January 15th, 2020
The Humans Behind the Bots: Ella Rohm-Ensing
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 building AI assistants. We're pulling back the curtain to highlight a few of the humans behind the bots.
Today we're talking with Ella Rohm-Ensing, Solutions Engineer at Rasa. We'll learn Ella's story and explore the day-to-day projects and technologies she's passionate about.
Hi, Ella! Tell us about yourself! What was your path to joining Rasa?
At university, I studied math and computer science. My senior year, I worked a bit with neural networks and became interested in HCI (that's human-computer interaction, not Hydrochloric acid) and anything that makes the experience of interacting with technology more seamless. I started looking for jobs in tech that excited me, and came across Rasa. Working on AI assistants that understand natural language definitely fit the bill! The fact that Rasa was open source and aimed at making the technology accessible to everyone was what really convinced me to apply.
I joined the team in January of 2019 as a machine learning intern and stayed on as a Solutions Engineer three months later.
Take us through a typical day as a Solutions Engineer. What types of projects do you work on?
Depends on the day. Typically, I'll have customer check-ins on and off throughout the day, where I'll get updates on their development, help with any issues that are blocking them, and get their feedback on the product. Otherwise, and on our Wednesday no meeting days (I adhere pretty strictly to them), I'm all over our different GitHub repos and Rasa X instances. Just a few things I might be working on are: improving our bot that lives on the docs, debugging a deployment issue for a customer, or helping a new contributor fix a bug. I'm quite active helping community members on our forum as well. Meanwhile, I'm also likely to be found intermittently sending funny things to the #random Slack channel or petting one of our part-time office dogs.
Which areas of your work are you most passionate about?
I wasn't too sure what I specifically wanted to do when I was looking for my first job. What I knew I was good at and liked to do came down to two things in the end: fixing things and helping people.
When it comes to fixing things, I really like making the user experience as smooth as possible. All of that starts with effective onboarding and documentation, so I'm a stickler for improving our existing docs. I'm also into fixing bugs (no matter how small), improving error messages, and suggesting small ways we can improve the UX of our product.
However, there will always be bugs and best practices that aren't quite as intuitive as we'd hope them to be. Working with customers and community members on a daily basis, helping advise on approaches and resolving issues, gives me the feeling that I'm always helping people. When my very first customer went live with their bot, I felt really proud of the progress we'd made together. Though the process of debugging a problem, especially remotely, can be tedious, it's worth it for the grateful excitement or relief when it's all fixed-and knowing that others are less likely to hit that issue in the future.
What's an important problem you're solving at Rasa?
On the Customer Success Engineering team, an important part of my job is understanding the dynamics of the enterprise teams that build assistants using Rasa. We already have a good idea of how the open source community uses Rasa from the close contact we have with developers using the product. However, we also know that in bigger companies that want to make use of contextual assistants, the team that works on the project likely consists of not only developers, but also conversational designers, business analysts, and product owners. We make sure that what we've seen and learned about how businesses use Rasa is always part of the conversation when it comes to the future roadmap, making Rasa a more intuitive tool for non-technical team members as well as developers.
How would you describe Rasa in three words?
Smart, supportive, and fast.
Smart. Everyone at Rasa is crazy bright. We hold knowledge sharing sessions every 2 weeks where someone presents a technical deep dive on a research paper or certain piece of the architecture, and I'm always amazed at what I don't know I don't know. But even on the non-technical side, I learn something new from a different person every day, especially in areas I'm less familiar with, like sales and marketing.
Supportive. Remember when I said I can't believe I don't know what I don't know? Luckily for the stuff I know I don't know, there are really no dumb questions here. As an intern, I hit the engineering channel with a super simple, retrospectively embarrassingly, Python question, and got a quick, no-judgement answer from our head of engineering. I still ask similary (not) dumb questions every day, and I feel like I have a whole team supporting me whenever I get stuck on something.
Fast. Y'all, smart people work fast. We're an ambitious company who shoot for the stars when we set our goals. In order to achieve them, we iterate impressively quickly (pulling a phrase from our company values here). Since it's a supportive environment internally, we're able to fast-track customers' bots to production and release new features and improvements all the time.
How do you collaborate with other teams at Rasa?
Customer Success Engineering is an interesting intersection of a lot of different parts of the company. I work closely with the Product team to make sure that customer feedback is influencing our roadmap. The Engineering team helps to review my team's code contributions, and when they add new features, we help them flesh out the documentation. CSE owns the docs, so there's also a natural crossover with Developer Relations, since they also create content targeted toward developers. Our team also pairs up with the Sales team-with our experience helping our customers deploy and run assistants in production, CSE is the go-to team to answer any technical questions that potential customers may have.
What does a culture of diversity mean for you at Rasa
I work with a lot of cool people from a lot of different places. What's most important to me, though, is the fact that we not only have people with diverse perspectives, but that those perspectives are respected and valued. Rasa is very feedback-oriented on all levels, from feedback on small things like new features, to larger ones like setting company goals and the structure of the company itself. We are always encouraged to contribute our thoughts and opinions, which creates a platform for diversity to manifest in how we improve our company and our product, to make both more accessible to people of diverse backgrounds.
How has working at Rasa helped your professional development?
My experience probably isn't your typical one - Rasa is the first full-time job in my career, so it's encompassed a lot of my professional development! I've been at Rasa about a year now, and during that time I've built upon my computer science background a ton, improving my engineering skills and going deeper into understanding deployment and microservices. I've learned all about how to interact with customers, as well as different ways of debugging problems remotely and getting the right feedback on what customers want from a particular feature. General working skills, such as effective communication, giving good feedback, and managing my time and priorities, have all developed over the course of my time here as well.
What's the most interesting thing you've learned lately?
I use Twitter to keep up with the AI industry and NLP research. Recently I learned about the #protestNIPS movement that was started to remove the sexist connotations of the acronym for the biggest conference in AI, now called NeurIPS. This was a great way to start following people who work in AI who have inclusion at the forefront of their minds, as well as learn approaches to encouraging accessibility and inclusivity at conferences. Check out this thread (where you can also see the successful name change influence the hashtag!) for specific action items you can take as an conference attendee or speaker.
What's the best career advice you've received?
This is technically career advice I ended up giving myself, but I'd still pass it on to anyone else: If you have multiple options, go for the one that you'd be most likely to regret missing out on, even if it's a risk.
When I chose Rasa, I was comparing a 2-year contract somewhere else to a 3-month internship offer at Rasa with possible extension. The financial and job security differences were substantial, but I was much more excited about the work I would be doing at Rasa. I realized that if I took the other offer and let that influence my career path, I would regret not taking my chances here. So I took my own advice and the risky option-and I'm super happy with how it paid off!
Thanks Ella, and congrats on your 1 year anniversary with Rasa! You can find Ella on LinkedIn or check out her work on GitHub.
Want to team up with Rasa? We're hiring! Find open positions In Customer Success Engineering and other roles on our Jobs Board.