Dash Open 16: OSCON 2019 - A chat with Rachel Roumeliotis, VP Content Strategy, O'Reilly Media

Rosalie Bartlett: Hi Everyone and Welcome to the Dash Open Podcast. Dash Open is your source for interesting conversations about Open Source and other technologies from the Open Source program office at Verizon Media. Home to many leading brands including Yahoo, AOL, Tumblr, TechCrunch and many more. My name is Rosalie and I'm on the Open Source team at Verizon Media. Today on the show, I'm so excited to be in Portland, Oregon at OSCON, chatting with Rachel Roumeliotis. Rachel is the Vice President of Content Strategy at O'Reilly Media. Welcome to the podcast, Rachel. Rachel Roumeliotis: Thank you so much for having me here. Rosalie Bartlett: It's amazing to have you here. We are actually at OSCON in Portland, Oregon. How are you loving OSCON so far? Rachel Roumeliotis: It's been really great. People have been coming up to me and saying thank you, for I guess, putting together a good conference. Which is always very nice to hear because I work on it for 10 months out of the year and certainly it’s not just me, it's a whole team at O'Reilly, but I think it's been really great so far. Rosalie Bartlett: Yes. So you've been involved with OSCON for many years now, when you think about this OSCON versus prior years, what are some new themes or topics that you're noticing? Rachel Roumeliotis: Yeah, so five years ago we were still doing the tracks in programming languages, it was Python and Perl. We identified that Open Source was well beyond languages at that point and that we hadn't really changed things up. When I came in, I decided to change it to more sort of problem and solution. How can we have tracks that cluster together problems? And of course you use Open Source technologies wherever you can, and so we made those changes. I mean, more recently we've brought in a lot more sort of continuous delivery, continuous integration, DevOps type stuff, data and AI. I'm cognizant that the audience is sort of, I think of the audience as sort of a general developer that is, these things are starting to touch people. There's not necessarily a specialist here, but data is starting to influence them. AI is starting to influence them. Rachel Roumeliotis: That's what we try to bring in there. I try to bring in things that are a little bit outside of our comfort zone, like blockchain, which still hasn't quite caught on, but I'm still going to do it and try to keep things fun. There's a fun part of OSCON, so we have a live coding track, which means no slides whatsoever. You have to go up there and you have to code, you make a mistake, that's part of the show now. And the other thing that we added that we wanted to make sure that we had was a case studies track basically. We want to know about failures, successes, those are the big new things. Rosalie Bartlett: And what triggered that change? Was it because you're looking at the different proposals that were coming in? I know O'Reilly has a tool that's kind of focused on data insights. Is that where you saw the shift happening? Rachel Roumeliotis: This was back in the day, I actually changed it just because it seemed really clear to me that you could choose whatever language you want and that it was, again, it was really well beyond what those languages were. I mean, we put together the call for proposals, so we kind of direct people to a certain extent about what they're going to send in large areas. That first year I think we took people by surprise, but we got lots of proposals and it's fun to see. We get lots of community proposals and you can see the stuff that really isn't that popular. I'm trying to think of, mobile hasn't been super popular, so we'll get 250 community proposals and 11 mobile proposals. We try to make our best sort of strategy/guess and then it gets a little bit adjusted by what comes in, in that CFP. Rosalie Bartlett: And when is OSCON next year? I believe the date is already booked. Rachel Roumeliotis: It is, July 13th through 16th and it'll be here in Oregon again. Rosalie Bartlett: And can we expect anything different for next year? Rachel Roumeliotis: Next year I would love to look at, as far as Open Source, a lot more sort of open dataset type stuff, open AI, this idea that you need to keep AI honest by opening up that sort of machine learning black box. I mean in some areas like finance and healthcare and stuff, you have to. But sort of keeping that open, looking at the bias and the ethics and how you get those answers. I really think that's where Open Source is going next and then we'll always sort of bring back Open Source sustainability because that's so, I feel like people are like, of course it's Open Source and I'm like, don't count that unless you're contributing and you're making sure that you're figuring out how to keep it healthy. Rosalie Bartlett: I love that and I love how you're touching on kind of AI explainability which is so important. Rachel Roumeliotis: Yes. Rosalie Bartlett: Especially in finance - why did I get rejected for this? Rachel Roumeliotis: Absolutely. Rosalie Bartlett: What's the reasoning behind it? And in healthcare, why did I have this diagnosis? What's going on? In your opinion, what are some interesting AI use cases out there right now across industry? Rachel Roumeliotis: Yeah, so that's a great question. I love the, maybe love is too strong a word, but sort of the robotic surgery stuff, seeing that has been really insightful. I think generally what I'm really more interested in seeing coming up in the next couple of years is right now a lot of businesses are thinking like, Oh AI and they're not like, what does that actually mean? Do you know what I mean? Figuring out how you can automate some of the decision making that you have to look at. Rachel Roumeliotis: With all of the state of growing and growing, growing, we can only use AI now to make those decisions. And sort of seeing how that really, once it kind of goes beyond, I feel like it's in a little bit of a bubble right now. Once it goes beyond sort of the Bay Area and the big tech companies, how is that going to change? I mean, you go to a hotel for instance and they send you a little text and it's a chatbot and they're like, "Do you need anything?" And you're like, "A towel" and then they bring it. It's weird, the conversational commerce stuff, it's cool, but it's freaky. AI stuff where they're like, "Oh, you probably want this now." And you're like, "I do. What?". It's interesting being a part of sort of AI moving forward. I feel like we need to make sure it moves forward the right way. Rosalie Bartlett: Yes. And you have a very unique perspective because you're seeing it from the educational stance as well. Rachel Roumeliotis: Yeah. Rosalie Bartlett: Are you seeing a lot of interest when it comes to kind of a O'Reilly books and education for AI and machine learning? Rachel Roumeliotis: Oh yes. Yes, definitely. This year, we have machine learning books, we have deep learning books, the stuff that's coming up now is unsupervised learning and reinforcement learning. And I mean, one of our AI books was super popular. We're doing a second edition, it's hands on machine learning with TensorFlow and Keras I think, it’s selling like gangbusters. What we're really looking at sort of for later this year, next year, is putting AI into production. Rachel Roumeliotis: Right now people are like, "Let's make AI models and all of this fun stuff." Now it's about really getting out there and making sure it works and monitoring it and tweaking it. That's really what we're starting to get proposals on now. That, as well as the sort of reinforcement learning and sort of the new steps and sort of how you can make things smarter. TensorFlow is still popular and PyTorch is growing. Rosalie Bartlett: That's so exciting. And you have such a great view of that landscape. Rachel Roumeliotis: Yeah. Rosalie Bartlett: Amazing. Rachel Roumeliotis: Yeah, and I mean I'm sure in six months it'll be different. Rosalie Bartlett: Or in six weeks. Rachel Roumeliotis: Yeah, who knows? Rosalie Bartlett: So, you have a large team at O'Reilly Media, how do you grow your team? How do you empower them to do great work and to share knowledge? Rachel Roumeliotis: Yeah, so that's a good question. We often talk about how our team mainly is made up of acquisitions editors, those editors that go out and find people to write, and then there's development editors that expand upon that proposal that we get from that person that we're working with. I think a bunch of stuff has changed actually over the years that I've been at O'Reilly. I mean, one we've expanded well beyond books, into many different modalities like online training, videos, reports. That's one thing and people are consuming the content differently. Print is still super popular. Rachel Roumeliotis: Then we talk about sort of how we see ourselves a little bit differently than other sort of publishing houses, and we think of ourselves well beyond a publishing house at this point. But we think about sort of O'Reilly DNA or editorial DNA. And that's, we really encourage people on the team to get to know the community, the people, understand the pain points. And then we want them to have an opinion. It's not just about, serverless is a thing, here's a serverless book, we want a perspective and obviously we need to partner with people to figure that out at a very deep, technological level. So we want to do that. And then we also say that we want people to have strong opinions loosely held so that it's not my way or the highway. You keep learning, you keep talking to people and that's what I think produces great content. Rosalie Bartlett: Amazing. Are there any other things that you would say make for editorial DNA? Now what do you look for when you're hiring kind of editors and writers? I'm guessing a strong sense of curiosity. Rosalie Bartlett: Because the work that you're doing is very cutting edge. Some of it is very new, but it's also moving very quickly. Rachel Roumeliotis: Yeah. Definitely someone that likes to look into new topics and research. Someone who can, I actually like, I'm at my best actually, editorially when I'm going into an area with fresh eyes because you're actually teaching yourself it to a certain extent and you're not drinking the Kool-Aid yet. Do you know what I mean? Rosalie Bartlett: Yes. Rachel Roumeliotis: You're kind of mapping out the area and figuring out where are the gaps in knowledge and stuff like that. I think that's really important. And then, I mean we're only as strong as our network, right? You have to be great at networking, you have to be great at research and you have to be good at, I think, it's synthesizing. There's still that special sauce of there's the problems, here are the people, then how do you still make a good product? There's all of that and we are hiring by the way. Rosalie Bartlett: That's amazing. It must be so great to work for you. Rachel Roumeliotis: I hope so. Rosalie Bartlett: In your opinion, what makes for great storytelling? Rachel Roumeliotis: I would say the core of great storytelling is being real and being vulnerable. And I think as far as technology, I mean there's sort of, there's the technology piece, right? There's not necessarily vulnerability there, but coming to something as a person that has really thought about a problem and a solution and is putting it out there and earnestly thinks that that is the way to do things, I think that comes through and in the writing especially or in the presentation. And that draws people to it and I think helps people to learn whether it's writing or speaking, and I really just think that's at the core. I think it's as simple as that. Rosalie Bartlett: That's really great advice. For folks who've been working on a project for a long time and then they open source it and they say, "Hey, we want to get the word out about our project, we want to get more contributors." What advice do you have for them about telling their story and connecting with that developer audience? Rachel Roumeliotis: What I would say is one, you have to tell your story a lot. I mean, there's just that. You just have to keep repeating something. I would also be as welcoming as possible. Look for, something that's been a big topic at OSCON this year is sort of non-code contributions and how documentation, I guess projects with bad documentation don't do well. Find people that aren't necessarily coders. That right there I think might help you and that’s because it's just a different type of person telling the story. Rachel Roumeliotis: I think going back to what we said, you're passionate about this project, I'm assuming, so if you're passionate about the project, then you do have a story to tell. And I think that's the contagious part. And again, I think it's just, there's so much noise that you just have to keep telling that story, and then you have to find people that believe in it as much as you or have that problem. If you can get that community together and your project really solves a problem, I hope it can thrive. Rosalie Bartlett: And when it does, come present at OSCON. Rachel Roumeliotis: Absolutely. Rosalie Bartlett: For folks listening to this podcast and who've looked you up on LinkedIn, and saying "Wow, Rachel's had a really fantastic career and she's doing amazing work at OSCON." What advice do you have for them if one day they want to be you? They want to be in your shoes? Rachel Roumeliotis: If someone wants to get into, I guess I would say the technical publishing world or the learning world. I mean, I think it starts with, I used to do all of the really basic stuff, like putting stuff into databases and writing copy. It's not something that happens overnight. You have to do the hard work and then you get more and more opportunities. And I guess I would also say, be yourself. There's going to be people along the road that are going to say, "Oh, you need to do this and you need to do that," and you're not going to be happy if you stop being yourself, so I would say work hard. Don't expect it's going to happen overnight and you need to be happy. We go to work so much. You need to be happy going to work, so make sure you're happy. Rosalie Bartlett: Great advice. Well, Rachel, it has been so nice to chat with you today. Thank you so much for your time. Rachel Roumeliotis: Thank you so much for having me here. Rosalie Bartlett: Thank you. Gil Yehuda: If you enjoy this episode and you wanted to learn more about our Open Source program at Verizon Media or other technologies that we have available, please visit us at You can also find us on Twitter at YDN.

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