The 21st century has seen computing and data sciences play an increasing role in the pursuit of science (and more recently, the social sciences and humanities). On the African continent, the years since 2010 have seen major developments in bioinformatics and astronomy, as well as computation chemistry, physics and other fields. Alongside new equipment, new skills are required: software engineers to build scientific computing software and systems engineers to configure, deploy, manage and monitor equipment. With these new skills and new roles come new challenges: charting a career paths for research software and systems engineers, creating opportunities to learn and upgrade skills and working to improve equity, diversity and inclusion with the research software and systems engineering (RSSE) space.
The Research Software and Systems Engineers of Africa (RSSE Africa) forum grew out of the experience of RSSEs (primarily at SANBI at the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, South Africa) in supporting colleagues across the continent. It was launched in November 2019 (at the ASBCB 2019 conference https://www.iscb.org/iscbafrica2019) as an informal skills sharing forum. Our aims are to raise awareness of the specific contributions that RSSEs make to research in Africa, to organise events for RSSEs on the continent and the provide a forum for sharing skills and opportunities within the community.
The term “Research Software Engineer” is not yet widely used in Africa.
Regardless of your formal job title, if you answer yes to many of the following questions, you are doing the work of a Research Software (or Systems) Engineer:
- Are you employed to develop software for research?
- Are you spending more time developing software than conducting research?
- Are you employed as a postdoctoral researcher, even though you predominantly work on software development?
- Are you the person who does computers in your research group?
- Are you sometimes not named on research papers despite playing a fundamental part in developing the software used to create them?
- Do you lack the metrics needed to progress your academic career, like papers and conference presentations, despite having made a significant contribution through software?