David Espejo

What have I learned about Developer Relations, Open Source, and AI at Union.ai?

Summary

What’s It Like Working at Union.ai?

Photo Credit

What’s It Like Working at Union.ai?

On July 21st, 2023, Matej Mohoric, a 29-year-old Slovenian cyclist won Stage 19 of the legendary Tour de France. This is not an easy feat by any means: a course 172 km long with 2,100 m of elevation gain; an average speed of 49.1km/h (5th fastest stage in history); and an agonizing final where only photo-finish could determine a winner.

Despite the heroic sportsmanship exhibited that day, what made the headlines was the attitude and answers from Mohoric in a post-race interview

“Sometimes you feel like you don’t belong here because everyone is so incredibly strong that … sometimes it’s just hard to ‘follow the wheel.’”

That sounds very much like “imposter syndrome” but, after watching the entire interview, it seems to be more the reflections of a humble individual who recognizes the greatness of his peers instead of overestimating his odds and skills.

After eight months at Union.ai, this pretty much summarizes my experience.

This company is full of highly skilled professionals with impressive career achievements, unbelievable connections with legendary engineers, and a wealth of experience. Yet, they all exhibit what I still consider a rare personality treat, especially among folks in the tech industry: humbleness. A sincere desire to collaborate, share their knowledge, and do what’s right for the greater good of the team. 

It’s also hard to “follow the wheel”: to keep up with the pace of innovation happening in the AI space, the growth of the community, and all the cool stuff that we want to do. Imposter syndrome attacks me frequently (like once per week). Nevertheless, the company’s leadership team gives me the direction and affirmation necessary to know that, while sometimes I think “What am I doing here?” this is really where I belong. What I’m doing now is not only appreciated but is exactly what I should be doing for the benefit of the company and the community.

Apart from the company culture (which embodies values like Inclusion and Trust), some of the reasons I joined Union.ai include its commitment to open source; its ethics on how to approach DevRel; and the immense learning opportunities that come from witnessing and playing a (rather small) role in the AI revolution.

Open source

It’s a cool term. “Open source” is typically associated with innovation, altruism, collaboration, and (-coughs-) free software. Open-source software also powers most of what we do in IT and I’ve been a consumer of it for many years. Only recently, I had the chance to see “behind the curtain” and learn first-hand how open-source communities operate and how much humans can achieve when they are part of a safe, organized, and open collaboration environment. It was love at first sight.  Somehow I knew I didn’t want to look back, even when the OSS job market is tight (especially in my country), and diving deep into open-source communities could potentially focus my career too narrowly. I’ve always enjoyed challenges and the risks they typically carry. OSS is worth the risk because I found there is an environment where truth is king; bad actors and offensive behaviors are ruled out by a Code of Conduct; and regardless of your background, knowledge, or experience, there’s always a space to learn and collaborate. It’s more than just putting code on GitHub and I wanted to find a company where those values of openness, respect, and collaboration were observed. 

I joined Flyte’s Slack workspace right when the initial conversations for a role at Union started. I did it solely to observe the tone of communications from Union staff to community members, especially when they asked basic or uncomfortable questions. I found that not only were questions addressed promptly, but the communication was consistently kind and respectful. (Importantly, that ethos of respect extended to communication from Union’s founders.) What’s more, the content on the Issues, releases, and roadmap showed an effort from maintainers to listen to the community's needs and ship quality products.

Nothing is perfect, though. I also found low levels of empathy in the documentation; a lack of a governance model (strange for a graduated project); and other issues that were not critical, but important to keep fostering a healthy community. I knew I could do something to help on that front, and that energized me even more about the prospect of joining Union as an Open Source Developer Advocate.

Be a Developer Advocate

Considered one of the hottest jobs of the moment, Developer Advocacy entails multiple responsibilities. As Swyx explains in this post, ” There are three emerging sub-specialties of developer relations: community-focused, content-focused, and product-focused.” Joining a small team of Developer Advocates means you will eventually do all three. It’s a lot, so it requires good time management; team collaboration; and outstanding communication skills (especially when you are remote) to stay aligned with business objectives and keep stakeholders up to date.

It looks overwhelming, and sometimes it is. But the company motto holds the secret to success:

“Join a community, not only a team”

My success as a Developer Advocate here isn’t measured by how many speaking engagements I have on my calendar or how many blog posts I write. It depends on my deep connection with the community as a Flyte user myself, spending time with Data/ML practitioners, and advocating for what matters to them. 

At Union.ai, a Developer Advocate represents the community; to the Flyte community, we represent Union.ai. It’s a double responsibility to keep both sides accountable and communicated while also remaining credible, authentic, and focused on the greater good.

In perspective, it’s a very demanding role. Still, it’s also a position with plenty of opportunities to learn, serve, and grow in a community that’s full of passion, talent, and teamwork.

This is my happy face visiting the Bellevue office for the first time. Not the fanciest lobby but packed with good books; very welcoming for a nerd! 🙂

Be part of the AI “space race”

When I started interviewing and then signed the offer, ChatGPT hadn’t been released to the public, so AI was not as widespread as it’s become. I come from a software infrastructure background and I used to think that technology moved fast in terms of changes and innovation. But that was before I witnessed the current AI revolution. Since I joined Union in January 2023, the pace of research and innovation in the AI space has been astounding; models and tools for LLMs are released almost twice per week. This constant stream of changes in AI makes the learning process a bit more difficult for someone without a background in machine learning or data science. Nevertheless, I’m thankful every day for my manager. Not only does he believe I am the right fit for the role (even when sometimes I think I am not!), but he understands that the ramp-up process takes time and makes ways so I can leverage my infrastructure background to create resources that are useful for the community today.

Having thoughtful and empathetic direction from leadership helps navigate such a big professional challenge and stave off burnout, which could easily happen if you combine a passion for learning with many learning opportunities.

Closing remarks

It’s been a while in my 15+-year career since I found an organization that looks good from the outside and proves to be even better once I’m inside. I hope our company culture is reflected in the products we build and the interactions we have with every user, customer, and partner.

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