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1. What is scientific software engineering, and why is it so important?
Software engineers are involved in the entire life cycle of a piece of software; from its initial concept and design, through development and testing, all the way to deployment, maintenance, and upgrades. It is important because software can be such a useful and powerful tool, allowing its users to do great things, (and to save them from doing boring, monotonous things). The better the software engineer can make these tools, the more productive and empowered the user becomes.
2. How did you first become interested in this field?
I’ve always been interested in STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), but was unsure which direction to take for university study. Some students from Reading University came to my school to present some outreach work for their subject of Cybernetics (Control Systems and Robotics). I then knew what I wanted to do J I loved the broad range of topics the course covered: Electronics, programming, mechanical design, artificial intelligence, mathematics and control theory. I was already developing software for myself at home, so developing software at Diamond where all these fields come together seemed a good match.
3. Can you walk us through a typical day?
A typical day usually involves a mixture of things from my answer to question 1 - A new project may be triggered so need to start designing how we are going to approach it, or a piece of kit may fail on a beamline so I need to go and investigate the problem and find a solution, or a current project may need a new feature to be developed and tested. And all of the above could come from a different scientific team, so there is good variety.
4. What do you enjoy about your job? What makes it unique?
I really enjoy the diversity of my role; I get to work on lots of different, interesting projects and problems and also get to learn about the science it helps deliver along the way. I feel the diversity also makes the job unique. There can’t be many careers where the job requests come in from such a wide range of science areas and applications.
5. Any advice for people interested in a future in scientific software engineering?
Just to study STEM subjects that you enjoy and find interesting. I think it’s worth noting that you don’t necessarily need to study computer science to have a career in software engineering. Many of the software engineers at Diamond (including myself) come from different education backgrounds: mathematics, engineering, chemistry, etc…
Also, it has never been easier to get involved in software at home. With the rise of hardware like the Raspberry Pi, a huge range of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), online tutorials, and open source software, there are lots of ways to get coding before you even think about your future career.
Diamond Light Source is the UK's national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire.
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