies of how particular projects were tackled, and the like. We could run training sessions and hackathons to learn new tools/languages, or address common problems. There could also be research talks on relevant topics that have the potential to be transferred into RSE work.

After a short survey and a mail-list formed the first kick-off meeting happened on 8th June 2015. I’ve participate on this meeting (as a team member of the BDLSS) and below are some of my notes of the event… The people that had their names down (possibly starting it all) were:

  • Jonathan Cooper, Computer Science
  • David Robey, Oxford e-Research Centre & Digital Humanities
  • Wes Armour, Oxford e-Research Centre
  • Charles Crowther, Classics
  • Michael Davis, Bodleian Libraries

Jonathan Cooper started the discussion and presented a few ideas, based on the survey… Main focus was to get:

  • Frequency, location and time of day for regular meetings.
  • Content of the meetings, particularly for Michaelmas Term.
    • Summarise all the suggestions made through our survey.
  • Our proposal is to have short monthly meetings focused on lightning talks from members, as well as occasional longer events such as training courses or hackathons.

Create a representative body to:

  • facilitate find people and posts
  • lobby for recognition (role, pay, career)

Survey appointed these main interests:

  • sharing
  • networking
  • training
  • career development

Types of meetings we (RSDN) can do:

  • lightening talks
  • discussions
  • training courses
  • longer talks/presentations
  • hackathons
  • facilitating

In terms of content, we can focus on:

  • groups
  • services
  • material
  • courses

After a few discussions, the steps forward seemed to settle on:

  • monthly meetings (about 1-2hs)
  • lightening talks
  • discussion
  • and occasionally longer events.

A few points were made about the importance of having a profile within the network, to allow discoverability (even if you don’t have a whole CV there), but have basic information about the person and other links to your other profiles online (LinkedIn, Github accounts, etc.)

“As a group, it is easier to make a case for supporting this group in higher levels and allow hiring, collaboration, etc.”

An interest for a meeting on the summer time was raised, we’ll await more information via the mail list.

On 25/06/2015 a Slack account was created, which you can join at https://rsdn.slack.com/signup, and as long as you have a domain email listed you can participate.

The initial website for the Research Software Developers Network (Oxford RSDN) is at: http://rsdn.oerc.ox.ac.uk/