Things I Learned from Looking at 500 Research Computing Manager Jobs over 10 Months

Written by   on October 14, 2020

I write a weekly newsletter for research computing managers, team leads, or those aspiring to those roles. One of the things I’ve wanted to emphasize in the newsletter is that managing research computing teams is a profession in and of itself, and worth doing well. Part of that is emphasizing the existence of career opportunities.

So since the beginning I’ve included job listings and maintained a job board, posting about 500 such jobs over the past 10 months and removing them as they become filled or otherwise unavailable. My main criteria for such jobs are whether or not I would describe the work as principally about managing or leading a research computing team - admittedly a fuzzy definition.

Over the course of examining those 500 jobs - and looking through many many more that never made it to the board - I’ve learned some things:

There are a lot of jobs out there for people managing research computing teams. I’ve never had any trouble finding some weekly to put in the job board or with highlights interesting enough to list at the end of the newsletter.

There are certainly many more I’m missing. As the field matures there are starting to be job boards for research software development or for particular sub-fields of research computing like bioinformatics. But, consistent with research’s neglect of management as something that needs to be done and done well, no such resources exist for the managers of those important roles. So I have a go-to list of google and other searches for jobs which I go through a couple of times a week.

In research, when you’re doing a literature search and you start hitting the same papers again and again, you’re pretty sure you’ve got a mostly complete list of references as a starting point. I’m nowhere near that with my managing research computing teams job list, largely because the names we use for these roles vary so widely. So I’m confident that I only see a fraction of these jobs. (You can help out by submitting any jobs you know about).

Research computing teams are broadening, and so is the need for managers. Where this is most obvious is in data science or data engineering teams, which have spread to every sector and every industry. Generic “Manager, Data Science” jobs are so plentiful that I don’t list most of them - many of them are more operational rather than “jobs leading research computing teams” - but even the ones that make the cut are in sectors from health to transportation to retail to engineering. There are increasingly data engineering, cloud architecture, etc roles for supporting research computing efforts, to say nothing of ML/AI jobs. And there are countless management/team lead jobs for specialist research computing in health, biology, and biomedicine.

Research data management is increasingly employable. As the initial data science and data engineering work in organizations mature, many institutions are realizing that they now need principled approaches to data governance, stewardship, and modelling. This is happening most rapidly in heavily regulated industries — health, finance — but is starting to percolate outwards. Those who have maintained and curated data resources for research, or who have supported those that do, will be surprised at the number of jobs in the private sector for doing similar work.

“Traditional” research computing team management jobs remain, and they take forever to fill: There are definitely still routinely “Director of Research Computing, University of Somethingorother” jobs out there. And I don’t know whether it’s because of the pandemic, or because of the competition from other sectors, but such jobs are taking forever to fill this year. I routinely see them open for months, and then reposted one or more times. I see this in both for managers of teams running on-premises hardware and for teams mainly doing software development.

Despite the talk of RSE units, most research computing jobs within academic institutions are lone outposts: While in companies research computing - data science, computing resource management, software development - tends to be centralized (even if it is matrixed out or embedded into other teams), in academia we’re definitely not there - most of the team leads/manger jobs I see in Universities are for small teams embedded in a single institute or project. I think that’s a shame; it greatly reduces the opportunity for cross-pollination, learning, and developing best practices, makes work less efficient and less satisfying, and it makes teams more management heavy than they need to be.