My path into Software Engineering - Elle Smith

Posted on June 22, 2021 (Last modified on October 19, 2023) • 4 min read • 671 words
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Hi! I’m Elle Smith and I’m a Software Engineer at the Centre for Environmental Data Analysis (CEDA). The first time I started to code was in my first year of university, where I was studying physics. We had a whole module learning how to apply our programming skills to solve physics-based problems. I hated this module, I felt like I never really knew what was going on, but I stuck with it. As time went on and I practiced, I started to enjoy this work more and more, although I still never considered that software engineering would be something I would pursue.

It was only when I was starting applying for jobs that I thought about what I actually enjoy doing the most - and what I would continue to enjoy even when I was doing it every day! The answer I settled on was using code to solve real-life problems, which is how I ended up working at CEDA. 

My current role is a Software Engineer focusing on environmental data analysis, providing data and computing services to researchers working in the environmental sciences in the UK and the wider international community.

One of the projects that I’ve been working on is building a Web Processing Service (WPS) which provides access to global climate projections from the largest ever climate modelling project to date - the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 6 (CMIP6). Large datasets like CMIP6 can be complex and often intimidating for users. Our tool allows users to subset large datasets spatially or temporally. This means that users can easily access and download only the data that they need, making working with it easier and more efficient.  Access to this data in this way has been much anticipated, so it’s great knowing that work I have done is contributing to current climate science research. The future plans for the WPS are to provide averaging and regridding tools on top of subsetting, as well as making these tools available for data from other climate modelling experiments. These tools will allow users to carry out operations on the data to get it into their required state, without needing to understand all the details of how it is done.

Another project has been developing a new system for keeping track of research funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the data that comes out of this research. This was built to replace the previous SharePoint based system that users found slow and difficult to navigate. This was my first big project and I learnt a lot about web development very quickly. I found that on the job experience was invaluable in this respect and I was able to pick things up much faster by working on a real project. Many users rely on this system as part of their day to day work so it was so exciting when we finally swapped from the old system to our new one in November last year. Since then, I have been involved in making several updates to the system to add new functionality and fix issues. The feedback we have received so far has been positive, saving users time, improving usability and making collaboration easier.

Through these projects, and other pieces of work, I’ve learnt a lot about software engineering principles and best practice, as well as getting to grips with a big variety of tools. One of my favourite things about my work is that it supports the environmental research community.  This makes it even more enjoyable as I feel like I’m contributing to important issues such as climate change. I never would have expected that I would be working as a Software Engineer, especially while I was struggling through my programming module at University, but I’m very glad to be doing it!

Elle joined the CEDA team in 2019 via the STFC Graduate Scheme. Previously, Elle completed a BSc in Physics with year abroad at Durham University (2015-19).

To find out more about career opportunities at STFC, take a look here

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