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June 11th, 2024

The Humans Behind the AI: Tanja Bunk

  • 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 conversational AI. We’re pulling back the curtain to highlight a few of the humans behind the AI.

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

Ever since my time at university, I have had a keen interest in Natural Language Processing (NLP). The thought of teaching computers to understand and use language was fascinating. As a computer science student, I focused on machine learning and primarily NLP. After I finished my studies, I started my career as a Software Engineer, but I always had a passion for machine learning and NLP.

I started a small NLP project at work which received attention and allowed me to work with the research team, leading to the start of the open-source project Flair. Despite the excitement of this opportunity, I felt that I needed more professional growth and challenges which currently couldn't be fulfilled.

After exploring Rasa, I realized that this is where I should be. I felt like I belonged at Rasa. :)

2. Take us through a typical day as a Staff ML Engineer - Tech Lead. What types of projects do you work on?

At Rasa, my team focuses on project-based work, most of which is tied to machine learning. These projects are pretty tough to predict in terms of time and usually include stages like research, discovery, and if everything goes well, putting that idea into action. As part of the process, I contribute to everything - brainstorming new ideas, defining the scope of the project, planning the next steps, and figuring out how to fit the successful ideas into the product. This requires loads of team conversations and us trying out a range of strategies before resorting to the final thing - readying it for production.

But that's not all we do. We're also in charge of a certain part of Rasa's code, which means we handle standard feature requests and fix any bugs that come our way. This involves writing and reviewing code.

My schedule also includes various meetings with people from other departments. These meetings ensure everyone knows what our team is focusing on and that we're right on track with our priorities.

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

What I truly love is exploring various research ideas and envisioning how they could enhance our product. It's amazing to see these ideas as part of the grand scheme of the whole product. Trying out different tactics, assessing them, weighing one against the other, and finally seeing the idea come to life in production is total fun! This whole journey is just super exciting.

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

Right now, one of my ongoing projects is centered on making low-cost Language Models, or LLMs, compatible with Rasa. At this time, Rasa works best with 'gpt-4', which can be pretty expensive. Our plan is to modify the prompt structures for the LLMs to allow smaller, cost-effective LLMs to effectively comprehend dialogue. Additionally, we're exploring ways to fine-tune LLMs to deliver a model that aligns even better with our customers' needs.

5. How would you describe Rasa in three words?

Fun. Motivated. Smart.

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

I'm always in touch with different teams at Rasa, pretty much daily. Often, they need some technical know-how related to my work area, and I need theirs in return. We usually connect via Zoom, Slack, or even Notion.

But it's not just about work chats. We also hold regular group meetings, like our weekly reading group where we gather to discuss a paper.

And then, there are our fantastic offsite get-togethers we have throughout the year. This might be with a segment of the company, or sometimes, all of us. These meet-ups aren't just for work stuff; they're a great chance to meet co-workers face-to-face and catch up on all sorts of topics.

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

Rasa's diversity presents a great opportunity for us to engage with individuals from various backgrounds, nationalities, and skill sets. This allows us to gain fresh and valuable perspectives.

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

With a strong background in software engineering and a deep passion for machine learning and especially NLP, Rasa turned out to be the perfect place for me to grow as a Machine Learning Engineer.

At Rasa, opportunities for growth are plentiful. Be it attending conferences, enrolling in online courses, or setting aside time to study research papers, Rasa is always supportive. The company sincerely encourages both personal and professional development, truly rooting for you as you strive to hit your next big milestone.

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

How to dance a slow waltz for my wedding. 😀

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

Be brave and believe in yourself!

Thanks, Tanja! You can find Tanja on LinkedIn.

***Want to team up with Rasa? We’re hiring! Find open positions on our Jobs Board.