The Society of Research Software Engineers was launched in March 2019 as a charitable incorporated organisation that replaced the UK Research Software Engineers Association, itself established in 2013. 

The history of the RSE community begins at the Collaborations Workshop, an event run by the Software Sustainability Institute at Queen’s College Oxford in March 2012, when a small group met to discuss the lack of careers for software developers in academia. That meeting would eventually lead to a nationwide campaign, a vibrant international community, and a new role in research: the Research Software Engineer or RSE.

That now-famous meeting, for which the notes are still available, discussed the problems facing people who develop code in academia and made one small but important conclusion: academic software developers needed a name. After much discussion a name was found, one that brings together the two skills that make it unique: research, and software engineering. 

A first workshop for RSEs was held in 2013, where 56 self-identified RSEs met to discuss the role and the challenges they faced. Following a vote at the workshop, the UK Research Software Engineers Association was founded to represent RSEs. At the Association’s first AGM, held in 2014, the Association became democratic following elections for a new committee.

The first RSE conference, held in 2016, attracted 202 RSEs from 14 different countries. The conference was a turning point in the RSE movement. Not only did it bring RSEs together for the first time, it also sparked the creation of related movements in countries around the world, starting in Germany then growing to the Netherlands, Nordic RSE, Australia and New Zealand, and the US. The conference has continued to grow in popularity every year, with the 2019 conference over double the size of the inaugural conference.

One of the most powerful developments within this community has been the creation of RSE groups, the first of which was set up at UCL in 2012. Over 20 RSE groups have been set up across the UK, and a growing number internationally. A Research Software Group Leaders Network was established in 2016. These groups have radically increased the availability of software skills in UK research and their growth has provided a sustainable home for software experts in academia.

You can read a full history of the movement here