Skip to content

August 8th, 2023

The Humans Behind the AI: Alero Awala

  • portrait of Rasa


At Rasa, our team is building the standard infrastructure for conversational AI. Behind the scenes, the people of Rasa come together from diverse backgrounds to solve today’s most interesting challenges in NLP and dialogue management. We’re pulling back the curtain to highlight a few of the humans behind the AI.

1. Hi, Alero. Tell us about yourself! What was your path to joining Rasa?

It was both unusual and straightforward, to be completely honest. I studied Mathematics at university and up until that point, I absolutely loved it. I had a great teacher in school who literally tailored his classes to the students. He would get me these Viennese cookies (that I was obsessed with), hand me problems to solve and allow me to put my headphones in and shut the world out. He knew what each of us needed and he gave it to us. Granted, it was a class of 6 students; not a lot of people found Mathematics and Further Mathematics as enjoyable when they were 16, so it was easier to do but I'm still so grateful. Fast forward to studying Mathematics at university, where I absolutely did not love it so I began to think of a way out because the idea of going into accounting haunted me. So I did what students who have no clue what they want to do did, I went travelling after graduation. It was in Arizona I met a Security Engineer who told me about Information Security and up until that point, I had not heard or even thought about security as a concept (outside of creating a password). Needless to say, I was hooked. I looked it up and fastforward to 7 years later, an information security degree and some trauma that only comes after you’ve worked in a SOC, I'm here at Rasa!

2. Take us through a typical day as a Staff Security Operations Lead. What types of projects do you work on?

Firstly, I always start with a freshly brewed cup of coffee. This is a basic requirement of working in information security. Then I do some planning for the day which is promptly followed by all those plans being disrupted and dealing with something else that comes out of the woodworks, usually incident response related. There are odd days when things do go as planned and those days mostly involve me collaborating with various business stakeholders on projects that they are working on and offering security solutions to ensure we continually abide by security by design. A lot of work has been focusing on implementing security controls from the ground up to ensure we have a good base to scale securely and in a controlled manner.

3. Which areas of your work are you most passionate about?

I am most passionate about implementing seamless organisational security controls. I find myself constantly trying to think about ways to improve enterprise security in a manner that is the least disruptive to our internal users. I think that security controls should be so embedded in everything we do, so much so that when you are faced with something insecure, your spidey senses tingle and scream at you to RUN. I haven’t found a 100% proof method but I'll keep trying until I get there.

4. What’s an important problem you’re solving at Rasa?

Implementing security in a transparent and non restrictive way. Having worked in highly regulated industries, I have worked in organisations where security was done through obscurity and in the most painful way for users. I remember a situation where I was contracted to work for three months and by the time I got access to the system I needed, my contract was up. This is why a passion project for me at Rasa has been working on gradually improving our Joiners-Movers-Leavers (JML) process. I feel that we should be aiding the business in what it needs to achieve its goals rather than being gatekeepers in the form of roadblocks wrapped as red tape.

5. How would you describe Rasa in three words?

Ambitious, determined, creative.

6. How do you collaborate with other teams at Rasa?

I am a pretty methodical person so, when collaborating, I like to break down the process into steps. Firstly, requirements gathering. This step involves identifying the requirements needed for the completion of the project or task at hand. This is a key area so it is important to spend time identifying and documenting these requirements. The next step is to assign ownership. Ownership has to be clearly defined and assigned to key stakeholders that are responsible for the business area. The next step is to align on deadlines and deliverables and agree on checkpoints to allow for iterations and keep that continuous feedback loop. Finally, a review to ensure that all deliverables are met and this is communicated to the appropriate people.

7. What does a culture of diversity mean for you at Rasa?

For me, diversity means embracing and celebrating the rich variety of backgrounds, perspectives, cultures, identities, and experiences that make up our global community. It entails fostering an inclusive environment where all individuals are respected, valued, and given equal opportunities regardless of their differences. Diversity promotes creativity, innovation, and understanding by bringing together unique viewpoints to create a more harmonious and equitable society. As a company who partners with the world's largest brands, we must ensure that we are diverse in everything we do. I believe this is one of the most critical ways to provide value.

8. How has working at Rasa helped your professional development?

It has allowed me the freedom to explore creative ways to implement security controls. I’ve worked at organisations that had stringent rules in place with no allowance for flexibility or freedom of thought but at Rasa, we do things differently. The floor is open for respectful and honest conversations which allows me to try new ways of doing things.

9. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned lately?

I recently learned that a coyote and a dog can mate and the offspring is called a coydog or a dogote depending on the gender combination. Amazing, I know.

10. What’s the best career advice you’ve received?

Working in Security, you’re used to dealing heavily with problem solving. This is a great skill to have but if you’re not careful, all you will see and talk about are problems. I got great advice early on to make sure that for every problem I see, I should always make an effort to see a solution. This is especially important when you’re in a senior role and collaborating with key business stakeholders. You need to get in the habit of bringing not only the problem but a few solutions along with it.

Thanks, Alero! You can find Alero on LinkedIn.