Photograph by Thomas Bonte
Interviewed by Jess Erickson
Can you tell me a little bit about your background?
I have a background in Music Information Retrieval (MIR), which is the discipline of automatic analysis of music to detect genre, tempo or any kind of low and high level information on a music signal. That’s what I studied in academia, and I am really happy to transfer this passion to the music industry world and do that at SoundCloud. I moved to Berlin to work for SoundCloud and at the time, I knew little about this city, but now I love it.
Can you tell me about your everyday work at SC and what you do there?
At SoundCloud, I am part of a team that works with complex problems such as search, anti-spam, recommendation, and some discovery topics. I work on backend engineering and build tools that focus on those type of issues.
What is your official title?
Music Information Retrieval & Sound Software Engineer
How many people are in your team?
Currently, I work with approximately 7 people (8 in total), but this number is growing as we continue to scale the company.
How many people are at SC?
SoundCloud has over 130 employees in four different offices around the world including Berlin (where we are headquartered), London, Sofia, and San Francisco.
Does SC value bringing more women into its company?
SoundCloud values all of its employees and sponsors numerous events and workshops tailored more to the female community including OpenTechSchool, Rails Girls and also the GirlGeekMeetup that is coming in September.
So in general, how did you become a developer? What sparked the idea in your mind?
When I was 18, I knew I wanted to be an engineer, but I didn’t know what kind of engineering I wanted to focus on for my career. In France, it’s very prestigious to become an engineer so you tend to be encouraged to go in that direction. I could have gone for chemical engineering or physics.
But then at some point I really had to make a choice. I had a few options. One option was to do programming and I had no clue what it was but it sounded a bit better. I went for it and I loved it. It was really a calling - this is what i want to do for the rest of my life. So I kept taking as many programming courses as possible and knowing that I really liked algorithms, I went for something a bit more theoretical, I walked down the academic path for a while. And now I’m back to the software engineering world. Computer science didn’t appeal to me at a younger age, as a girl, but I later found out it was extremely cool. What made it really work for me was that I combined it to another passion of mine: music. On the side, I have played guitar and flute since I was 5. So I found my way to Music Information Retrieval and that was the perfect mix. And I was very fortunate I made that call, and finished my studies, at the time music startups started sprouting up.
So do you think there is enough female developers in Berlin to have an all Berlin Geekettes hackathon?
Of course! For starters, I would suggest inviting the beginners from OpenTechSchool and Rails Girls. You can definitely hack something interesting even with just a few hours of programming. I would place one, more experienced developer on each team, so there is guidance and help in creating awesome projects during your hackathon.
Would you like to spearhead this?
Yes, definitely. I usually attend Music Hack Days, and in total, I’ve been to approximately seven of them over the years.
Do you think it’s important to attract and bring more women into the tech scene? Do women offer a different perspective in the creation of a product?
Yes, it’s important to attract more women into the tech scene and although computer science is one of the fields poised for great job opportunities over the next several years, lots of studies and recent media articles have shown that there is a glaring lack of women focusing on this field. Overall, I believe it’s important to introduce women to tech and science early on in their lives to get them excited about these fields.
For different perspectives, those exist every day and it’s not just based on gender. For me personally, I’ve always been around and worked with men. I learned computer science with a male-dominated class and was taught by instructors and professors who are men. But of course there is a different dynamic when working with women. I’ve found that women tend to highlight the positives first vs. negatives and by nature, they seem to be more openly encouraging.
What will Berlin look like 5 years from now? Will SoundCloud be bought out by Google?
At SoundCloud, we think the internet is a very silent place and we want to continue to unmute the web by helping anyone create and share their sounds to the world. That is no easy task so we will remain focused on this goal and of course, continue to scale and hire great people.
In five years, Berlin will be the next big tech hub, not just in terms of start-ups (beyond us, Twitter, Etsy, etc.), but we will see more established companies opening offices here as well. I just hope that with this excitement, the city remains affordable.
Do you have any advice you’d like to share with the community? For women who are thinking about joining the tech scene?
My advice is to go for it! If its your dream then it’s worth the challenge to make it happen. Fight for it, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.
Do you think that stigma still exists?
I encourage women to find family, friends, other inspirational women, connect with the Berlin Geekettes for instance. Have people push you when you think you won’t make it to always keep you encouraged and staying positive. Don’t lose sight of the ultimate goal.
Tell me more about OpenTechSchool.
I’ve been involved with OTS since its creation, a few months ago. I’m now part of the core organizing team, and I’m leading the OTS Python workshops as well. The idea behind OTS was to build on the activities that Rails Girls created. Like a friendly space where all the beginners can continue to learn. They learn and then teach their acquired knowledge to other beginners - we want something very sustainable. Extending it to other languages and technologies is also important. Having all those beginners to keep learning, attend meetups, exchange ideas, ask questions to each other.
We don’t want to just stay in Berlin. But have people bring that concept to other cities and on the road. It’s a really open concept, and we are happy to help anyone set that up anywhere they want. We are very keen on documenting everything we do. The organization process, the curriculum creation process and the learning process as well - we have students that are blogging about it! We want everything to be documented so that everyone could use this anywhere, learn from our mistakes and get inspired by our successes. A big part of the movement is being “open” to everyone.
We are already thinking of other activities for advanced users that could teach each other. Those developers who want to learn a new programming language, trade a skill for another, that kind of thing. We are looking to find people who can lead new initiatives. We want to have people bring their energy and ideas together.
These days we’ve also been busy with organizing OTS workshops at Campus Party, putting in touch coaches and participants coming from all over Europe. On top of that I’m also co-organizing a Audio Hack Day there, together with my colleagues at SoundCloud. I also helped with curating the audio program for one of the Campus Party stages.
**And if you’re a (female or male) developer apply for a job at SoundCloud, we’re hiring: http://soundcloud.com/jobs
You can follow Amelie on twitter @utstikkar