Robert Haines runs the second-oldest RSE group in the UK at the University of Manchester. Set up in 2014, the group came about through persuasion from many people “and a little bit of luck”, Haines says. “We had an advantage over other places in that we had one of the principle investigators of the Software Sustainability Institute here, Professor Carole Goble, who obviously didn’t need to be convinced of the value of a group like this.”. “Professor Doug Kell also gathered the views of high-ranking professors using computation on campus, and put together a report suggesting that the university needed a central pool of RSEs,” Haines says.
This all happened, fortuitously, as the IT department was undergoing a reorganisation, “and so it was relatively easy to talk to the then IT director and say ‘look, all these professors think IT services doesn’t do enough to support research…’,” Haines says.
As RSE manager Haines inherited several people who were already doing RSE type work around the university. “That was another bit of good fortune in that I didn’t have to find people, and these people were already being funded,” he says.
A reorganisation in 2016 saw Haines promoted to Head of Research Software Engineering and able to hire more people. The group now has 17 members of staff and divides its work into two categories: short term ad hoc projects of up to six weeks, where a researcher needs help with some data analysis or visualisation, and longer-term work, generally planned in advance and funded by research grants.
The group sits centrally, in IT services, and provides professional services across the University “in humanities, physical sciences, life sciences, and also projects funded by research councils and charities”, Haines says.