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How Do Scientists Really Use Computers?


Version control is not just a collaboration tool. It's other main benefit is that it gives you complete undo back to any previous state of your software. If you are doing exploratory research, that could be very helpful. You can try changing pretty much anything, no matter how risky, because if you find it is not working out you can just discard that branch, go back, and try something else. Of course, you could manually keep backup copies, providing you remember to do one before each set of changes - but really that is what version control does for you. It automatically keeps every version of your software for you with minimal hassle.

The most powerful tool for 'ensur[ing] that software is correct' would be unit testing. Something that might be quite easy to apply to a lot of scientific programs. Certainly something that can easily be taught in a programming course.

Tim - who comes from the professional software development side of things. Thanks for an interesting article.
posted by Tim Hunt
August 8, 2009 @ 6:24 AM

"As for what occupied the most of our respondents’ time, coding and debugging took first place."

This doesn't seem typical for any-given-average scientist! Surely: checking email, writing papers in Word, analysing data in Excel, and doing domain-specific stuff like working with the control software for their instruments?
posted by Andrew Clegg
August 11, 2009 @ 1:17 PM


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