Julien Simon: Harley Rider, Headbanger and Hacker

September 5, 2017

Along with entrepreneurs, investors and CEOs from the world’s leading brands, IT Arena 2017 is bound to gather some of the most aspiring global changemakers. The conference is kicking off in less than a month, thus there’s no time to waste to introduce you to some of this year’s speakers. This time, we have talked to Julien Simon, Principal Technical Evangelist at Amazon Web Services. Read more about Julien’s experience, the future of Deep Learning, which tech blogs to follow, and why speakers should ride their Harley to work.

Currently, you are a Principal Technical Evangelist at Amazon Web Services. This means you help customers adopt AWS services. Which AWS service is the most interesting to you?

Right now, the AWS cloud is getting close to one hundred services, so there are definitely quite a few to pick from! My favorite services are the ones that turn insanely complicated tasks into the simplest thing. Consider managing storage at scale with traditional infrastructure: it’s always a time-consuming, resource-intensive and costly proposition. And do you ever get the performance and availability that your hardware vendor promised? Amazon S3 solves all of it in the simplest way possible. Same thing for NoSQL databases and Amazon DynamoDB: focus on your application and let AWS take care of everything else. And what about AI services like Amazon Polly and Amazon Rekognition, which let you add text-to-speech and face/object detection to your application with just an API call? To me, that’s what the Cloud is all about: removing barriers, allowing builders to go faster, giving everyone the ability to innovate with the same technology.

You served for 10 years as CTO/VP Engineering in top-tier web startups. Which previous job/project are you most proud of and why?

That’s a tough question. Some jobs were more successful than others, like the work my team did at Criteo, leading up to the company going public on the Nasdaq. However, in hindsight, every single one taught me real-life lessons that I’ll never forget. In my opinion, medals are nice (and I got a few) but in the end, scars are much more valuable (and I got many). It’s all part of growing as an individual and a professional. I went through a lot, I’m still standing and as we say in French: “Je ne regrette rien!”.


What is the future of Deep Learning according to you?

The future is now! We have plenty of customers who have already added Deep Learning to their products and applications. The most obvious example is Amazon Alexa and AWS Lex, which allows customers to build voice-enabled applications, thanks to cloud-based Deep Learning for Natural Language Processing and Speech Synthesis. One such customer is Capital One, one of the top 10 banks in the US, who have implemented a voice chatbot that lets customers query their banking details. Another example is the Washington Post: they use our text-to-speech service, Amazon Polly, to read articles from their mobile app. One last example: ArtFinder, a startup matching its customers with art they will love thanks to recommendation tools built on AWS. As you can see, the use cases for Deep Learning are many and I think pretty much all domains could benefit from it. Just ask yourself: what’s the hardest business problem you’ve failed to solve with IT so far? That’s probably where Deep Learning can help.

Which blogs/websites do you recommend to follow for people who are interested/involved in Deep Learning?

The first thing I recommend is to get a proper education. The free courses offered by fast.ai are great. Deeplearning.ai, although not free, is excellent as well: the project is led by Andrew Ng (of Stanford/Coursera/Baidu fame) and this gentleman can do no wrong. All of his YouTube videos are gold. When it comes to blogs and websites, I like http://machinelearningmastery.com and http://ruder.io, where you’ll find plenty of real-life practical information. You should also keep an eye on the NVIDIA and AWS blogs. Last but not least, theory-inclined readers will certainly enjoy the Deep Learning book, but it’s very challenging (for me, at least).

At IT Arena 2017 you will give an Introduction to Deep Learning with MXNet. Can you give us a little preview?

It’s all about demystifying Deep Learning, which *is* pretty arcane. It’s full of intimidating equations that often discourage software developers, who wrongly think that they’re “not smart enough”. My talk will you show that yes, we can all do this, even if we don’t have a PhD! A few concepts and a little code are all it takes. Demos will illustrate all of this and it’s usually good fun, so please join me. Beginners are most welcome!


Your twitter mentions “Hacker. Headbanger. Harley rider. Hunter.” We are imagining a headbanging tech evangelist riding his Harley to work with guns on his back, off to hack into something. How far off are we? 😉

First time I ever get this question, thank you! Actually, I would love to ride my motorcycle to conferences, but I’m covering so much ground at the moment that it’s really impossible. Still, I will definitely do it when the opportunity shows up and this will make for a killer series of tweets, no doubt. When it comes to Metal, it’s been in my blood since I was little, what else can I say? Yes, I play it loud and no, I won’t refrain from headbanging. My best advice to fellow travelers: don’t sit next to me, sorry.

Hacking (in the original sense) is pretty much what AWS pays me to do, so I’m trying to use my time efficiently pretty much anywhere, from boarding gates to taxis. Given the amount of travel, AWS Evangelists do (on my way to 200,000 km in 2017), it’s the only way we can get things done! It’s not only about code, I usually travel with a bunch of gadgets too. Last year, I flew to Israel with a bag full of electronic devices, wires, screwdrivers and so on: my hotel room looked like a terrorist workshop! I was actually concerned that the maid would call the police… I’m glad she didn’t.

Thank you very much for the interview. I’m definitely looking forward to the conference!


Launched in 2006, Amazon Web Services (AWS) began exposing key infrastructure services to businesses in the form of web services – now widely known as cloud computing. The ultimate benefit of cloud computing, and AWS is the ability to leverage a new business model and turn capital infrastructure expenses into variable costs. Businesses no longer need to plan and procure servers and other IT resources weeks or months in advance. Using AWS, businesses can take advantage of Amazon’s expertise and economies of scale to access resources when their business needs them, delivering results faster and at a lower cost.