August 13th, 2021
The Humans Behind the Bots: Anca Lita
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 bots.
Today we're talking with Anca, Junior Software Engineer at Rasa. We'll learn Anca's story and explore the day-to-day projects and technologies they're passionate about.
Hi, Anca. Tell us about yourself! What was your path to joining Rasa?
I don't have a traditional background in computer science - I originally studied anthropology at university and then went on to work in digital marketing. While managing display advertising campaigns on various online platforms, I became increasingly curious about coding.
Driven by a desire to transition from being an end user of technology to a maker, I began my journey of a self-taught developer - I took various courses on different MOOC platforms to learn programming basics and more advanced computer science concepts such as data structures and algorithms. I used online tutorials and webinars to work on small development projects and once I felt more confident, I started applying to hackathons.
These experiences solidified my belief that I wanted to do a career change into software engineering. I actively started looking for junior roles at remote-first tech companies that also matched my values focused on knowledge sharing, mentorship, diversity and work-life balance. When I found the Rasa opening, I immediately had that gut feeling that this was the right place for me only by reading the job description - a couple of weeks later through the interview process and I was super excited to accept the offer and join the engineering squad supporting the open-source framework.
Take us through a typical day as a Junior Software Engineer. What types of projects do you work on?
I typically start the day by checking if there are any community support questions that I can answer on the forum - being able to solve queries regarding the open-source framework gives me a very positive boost!
I then dive into my sprint tasks - these could range from maintenance and bug fixes to feature development, enhancement work and ideation (such as writing and requesting review on scoping and implementation proposals). At times, I could also be responsible for cutting a micro or a minor release and preparing the summary slides of sprint achievements for the squad synch or all-hands meetings.
I also have a fair amount of PR reviews which are key for my professional development - being able to read code and suggest improvements is essential for a software engineer and I learn a lot through another engineer's implementation.
Which areas of your work are you most passionate about?
I find all the steps in the engineering cycle rewarding - most recently I worked on my first prototype to inform a feature that we're planning to include in the 3.0 release and that gave me the opportunity to break things and experiment. I also enjoy troubleshooting and fixing bugs - this can be daunting if you're up against a tight deadline, but otherwise it's quite thrilling when you're able to fix an issue.
What's an important problem you're solving at Rasa?
The focus of my team for the next couple of months will be on the architecture restructure for the 3.0 release - we hope that this foundational change will enable researchers and advanced users to build modular model architectures with minimal implementation effort and limited risk. This will increase our ability to innovate, and decrease the cost of future changes.
How would you describe Rasa in three words?
Ambitious. Collaborative. Honest.
How do you collaborate with other teams at Rasa?
The way collaboration is enabled at Rasa is one of my favourite things about working here - all the Slack channels are public to the entire organisation and it's encouraged to ask questions and debate in threads. This fosters transparency and agility - not only can somebody you might not have thought of in a traditional email jump in quickly and offer a different perspective or insight, but also your query has a larger impact since more people can be informed of an issue, resolution, announcement.
While asynchronous decision making is welcome, calls are also part of the collaborative process as long as everyone has mutually agreed this solves the issue faster. Additionally, every fortnight, we have squad sync Zoom calls where Engineering squads and Research update on their latest sprint achievements.
Notion is our wiki tool of choice and there is a very high degree of peer-reviewing through the comments that help us achieve top quality work.
What does a culture of diversity mean for you at Rasa?
Rasa truly lives up to its commitment to diversity and inclusion and that is reflected not only throughout the hiring process, onboarding and regularly reviewing progress on diversity and inclusion initiatives. The mutual respect everyone at Rasa shows to one another regardless of background helps build this culture of diversity. Most recently, we all attended Allyship workshops to raise awareness of power and privilege factors and how to act as an ally in various scenarios. I am truly impressed that Rasa has diversity and inclusion objectives part of their official company goals.
How has working at Rasa helped your professional development?
A year ago, I would not have dared to imagine being in a team maintaining and developing an open source framework. In the months I've been here, I've been exposed to so many new technical things - debugging tools, static type checking, json and yaml schema validation to name a few. I've also gained more confidence using git - particularly rebasing and solving merge conflicts.
I work closely with the ML research team and although I have a long way to go until I can claim I fully understand NLU, the team's knowledge sharing sessions are always super fascinating.
On the non-technical front, I have also been involved in user testing which was completely novel and definitely enriched my understanding of how the features I work on should help Rasa users.
What's the most interesting thing you've learned lately?
It's not the most recent thing I learned, but definitely the most interesting: Benford's law, also known as The Law of First Digits. This law states that the first digit of numbers found in a finite series of records will not be equally distributed - but rather digit '1' will be the most frequently found first digit, then digit `2` and so on. This has been observed in many different datasets - population of cities, house prices, bill amounts, voting stats, lengths of rivers - and it's used to detect fraud in many situations including electoral fraud and tax fraud. Clever!
What's the best career advice you've received?
When I was mulling over when would be the ripe time for a career change, I received this very memorable advice: don't wait until you think you are ready, take risks and jump right into a challenge because these will help you grow the most professionally.
Thanks Anca! You can find Anca on LinkedIn.
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