RCD Professionalization and Facings

People across a range of roles support research computing and data (RCD) services. Whether we want to consider a job family framework, perspectives on RCD support, or a means of organizing discussion themes within the community, it is helpful to have a model that structures the range of roles. 

A February 2017 “Professionalization in Cyberinfrastructure” workshop[1] identified four general categories of roles in terms of the audience or materials that they are primarily engaged with: systems facing, software facing, researcher facing, and application facing. This model was taken up in a December 2018 “Maturity Model” development workshop, where the names evolved and expanded somewhat. In the course of discussions in the community, what had been a combined software and data facing was split into two separate concepts, yielding the current model that is being adopted by a number of working groups (e.g., RCD Professionalization, and the Research Computing and Data Capabilities Model) and other activities (e.g., the People Network). 

The Five Facings 

The model recognizes different roles that staff and faculty fill in supporting Research Computing and Data, with names that reflect who or what each role is facing (i.e., focused on). It is important to note that these are roles and not persons, and many RCD professionals act in more than one of these roles. In a small RCD organization, one or two individuals may cover these different roles, and while a large center may have a team associated with each facing, the work of some team members may still span more than one facing. 

The five facings are:

  1. Researcher Facing Roles. Includes research computing and data staffing, outreach, and advanced support, as well as support in the management of the research lifecycle.
    Example roles include: Research IT User Support, Research Computing Facilitator, Research Data Consultant, etc.[2].
  2. Data Facing Roles. Includes data creation; data discovery and collection; data analysis and visualization; research data curation, storage, backup, preservation, and transfer; and research data policy compliance.
    Example roles include: Research Data Management specialist, Data Librarian, Data Scientist, etc.
  3. Software Facing Roles. Includes software package management, research software development, research software optimization or troubleshooting, workflow engineering, containers and cloud computing, securing access to software, and software associated with physical specimens.
    Example roles include: Research Software Engineer, Applications Specialist, Data Engineer, etc..
  4. Systems Facing Roles. Includes infrastructure systems, systems operations, and systems security and compliance.
    Example roles include: HPC systems engineer, Storage Engineer, Network Engineer.
  5. Strategy- and Policy Facing Roles. Includes RCD leadership, institutional alignment, culture for research support, funding, and partnerships and engagement with external communities.
    Example roles include: Director, Assistant/Associate Director, etc.

[1] Nicholas Berente, James Howison, Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld,  John L. King, Stephen R. Barley, John Towns, 2017. Professionalization in Cyberinfrastructure (February 15, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3138592 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3138592 

[2] “CI Engineers” have different roles at different institutions, and some might (also) be in the Systems Facing roles.