Interviewed by frestyl Cofounder Emanuela Tumolo
As proud co-founder of frestyl, I was pretty excited when the BG asked me to spend some (more) time with the techies of my team and investigate how this super power duo decided to work together. Breaking news, we’re now a 7-all women team. This is rare, we know, but as a woman you don’t realise how unique it is - except when people start staring at you with their eyes wide. So, please approach this article as it is: a story of talent, passion and (female) inspired minds.
Hallo frestylers, who are you?
Amélie: Hi, I'm Amélie. I have just joined frestyl as Senior Developer. I am a trained Software Engineer and over the years I specialised in Music Information Retrieval, and in particular I love working on music recommendation tasks. In my free time I am the Berlin Geekettes Tech Ambassador and a co-founder of the OpenTechSchool and Hackership.
Johanna: I’m Johanna the CEO and co-founder of frestyl. I started programming when I was 5 and have been designing and building technology ever since. Along the way I picked up a PhD in Information & Computer Sciences (University of California), designed location-based, mobile interfaces for Intel, and developed algorithms for scientific research at the Swiss National Super Computer & Massachusetts General Hospital. Besides being a huge nerd I’m also a social engineer, video-gamer, juggler, musician and a vegetarian :]
You both moved to Berlin after studying and working around the world: what brought you here?
Amélie: I moved to Berlin a bit more than 2 years ago when I got a position at SoundCloud. I did not know this city at all at the time but felt in love with its multiculturalism, its vibrant tech scene and its generous people. Of all the countries I have lived in, I've never seen people volunteering that much. I used to move from one (European) country/city to the next but thanks to this unique atmosphere, and the people I have met here, I now feel like staying for a little while in Berlin.
Johanna: When I founded frestyl in 2009 I was finishing my PhD in California, while doing research in London and preparing to move to Rome. After the dust settled on my transition from academia to the start-up world, we launched the first version of our product into the Roman market in 2010. As the economic crisis took hold and the Italian government collapsed, we decided to head for higher ground: our team joined the first class of Startupbootcamp in 2012 to bring a brand new frestyl to Berlin. It was the best decision we could have made and I’ll be staying put for at least a few years (that’s saying a lot for me).
When and how did you meet?
Amélie: We met online, on Twitter I think, in 2011. I was still doing my PhD in the Centre for Digital Music at Queen Mary University of London at the time. We got into a conversation about music recommendation, which is a topic I am passionate about and Johanna was starting to look into for frestyl.
Johanna: Twitter indeed. When I see someone doing work that I admire, the academic fan-girl in me always reaches out. I was fortunate enough that Amélie responded, and we got to talking about music recommendation, specifically around my early ideas for approaching music events. After our first interactions I always hoped we’d get to collaborate on a project one day. I was thinking maybe at a hackathon. Little did I know…
What convinced you to work together?
Amélie: I've always thought of Johanna as my mentor. She's always been super supportive and shared with me her expertise as a more experienced technical woman. There's not many of us around (yet) so finding someone that can help you grow and understand what you are going through is precious.
Johanna: Like I said, when a bright mind comes on my radar, I keep my eye out for opportunities. Amélie’s work spoke for itself, and after we clicked on the interwebs it was a no-brainer. The question was not did I want to work with her, it was more about when and how.
When did you decide to work together? Is there a specific moment/episode that helped you understand that you wanted to share the geeky desk at frestyl?
Amélie: When frestyl moved from Rome to Berlin last year I thought that was some sort of a sign ;-). I had been a fan of that company and wanted to meet Johanna but also the rest of the team for a while so that was my chance. The rest happened naturally, as Johanna and I were meeting regularly at Berlin Geekettes events and were talking about frestyl and the dev work she was doing there, I felt I wanted to contribute to it too, bring in my music information retrieval expertise but also learn more about web dev with her.
Johanna: When we moved to Berlin I was psyched to realize Amélie was living here as well, and I remember musing to my co-founders something like, “I wonder if I could ever get her to join our team... how awesome would that be?” When we finally got the chance to meet “f2f” through the Geekettes, Amėlie helped give me a forum to exercise my love of teaching hardware at OpenTechSchool. It was awesome to have someone to hack with because being the sole developer at frestyl was getting lonely. So when Amélie told me she was looking for a new job I jumped at (what I thought was) the longshot to make her an offer. Glad I did :]
We can say that BG was the glue for establishing your working relationship. Do you have any advice on how to meet the perfect team member in an active and always changing community like Berlin?
Amélie: In Berlin there are tons of technical events of all sorts: user groups, workshops, conferences, networking events. Target the events that you think match best the collaborators you're looking for and you'll meet interesting people. You can also learn a lot about them through the activities they have been attending and engaging in. Knowing that Johanna was as passionate as I was about sharing technical knowledge with others (we have both been coaching at OpenTechSchool) made me realise that the values of the frestyl team were close to mine.
Johanna: Be proactive. Fortune favors the bold. I met Amélie several years ago because I was looking for her. That might sound bizarre, but the social engineer in me will tell you that you only get what you take. The people you are going to click with might be around the corner or across the globe, but you won’t find them by sitting at home waiting. You have to get past that awkward moment of tweeting a stranger who’s never met you just because you think she’s smart. Then you see what happens next.
Which is the next challenge you're going to tackle together?
Amélie: Building the frestyl Android app, but also personalised content for the users, so that they can find concerts that match their taste even more easily.
Johanna: Personalizing the frestyl stream (that’s what you might call recommendation but we nerds refer to it as suggestions for semantic geek reasons) is up first. And I know everyone is waiting for it, but we’ll tackle Android after that. One new flavor of programming language at a time. Between us I reckon we’re at 30 already...