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October 16th, 2020

The Humans Behind the Bots: Rachael Tatman

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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 Rachael, Senior Developer Advocate at Rasa. We'll learn Rachael's story and explore the day-to-day projects and technologies they're passionate about.

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

I have a PhD in linguistics and my main area of research was in computational sociolinguistics, or how the larger social context can affect language production and perception in ways that affect natural language processing. For example, I researched demographic disparities in automatic speech recognition systems and the relationship between people mimicking an accent in writing and speech.

After my PhD I worked at Google as a Developer Advocate. More specifically, I worked on Kaggle, which is an online machine learning platform best known for their supervised machine learning competitions. I really enjoyed my time there, but I didn't get to really focus on natural language processing much.

Then last year Alex reached out to me about an open position. At the time I wasn't really looking for a new position, but as I looked into it a little bit (and trained my first moodbot ;) I was really intrigued by the framework so I agreed to chat.

And the more I learned about Rasa Open Source, Rasa X and Rasa as a company, and the more I talked to different people, the more excited I got about it... and here I am!

Take us through a typical day as a Senior Developer Advocate. What types of projects do you work on?

Work as a developer advocate varies a lot. Since I'm in the western US and most of my team is in Europe, my mornings tend to be when most of my meetings happen. Then, depending on the day, I might film a video, give a talk, read a research paper (keeping up with NLP research is pretty time intensive), answer community questions or focus on coding. And there's always a lot of writing, editing, emailing and scheduling to do.

One project I've been working on that we announced recently, for example, was the Rasa Chats podcast. Putting that together took a lot of behind the scenes work, everything from deciding on a name and writing copy to booking guests and recording interviews.

Which areas of your work are you most passionate about?

I love helping people build systems that genuinely help people.

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

One thing I think is very important is educating developers about what's currently actually feasible to put into production. There have been a lot of exciting advancements in NLP the last couple years... but also a lot of folks overstating those advancements. I always strive to be super concrete about the benefits and drawbacks of different ways of doing things and to sort of temper excitement with practical information. My NLP 4 Developers series on YouTube in particular was designed around this goal.

How would you describe Rasa in three words?

Inclusive, focused, forthright

How do you collaborate with other teams at Rasa?

Mostly via Slack. Since my job touches so many other teams (the releases the engineering teams are working on, current research projects, related marketing initiatives) I try to keep roughly up to date with what's going on in other teams. I also try to prioritize sharing useful or interesting things I learn about .

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

It means a lot to me to work for a company where everyone has space to succeed. Especially currently, when things have changed so drastically for all of us, it's been very heartening to see how everyone, from the leadership down, really is looking to support each other.

How has working at Rasa helped your professional development?

I've really learned a lot about dev ops and web development since starting at Rasa. Previously I'd been more focused on core NLP and machine learning and this role has really helped me grow. (Also don't tell anyone but I may be working on some deployment-related tutorials right now.)

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

Dogs can actually digest grains really well (they produce a ton of amylase), especially breeds from more agrarian societies. In fact, the ability of dogs to eat grain is one of the main things that set them apart from wolves and there are some studies that hypothesize that dogs' ability to eat grain predated their domestication.

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

Don't tie yourself too closely to your idea of what your future should be. I was pretty set on going into academia/being a professor when I went into grad school. I didn't even know what a "developer advocate" was until I graduated! If I'd stayed super focused on one specific career I wouldn't be where I am today: with a job I love, working with really neat folks on technology I genuinely believe in.

Thanks Rachael! You can find Rachael on Twitch.

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