Senior Research Software Engineer(HPC) - IT Services

University of Birmingham

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Position type:

Full time


£41,526 - £55,750

16 Mar 2020
30 Mar 2020

Full details:

Reference number: BIR-2000019G

Position Details

IT Services

Location - University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham UK

Full time starting salary is normally in the range of £41,526 to £49,553. With potential progression once in post to £55,750

Grade 8

Full time

Closing date - 30th March 2020


Job Summary

This post is established at the University of Birmingham, where the postholder will join a strong and dynamic team of Research Software Engineers with a particular focus on supporting researchers to exploit regional and national HPC services.

The Senior Research Software Engineer (HPC) will provide a technical software development and support service to academics from a wide range of disciplines. As a senior member of the Research Software Group, the RSE (HPC) will help shape Birmingham’s delivery of research software services.

The postholder will collaborate closely with research colleagues from many different academic disciplines and institutions and will provide expert knowledge and skills to develop, improve, maintain and support high quality software solutions and access to services, fulfilling the requirements of research projects. The postholder will contribute to developing the knowledge and skills within the research community at all stages of the research software development cycle, e.g. by providing training and coaching sessions as well as promoting the adoption of best practices.

The postholder will be the institutional lead, providing regional RSE expertise to support activities for the HPC Midlands Plus (HMP) Tier2 HPC Centre and to support access to both Tier1 and other regional Tier2 services.

Work Context

Central IT services at the University of Birmingham use complex, large-scale architectures based on Unix, Linux, Windows and cloud technologies, coupled with advanced storage solutions. These need to be configured and maintained to the highest possible standards of reliability, performance and quality. Business continuity and high service levels are demanded equally for mission-critical research services as well as for those relied on for teaching, learning and administration.

ARC builds and runs (or buys-in) a range of specialist services for researchers, collectively known as BEAR (Birmingham Environment for Academic Research). Aimed at all disciplines, BEAR covers an increasingly broad spectrum of needs, ranging from the traditional HPC through storage and archiving solutions to collaboration and analytics tools and new ‘on premises’ cloud HTC offerings. ARC also supports the exploitation of specialist regional and national services, including HMP and Archer. HMP is the regional Tier-2 HPC facility currently based in Loughborough that is operated by a collaborative grouping of the Universities of Birmingham, Warwick, Aston, Nottingham, Loughborough, Leicester and Queen Mary London. Together with the national supercomputer Archer (Tier 1) and Birmingham’s own BEAR infrastructure, they form a powerful resource for research.


Main Duties

Provide a technical software development and support service, available to all members of academic staff and researchers both at the university and, by arrangement, with other partner institutions.

  • Develop and maintain a programme of work and a system for allocating the finite development resource effectively (in conjunction with the Research Software Group Leader).
  • Prioritise tasks across multiple engagements to meet agreed objectives, ensuring effective communication to project leads.
  • Manage the expectations of researchers and research groups.
  • As appropriate, provide advice, support, coaching, coding services; crucially always with the aim of ownership and responsibility remaining with the research group.
  • Engage with researchers at all development stages and disseminate best practices in the development of sustainable research software.

Guide and support researchers to utilize the Tier 2 HMP resource

Take responsibility and work collaboratively with research groups from across the Universities for the definition, documentation, development and satisfactory completion of collaborative software projects: defining requirements; devising solutions; agreeing timescales and priorities as well as identifying the risks to be managed.

Each of these engagements will be unique in nature and complexity. They will typically range from requiring a few days to several months of effort.

Using their deep and broad expertise, advise and support research groups to utilize the available advanced computing platforms effectively; whether local, regional or national.

  • Become expert at installing, loading and porting applications onto the BEAR environment (BlueBEAR – batch HPC/HTC – and the BEAR Cloud virtual environment) and familiar with the equivalent processes for getting applications added to Tier 2 or Tier 1 services.
  • Support researchers to port code. Advise on improving code to make efficient use of the available resources and produce solid results quickly. This will involve debugging and complex problem solving.
  • Similarly, work with researchers to understand workflows and to assist with the porting and optimising of such workflows into BEAR and HMP resources.

Represent Birmingham and partner institutions at HMP technical and operational management meetings.

Originate, source and maintain appropriate documentation to support the delivery of software services. Maintain a portfolio and archive of collaborative software projects, code documentation, release notes and manuals.

Build and maintain relationships with research communities within the University and beyond, seeking opportunities to contribute to research or funding sources for new projects. Work closely with researchers and contribute to research bids to funding bodies. This will mean defining the scope of work and the associated costs for software engineering support for the grant applications as well as the associated IT infrastructure and support costs. Contribute to research papers to be published in academic literature, and produce case studies.

Contribute to raising awareness of BEAR and HMP services for researchers and the profile of the team. Help build active user communities locally and regionally, by contributing to seminars and networking events, encouraging the adoption of best practice, sharing knowledge and expertise.

Deliver training courses, devising content where applicable or, where qualified, delivering externally validated material, e.g. Software Carpentries. Content will vary from introductory to specialized and advanced levels.

Contribute to the support of computational research at the University, within ARC, HMP and the wider research software engineering ecosystem. Provide software engineering input to assist the maintenance of the infrastructure and deliver integrated support and services for local and Tier2 research communities.

Liaise and engage with external professional networks within the software engineering sector, such as Tier2 and national RSE networks and the Software Sustainability Institute, to keep informed of the latest developments and sector initiatives.

Identify opportunities for service improvement, such as efficiency, reliability and performance of parallel codes and third-party applications, and propose and develop innovative solutions to enrich the user experience, to enhance service delivery, and reduce costs or environmental impacts.

Maintain an awareness of technical developments, tools and ideas in research computing and in software engineering, including attending seminars, technical briefings, conferences and technical groups.

In addition to University provided training and development, you will undertake sufficient personal and professional development as required, ensuring skills and knowledge are up to date so that the role is performed to the required level.

Other duties of a similar nature as required by the Director of IT Services.


Person Specification

  • Formal education to degree level or equivalent, preferably in a subject with a strong computer science component.
  • A postgraduate qualification in a C&IT related discipline would be an advantage.
  • Relevant experience in C&IT including a substantial period supporting software and software development environments, ideally in a science environment.
  • Supporting researchers with complex requirements.
  • Broad and deep knowledge of software development and analysis tools and techniques.
  • Broad and deep knowledge of programming and programming languages, including at least one compiled language.
  • Significant experience of one Linux and associated software applications.
  • Expert user of High Performance Computing.
  • Good customer relationship management skills.
  • Proven ability to work as part of a team to deliver services.
  • A self-motivated learner with a track record of continually updating skills.
  • Excellent organizational/project management skills.
  • Good communication skills, both written and oral.
  • Good broad knowledge of C&IT, including latest technology industry trends.
  • Knowledge of Higher Education, Research and its environment.
  • Familiarity with ITIL would be an advantage.


  • No reports.
  • The role is a highly specialised and technical one, enabling and supporting the exploitation of software engineering in advanced computing environments to support research. This is complex, diverse, often novel and potentially transformative.
  • Customers are potentially all University research groups and their collaborators (nationally and internationally) at Birmingham and partner institutions. Success will enable delivery of major research outputs and the winning of further research income. The post holder will also contribute to the production of research grant applications which may generate income for research groups.
  • Essential to the effective exploitation of the multi-million pound BEAR and HMP infrastructures and meeting the commitments that both Birmingham and Aston made when bidding for the EPSRC funding.
  • Will bring disparate technology and people together and even devise systems or workflows to support the analysis work of client research groups. This work is hugely varied and challenging; it requires an analytical approach to problem solving as well as innovation in solution design.


Planning and organising

The individual will have guidance on workload management only and be expected to schedule their own time effectively as well as their interactions with their colleagues and researchers on a day to day basis. Headline priorities will be set and agreement will be reached in discussion with the Group Leader and Head of Section on extended engagements with specific research groups.

Some work will be generated by user tickets in the Service Desk, much will be delegated by the Head of Section, Group Leader or equivalent lead at partner sites following discussions with PIs but some will be self-generated by spotting opportunities/potential and through networking with the research community or referrals from colleagues.

The post holder will be expected to maintain a plan that balances a set of long term goals (perhaps a 2-3 year horizon) with shorter term interactions (up to one month). They will need to be responsive to technology advances and, in parallel, to maintain existing systems and services on shorter refresh cycles as well as make space to be responsive to the needs of users and troubleshoot and apply emergency fixes. This is a major challenge in terms of balancing competing requirements.

The job is overwhelmingly proactive though the individual will have to work hard to keep it that way. There will be little pattern to the work and require the individual to be adaptable to establish effective workload management tactics while meeting the demands of the research community.

Problem solving and decision making

i) Without reference to others

  • Devising major proposals for the development and exploitation of platforms/tools/software in accordance with agreed strategies, for presentation to the Head of Advanced Research Computing and/or HMP leads.
  • the implementation of such proposals or approaches, according to the plan taking into account the wider needs of the service
  • Establishing collaborative relationships with research groups, understanding their needs and proposing solution options.
  • Working with Research Groups to assist with software engineering developments and activities, and dealing with issues that they have been unable to solve (in terms of the computing dimensions) or helping them analyse the data faster or more effectively.

ii) After consulting others

  • Researching and making recommendations for long-term changes to BEAR Services to enhance capabilities, correct failures or performance problems – to be discussed with the Advanced Research Computing Section.
  • Working out how to exploit regional and national services, such as HMP, for analytical requirements which are beyond the capability of local services.
  • Solutions based on the adaptation of existing BEAR or HMP Services.

iii) Or that would be referred to someone else

  • developments which are the responsibility of other IT Services’ sections.
  • networking issues in the area of authentication and authorisation and network management, to be referred to the Network Section at Birmingham or the equivalent
  • Security standards (refer to the Chief Architect for policy and the Security Services Officer for practice).


Informal enquiries regarding this vacancy can be made to Andrew Edmondson -


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