As part of our Research Software Agenda for Australia, the ARDC is working with the research community to shape better research software in order to recognise it as a first-class output of research. This interview marks one year of our series about research software engineers in Australia! We started in June 2022 and have talked each month to a leading research software engineer about their experiences and best-practice tips on creating, sustaining and improving software for research.
Continuing the series, we spoke with Catherine Bromhead. Catherine is a software developer at Melbourne Bioinformatics and Australian BioCommons who maintains Galaxy Australia, a web-based platform for data-intensive biological research, and keeps it in production. Last December, she won the Outstanding Bioinformatics Software Maintainer Award by the Australian Bioinformatics and Computational Biology Society (ABACBS).
Catherine, what’s your background and how did you end up in your current role?
My background is in mathematics and IT. I have worked as a full-stack software developer and also as a research technician in bioinformatics, where I became more interested in science. When the opportunity came up to work in Galaxy administration at the University of Melbourne, I was excited to work with open-source bioinformatics research software.
What’s your day-to-day role as a maintainer?
My main role is to keep the Australian BioCommons’ Galaxy Australia service running. This includes maintaining deployment code, stopping disks from filling up, troubleshooting issues as they arise and adding automated tasks to assist with all of the above. I look after the installation of tools and reference data onto Galaxy Australia. As part of the Galaxy Australia team, I monitor and maintain software on over 50 virtual machines distributed over Australia. Additionally, as part of the global Galaxy community, I contribute bug fixes and improvements to multiple Galaxy GitHub projects.
What other activities are you involved in as a Galaxy administrator?
I’ve recently been involved in teaching at the 2023 Galaxy Admin Training, hosted in Belgium. Instructors from around the globe came together to teach Galaxy administrators about the ins and outs of setting up a quality Galaxy server. We taught students how to set up their own Galaxy servers with version-controlled Ansible code, as well as methods of monitoring and maintaining their servers and customising job scheduling on Galaxy. I contributed to updating and testing training material in the lead-up to the event and led some of the tutorials. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and the students picked up the material quickly.
What does winning the Outstanding Bioinformatics Software Maintainer Award mean to you and your career?
It was an honour for me to win this award and a proud moment for myself and for Galaxy Australia. The award is a great way to draw attention to the work of people who maintain research infrastructure. I owe a lot to Simon Gladman, my boss and mentor for 3 years, who nominated me for this. Simon was passionate about the Galaxy Project and Galaxy Australia and cared a lot about promoting and celebrating the team’s work. Simon passed away last November and is greatly missed by the local and international Galaxy communities.
What communities are you part of and recommend?
If you are interested, the 2023 Galaxy Community Conference (GCC2023) will be held for the first time in Australia from 10 to 16 July. This is the annual gathering of the global Galaxy Community with opportunities to hear the latest developments, get training and meet everyone involved. Spread the news using the hashtag “#UseGalaxy2023” and have a look at the key dates! Regular registration closes on 16 June, and a late registration fee applies afterwards.
Keep In Touch
If you’d like to be part of the growing community of research software engineers in Australia, become a member of the RSE Association of Australia and New Zealand (RSE-AUNZ) – it’s free!
Updates on Research Software Awards
Winners of the Venables Award for New Developers of Open Source Software for Data Analytics by the Statistical Society of Australia will be announced soon. Stay tuned for this and our next interview in the Shaping Research Software series, coming out in July.
Learn more about the ARDC’s Research Software Agenda for Australia.
The ARDC is funded through the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy (NCRIS) to support national digital research infrastructure for Australian researchers.
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