Call for information: Why do good software people leave academia?

July 27th, 2016 | Categories: RSE | Tags:

This post is also published over at the Software Sustainability Institute.

William Stein, lead developer of the computer algebra system, Sage, and its cloud-based spin-off, SageMathCloud, recently announced that he was quitting academia to go and form a company. In his talk, William says ‘I can’t figure out how to create Sage in academia. The money isn’t there. The mathematical community doesn’t care enough. The only option left is for me to build a company.’

His talk is below and slides are at


“Every great open source math library is built on the ashes of someone’s academic career.”

William’s departure is not unique. Here’s a tweet from Wes Mckinney, creator of pandas, one of the essential data science tools for Python.

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We are looking for similar stories; good research software people who felt that they had to leave academia because there wasn’t enough support, recognition or funding. Equally, we want to hear from you if you think academia is a rewarding environment for software development. Either way, please contact us at

  1. July 29th, 2016 at 21:25
    Reply | Quote | #1

    For a long time, the US Department of Energy made sizable, long term investments in research software. I think this is changing, but we might still see this kind of funding from the Exascale Software Project. In the meantime, I think the university tenure process is slowly changing to take into account software, not as a principle achievement such as papers or funding, but definitely as a bonus factor. This change will be exceedingly slow; as Max Planck famously (almost) remarked “Science advances one funeral at a time”.

  2. August 1st, 2016 at 08:58
    Reply | Quote | #2

    I used to work in academia doing software support/development. I was more on the teaching side rather than research but I left because the pay has fallen well behind industry and the university as a whole didn’t value highly skilled technical people (individual lecturers did).