In this series, we will shed light on the extraordinary community work done by our Rasa Superheroes, take a deep dive into what inspired them, and find out if they have any tips or advice to share with aspiring community builders and conversational AI enthusiasts. For our sixth instalment, we get to know Bhavani Ravi.
Bhavani has been part of the community since June 2018 and one of our first ever Rasa Superheroes!
She has written over 45+ blog posts, including a series of in-depth articles on how Rasa NLU works, guides on how to run a community and even how to create your own blog post. Over the past years, Bhavani organised Rasa Hackathons, and conducted many workshops and talks championing open source and the Rasa community in India! To top it all off, she's not just a Rasa Superhero - Bhavani has achieved a great deal in the tech domain as a strong community leader at Build2Learn, WomenTechMakers and is fiercely passionate about WomenInTech.
We wouldn't be where we are today without Rasa Superheroes like Bhavani Ravi, so let's learn more about her inspirations, motivations and challenges along the way!
Hi Bhavani! Could you tell us a little about yourself, what's your origin story?
Unlike the big bang, I think my origin story is still a work in progress, give the dreams and aspirations I got but ripping off from The Big Bang Theory's title song let me try to compress it in a paragraph
Thanks to dopamine, I was hooked to programming the moment I saw it, the more complicated the HackerRank problem, the more addicted I was. Before I could get bored of it, my friend introduced me to this Swiss army knife called Application Development. After building a bunch of apps and presenting a capstone project to a bunch of people, I met my first boss, got my first job, and got a mentor for a lifetime. Everything after that was him chiselling me into the version I'm today.
Oh, and currently I'm a Research Engineer at Saama technologies, I'm having the best time of my life converting ML models to distributed production systems!
What inspired you to get into conversational AI?
My first job was as a chatbot developer. We were developing a chatbot called Interviewbot to be used internally by our core recruitment business, fresh out of college.
When we were doing the proof of concept, I played around with all the chatbot platforms out there, Dialogflow which was called API.ai, Microsoft LUIS, Recast, Wit by Facebook, and so on. Unlike now the resources were very limited. There was literally no architecture diagrams on how these thing worked.
My mentor/manager and I decided to organize meet ups where we share what we learn in our research to a larger audience.
How did you first come across Rasa and what encouraged you to contribute?
It was not me, it was one of our colleague Ashish Cherian who found Rasa at one of the meet ups. We were long looking for something open source because no one had a clue how it worked. Since most platforms were in an early state of development, we were unsure of when it would break.
When we found Rasa we were more than thrilled to play around with it, for the next PyDelhi conference we conducted a chatbot workshop using Rasa and one again at PyConf Hyderabad 2017 using the Rasa-Site-Bot.
It can be tough to make your first ML contribution. Do have any advice for folks making their first?
This is something I covered elaborately in my "Contribute to Open-Source" talk.
Like I mentioned in the talk, until making my first contribution I thought it was rocket science, so many misconceptions, like you have to be this expert programmer, starting your own project is easy that contributing to an existing one etc. But in reality, getting in was not that difficult, but staying consistent in there was the challenge. That was the motivation for the talk, to explain that it's not rocket science and set realistic expectation that it's not cake walk either.
If writing is your thing, Bhavani also has tips to share on how to get better at blogging!
With so many challenges and learnings still to be made in the conversational AI domain - do you have a piece of advice to share on building chatbots?
I think chatbots are one of the most fun pieces of software one can write as a beginner, back when I built it there were no blog resources, architecture diagrams, communities. Now you have all the support and resources nothing should stop you from trying it out!
Docs are crucial! I would recommend reading and getting to know the Rasa docs
You have a great aptitude for building communities! What is it that drives you to organize all of these events?
Any job that includes dealing with people can be really tough. Unlike programs, human beings are impossible to predict and even satisfy. As a community organizer it might get tiring sometimes but after signing off the event, realizing you impacted so many people's lives is the best feeling in the world. Kudos to everyone who is doing that. I hope this blog comes in handy to help you in various aspects.
Remember, your people are superheroes!
Check out Bhavani's "A Go to Guide to Run a Community"
Not just a Rasa Superhero, but we understand you're also an advocate for WomenInTech. How did this come about and what does this mean to you?
Tech has not just given me a career or connection with good people, it also gave me a voice and showed me that voices can change lives, create impact.
I come from a society where women's voice remains unheard. When I entered tech in 2016, there were no women. India being big on STEM education and having a 50-50 ratio in UG Engineering programs, there is a huge drop in women entering the industry. Then when getting married, by the time they have kids the society's construct won't let you work. There was not much exposure to the things that a woman can do.
When a culture, society, and education can't help women overcome this, we need a power-saw, hence the community. Here we have supportive women from different backgrounds and all age groups sharing their successes/failures. Being each other's allies and role models to look up to.
A lot of things has changed in the last 4 years, but we have a long way to go forward and I don't have any plan to stop here.
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