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April 19th, 2021

The Humans Behind the Bots: Laurence Young

  • 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 bots.

Today we're talking with Laurence, Solutions Engineer, Pre-Sales at Rasa. We'll learn Laurence's story and explore the day-to-day projects and technologies they're passionate about.

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

My path to Rasa has been a meandering one. I've always done consulting in some form, often mixed with pre-sales, but it's never been in conversational AI. While I started my career as a data scientist specializing in data analysis, I've done a bit of everything: systems implementation, application development, software support, enterprise systems planning, project management, business analysis, process automation, product training, and DevOps.

I became familiar with Rasa almost by accident. I was working on a data engineering certification when I found myself playing around with machine learning platforms. During some research, I came across Rasa, installed it, and started playing with it. I was immediately intrigued because Rasa blended my passions for language and building technology solutions, so I threw myself into learning more.

It also turned out that Rasa was looking for someone to help build a pre-sales organization, and I've always loved the challenge of pre-sales. That's when I started to learn about Rasa, the company. From there, I decided to apply and got to meet several of my future colleagues, and it felt like the perfect fit for me. I can't stress enough how impressed I was as I continued to learn more about the company and the framework. For me, Rasa has the right people, is in a fascinating field with a compelling product that I can stand behind, and does things as a company that are compatible with the way I feel companies should operate in their industry and communities.

Take us through a typical day as a Solutions Engineer, Pre-Sales. What types of projects do you work on?

My days vary wildly from one to the next. To me, that's the best part of being in pre-sales! So, I typically look at what I would do week to week.

There are certainly the things you'd expect: discovery, prototyping solutions, and demos. But on many days, there are internal planning sessions with our sales team and sessions where I help customers with their proofs of concept as they get started with Rasa.

One of my favorite parts of being in pre-sales is doing research. I come in contact with prospective customers in a variety of states. Some are new to conversational AI, are interested in integration, want to migrate from other solutions, or have particular needs that may be nonstandard. To prepare to have productive conversations with these customers, I have to put in the time to educate myself about their specific situation.

I'm also continually working on creating the pre-sales processes that we'll use moving forward and helping create or modify presentations that we'll give to our customers. Currently, I'm working on producing a simplified architecture diagram for business stakeholders to understand how and where Rasa fits in their organizations. I also support our hiring initiatives by completing code reviews and conducting technical interviews for Rasa pre-sales candidates, and I conduct culture interviews for other Rasa groups.

And because we're a remote-first organization, I try to have at least two coffee breaks with colleagues every week. I'm always willing to do this with anyone who wants to because I realize it helps everyone feel connected.

In short, my days vary because there is no shortage of things to do. What makes this exciting is that you have the flexibility to complete your work in a way that works best for you.

Which areas of your work are you most passionate about?

I'm most passionate about solving problems. Every customer engagement is a puzzle that I can help them solve. Internally, I am empowered to help determine a strategy that allows Rasa to chart its industry course. I've always felt I'm at my best when I'm given something very theoretical and can help turn it into something of value.

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

As a company, Rasa has always had a great way of communicating with its developer community. As we grow, we also need to be able to communicate effectively with the business community. Because you can perceive the Rasa framework as a very technical thing, I must help bridge the gap between Rasa's technical concepts and the business benefits Rasa provides.

How would you describe Rasa in three words?

Innovative, conscientious, and ethical.

How do you collaborate with other teams at Rasa?

I'm a member of the Sales team (although my role is very cross-functional), so I work with them on most days. We do account planning and knowledge transfer along with all of our customer-facing responsibilities.

I'm a pre-sales version of our Customer Success Engineers, so while I'm not in a longer-term customer success or planning role, we trade technical notes all the time.

Also, on the Customer Success team, I work with our Customer Success Managers. They are the full-scale experts on our existing enterprise customers. There are always things I can inform them about with new customers, and they always have valuable insight about current customers.

I also work quite a bit with our Marketing team, which is something I love to do. Marketing is responsible for determining how we communicate about Rasa, so I learn a lot from our interactions. They're also very receptive to feedback about what's working and what isn't with our customers.

When you work with enterprise customers, you also will work closely with Product Managers at Rasa. I would have such a hard time doing my job without them because they help me navigate so many product questions and take enhancement requests and provide feedback where necessary.

The recruiting team! I work with them quite a bit, too. There's so much to coordinate with them. They are the lifeline that helps us continue to grow and add great people, so this is also an important collaboration.

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

I'm a harsh critic of companies when it comes to their actions contrasting with what they state. Rasa's desire to create a diverse and equitable culture is the top reason why I decided to join. Statements Rasa makes publicly about diversity, social justice, and psychological safety are things that I feel are applied by the company.

To me, our culture of diversity means that it doesn't matter what someone's background is. You don't need to be afraid to be who you are, think the way you think, or live the way you live. We have people worldwide, so it's always possible to misconstrue meaning based on regional or cultural differences. We strive to treat everyone with a high level of respect, and we communicate with each other openly to maintain it.

How has working at Rasa helped your professional development?

I've worked at startups before, but not in one like this. I can wear many hats; this enables me to do way more than I would in a traditional pre-sales role.

I've always felt that the best professional development you can get is opportunity. For example, I've participated in partnership discussions before. The difference here is I have sat in with our CEO and other CEOs to listen to their deliberations and even participate. That's an invaluable experience that I just never got anywhere else; I think that ALSO speaks to our culture of diversity because multiple people from different backgrounds get invited to participate in things like this regularly.

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

Yeah, good question. So, did you know bubble wrap was initially meant to be wallpaper? Well, an early version of it was. Imagine growing up in the 80s and 90s in Chicago with a kitchen that had outdated wallpaper (this was MANY Chicago kitchens), and you got in trouble because you decided to pop the wall? Glad I missed out on that one, but strangely disappointed at the same time.

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

Saying "no" is good. Saying "no, but" is better.

Thanks Laurence! You can find Laurence on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Want to team up with Rasa? We're hiring! Find open positions for Solutions Engineers and other roles on our Jobs Board.