Sunday, October 25, 2009

Academic software

A lot of very good software in academia is developed by PhD students or post-docs. Both groups have temporary contracts, and very often the software dies at the end of the contract.


One can compare academic software with a Formula 1 race car: it is very fast, beautiful, technologically advanced. But it is very difficult to drive and needs frequent service. The only way of keeping it on the road is to have the driver and the designer working closely together.

To make it possible to use the technology that is developed for the Formula 1 race car in practice, the car must be redesigned:
  1. It must be possible for anyone with a normal drivers license to drive it.
  2. It has to be possible to drive on different types of road, not only a polished race track.
  3. It must be possible for a regular trained service engineer to service it.
  4. The service interval must be raised from 200 km to 25000 km.
It is obvious that in car design, these changes are not the responsibility of the designers in the Formula 1 team. There are other designers that are specialized in normal cars.

The equivalent concepts in software design are:
  1. The program must be made user-friendly. It must be usable by casual users that are not also computer hackers.
  2. It must be robust enough to work on real data as encountered by real users.
  3. Running and installation must be well documented.
  4. It must be able to run unsupervised for many data sets and not break down after limited time e.g. through a seemingly unrelated upgrade to the operating system or a minor change to an underlying web service.
Funny enough, in many larger projects it is expected that the designers of the Formula 1 software will also do this redesign. This is a strong contrast with car design! In NBIC-II we will not make this mistake. Taking software the extra step will be one of the important tasks of our Central Engineering Team. And this team will contain specialists in industrial strength software engineering.

We will turn the Ferraris into Volkswagens. And we will be proud of them!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

We have a business plan!

This week, the Management Team of NBIC has agreed to a new operation plan for the BioAssist unit. This now puts the BioAssist Engineering Team on firm ground. We will have three important tasks:
  • Guarantee interoperability of biological data
  • Be consultant and project leader for the academic task forces within BioAssist
  • Accept academic software and make it usable by others
I am excited to get going.