HPC-SIG Meeting 2019-02-13

This was held at Queen Mary, London


The Agenda for this meeting was:

10:00 Arrivals welcomed

10:00-10:30 Coffee & Refreshments

10:30-11:00 Career pathways and roles (Christine Kitchen/Jacky Pallas)

11:00-11:30 HPC Certification

11:30-12:00 Professional Learning Programmes and Masters Apprenticeships (Martin Callahagn)

12:00-12:30 Thoughts on the HPC-SIG Website (Graeme Murphy)

12:30-13:30 LUNCH

13:30-13:45 Internships at the University of Hull (Graeme Murphy)

13:45-15:15 Workforce Development Discussion Groups (Martin Callahagn/Graeme Murphy)

  • Break into 4 groups.
  • 4 topics to discuss.
  • 5 mins to discuss per topic.
  • 15 mins for feedback from all groups
  1.  How are posts funded ?
  2. What are the common skills needed for particular roles ?
  3. What training and personal development is offered and how is it funded?
  4. Looking to the future what are the strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities facing the UK HPC workforce ?
  • General Room Discussion (10 mins)

15:15 –15:30 Afternoon Tea & Coffee

15:30 –16:30 SIG Business

  1. Approval of Terms of Reference (Graeme Murphy)
  2. GDPR Update (Graeme Murphy)
  3. Financial Report (Richard Martin)
  4. Chair’s update/Closing Words (Christine Kitchen)

Notes from the Meeting


Introduction by Thomas King.

Career pathways and roles (Christine Kitchen/Jacky Pallas)

This was introduced by Christine asking if there were new attendees at the meeting, and there were four.

Jacky Pallas gave an overview of the various roles in HPC/research computing based on a study by James Smithies (King’s Digital Lab). Three sets of skills families were identified for career paths although there can be cross over.

Some advice was offered for career progression, namely ‘Make a friend in HR’ and ‘Follow the money’ and building business cases (what value the role can bring) and revenue streams. The cost of recruitment was noted and that failing to recruit the right person
is also potentially costly. Jacky noted that there is an effort to share job descriptions. Jacky also noted that it will be useful to note what then works – job description wording, advertisement sources.
This is work that Jacky is doing, but we can link from HPC-SIG to make it more available to people. 30 or 40 job descriptions currently in the database.

David Fergusson noted that salary is not always the best carrot, but also other aspects of the job, such as challenge, variety, job experience, and personal agency. Tier 2 visas may be an issue in the future. Also noted was the
benefit of SMG report. Christine noted that lobbying the research councils to value careers would be useful. Alan Real noted that looking at job families and grading is useful and how they span research/IT etc. Christine noted
t hat IT job families are often not fit for purpose for research support jobs. David Fergusson noted a need to look 5 years ahead. Around 40% said that they have a graduate apprenticeship scheme. Does HR understanding the challenges?
Noted that visa sponsorship is expensive, so Brexit may impose additional sectorial recruitment costs. Visa expiry needs to be checked too.

Other things mentioned were the benefit of similar job templates across the sector, alignment with industrial roles, promoting ease of transfer between industry and academia, the use of internships, and the success RSEs have had with establishing career paths. This took the RSE community a lot of work.

High turnover was noted.


– KCL Digital Humanities Lab JDs/career pathways
– Blog post https://www.kdl.kcl.ac.uk/blog/rse-career-development/
– Full document on Zenodo: https://zenodo.org/record/2559235#.XGP1wFX7TIU

HPC Accreditation (Julian Kunkel)

There as a suggestion it is not easy to learn the skills required to provide an efficient service.

On recruitment how do you verify skills (hence certification)?

An extensive skill tree was shown. There are different views onto the skills tree possible and a separation of concerns – certification, content, etc. which allows different providers to offer the training material.

JavaScript for visualisation of trees is required. W

Certification is via online multiple-choice testing. A question arose on testing the testing – how robust is it

Sharing training would be great, but how to coordinate such an effort?

What can the SIG do to possibly smooth that abiity to share?

How to correlate system efficiency with overall data centre skills, or suggest to data centre staff to attend courses based on errors that appear in a data centre?

Julian is finalising how to represent skill trees, certificates, etc.


Could links with BCS help this area?

Alan Real noted link to DiRAC and ARCHER driving tests. It was noted that these are not formal certificates in the same sense.

How many universities offer any HPC training (in more depth that inductions, etc.)?

Some additional links

HPC Badges: XSEDE Enters the Micro-Certification Arena


Professional Learning Programmes and Masters Apprenticeships (Martin Callahagn)

Noted the apprenticeshp levy which applies to every university. At Leeds this is £2 million. It does potentially go up to master’s level training and no age restrictions provided it’s an upskilling.

At Leeds the entry level is Grade 2. Grade 5 to Grade 5 reskilling supportable.

Leeds is supporting internal RSEs via this route for recent call for RSEs

Masters Level Programme for Research IT Staff? https://www.qa.com/apprenticeships/apprenticeship-programmes/msc-digital-and-technology-solutions-specialist

Devel Progs for Research IT staff, and graduate training for non-IT grads?

Make use of existing framworks within Britsh Computer Society (BCS) for accreditation?

Thoughts on the HPC-SIG Website (Graeme Murphy)

Mockup shown

Key issue: what is the website for? Bruno: need to answer the fundamental: what is the SIG really for – answer this one first, then identify what offers maximum benefit to address those aims

David Fergusson: what is the mission statement for the SIG (there are ToR and a purpose there). Website shoiuld reflect those aims.

Christine noted a desire not to replicate, but also gather, and there could be an external/members split. Who is an internal user? Graeme suggested options for external are: industry, collaborators, funders

Content options

  • Online voting was not a popular option.
  • SIG news as well as calendar could be offered. David Fergusson noted that news must actually be NEW.
  • There could be syndication pulls.
  • ‘Find an expert’?
  • Members’ info pages?
  • Institutional pages?
  • Advertise Tier2s or link to HPC UK which fronts the Tier 2s?

Christine: we need to manage expectations as it is a volunteer effort but Graeme noted there is money to spend on getting some initial professional help.

Aiming for a new site for the September SIG meeting to roll out an initial design

Graeme noted that it is the SIG’s SIG, not the executive’s SIG. Will do what the SIG wants.

Mike Griffiths asked what is role of injdustrial but non-vendor representation?

Working Group formed:

  • Martin Callahagn
  • Bruno Silva
  • Josephine Beech-Brandt
  • One other

Brief interlude on Globus and ePPN


Poll of membership: what are others releasing w.r.t ePPN?

A little more context – QMUL are interested in purchasing Globus Connect and they normally use a US-based OAUTH/Shibboleth federation body called cilogon.org.
The policy for releasing the appropriate attributes differs between organisations and globus currently requires the edupersonPrincipalName (ePPN) attribute as their primary unique ID.
They’d also like to have names and email addresses. This has GDPR consequences and we’d like to report to Globus if this is likely to be blocker for the wider UK (and EU) community.

Internships at Hull (Graeme Murphy)

Concept: want to attract people to Hull when the pool of talent is relatively small.

Organised via the University DLHE (Graduate outcomes)

Build on existing skills of the interns to build custom experiences for them.

Treat as full membners of staff

Has deepened relationships for the HPC service too, e.g. with vendors

Great employment prospects

New interns will see a full procurement end-to-end over a year.

The funding riddle – CAPEX/OPEX issue. Demonstrate value to the university

There is no mechanism to generate a permanent post.

The salary is circa £18k-20k

EPCC has a similar scheme.

Indirect funding helps this programme.

Workforce Development Discussion Groups (Martin Callahagn/Graeme Murphy)

Summarised across all tables:


  • There is a mix of models, and indeed some models are mixed.


  • The ability to learn is important.
  • Ability to be able to explain
  • ‘Business analysis’ – intellectual curiosity.
  • Continual engagement
  • Deep problem solving
  • Make connections across areas
  • Confidence in own skills and experience and ability to be confident on solutions that solve a researchers issues with researchers.
  • RSE
  • Can be more generic skills – prepared to understand, and listen.
  • Manager
  • System Admin


  • Attitude is important
  • How to get soft skills into job adverts?
  • Need to make it clear an RSE is not a researcher. RSEs can ‘go native’
  • Basic skills needed at least, whether IT or research background
  • Need to have a service mentality
  • Need to be adaptable as technology changes
  • Testing in interviews: how to deal with ambiquity etc – so test things more in interview?
  • Hard to find people with ALL these skills.
  • Not all people have all skills but a team can fit together well.
  • Use of behavioural framework templates in recruitment, e.g. pyschometric tests
  • Smaller teams requires people to be jacks of all trades
  • Need to be Self-starting
  • Social science/humanities/science and language. Especially hard to find an IT savvy humanities person.


  • Much is self-paced stuff
  • Some is ITIL etc.
  • Time to learn – and actual time – needs to be provided
  • Making use of existing university courses is useful.
  • Funding for training is an issue
  • Staff should get as many accreditations as possible
  • Overall resource level – time for training may mean an extra FTE in a larger team
  • Creating a learning/sharing culture
  • Sharing state of practice
  • Broader community for learning
  • Can occasionally bundle in cost of specific training into a delivery cost
  • Roadmaps to guide training
  • Central and project budgets
  • Those who go on training courses should spread this to others in the team
  • User groups as training?
  • Who pays for exams?
  • Mandatory training
  • Training versus LEARNING
  • Sending notes around internally when going to meetings.
  • How to maintain skills when firefighting: management issue
  • BCS – Manchester pays membership
  • It can be good to learn by teaching others
  • CPD often required in job descriptions. BCS can check this.



  • People want to do a good job
  • HPC is no longer seen as a cottage industry but a core element of a university


  • Aging staff
  • Skills are not always there to support things (is this a support model issue)
  • Our jobs require a strange mix of 1) Understanding of research, 2) IT/Technical skills 3) Ability to work with a vast range of users. There is no training course or degree which will prepare someone for such a role and many of us drifted into it largely by accident around the SRIF2/3 time. We are losing people through a mix of retirement, natural wastage etc with no stream of new people coming in.


  • If paid more could get better people
  • Cloud – ‘ResOps’ – opportunities for efficiency.
  • HPC mainstream – but a two-edged sword
  • HPC can deliver value in challenging times
  • The rise of cloud / infrastructure as code etc presents an opportunity to attract a new community


  • Generational problem – people now expect things to actually work
  • Cloud – threat to funding
  • Rapidity of technological change

SIG Business

ToR review



Executive roles


Executive aims



After much debate this was not popular.


Why the distinction between affiliates and primaries? This is historical and there needs to be a discussion on this.

Other issues

UKRI: e-infrastructure report may be available in May which may affect ToR (but is OUTSIDE universities)

Future work

Will iterate and membership to come up with potential alternatives


Will send out data with privacy note and validation and get permission to do these events.

Slight divergence from email list (that’s data held by JISC). Need to tidy that relationship up and reconcile it as part of this process.

Financial Report

Healthy balance, around £20,000.

Some procedural issues

What to spend it on?

  • Paid speakers
  • Report
  • Travel
  • Case studies
  • Website
  • Training courses – available for all membership?
  • Developing influence.


  • What should be in it? Suggestions welcome.
  • Who would it be aimed at?
  • RSE and cloud sig involvement?
  • Need feedback
  • Timescale: e-infrastructure report will affect, and cloud (March). Aim for end 2019? Need to firm up the structure by July.

The 2010 report will be sent out when an electronic copy is available.

Can this be achieved by volunteers? Funding is available.

Next meeting themes and location

May/June in Belfast? (actually skipped to 1st July).

Potential topics:

  • Machine Learning?
  • Digital humanities?
  • Technical content? How systems are run (novelty?)

Workshop for technical people in addition to the main SIG?

A potential adjacent unconference?