Lani Rosales, The American Genius

Episode Transcription:

[00:00:00] Trac Bannon: 

My friend and mentor, Mark Miller, tagged me on a LinkedIn post. Then he shot me a link on Slack a few months ago. His words? “This is someone that you have to talk to, Trac” That person? Lani Rosales. 

Mark was right. I navigated to her LinkedIn profile and found myself laughing aloud. Here is a wildly smart and tech savvy Chief Operating Officer at the American Genius being unapologetically authentic. You can’t help but chuckle when somebody uses phrases like “turd waffle”, “entitled potato” or straight up swears. I followed her instantly. Over the coming days and weeks, I saw a steady stream of honesty born of passion. 

So many of her LinkedIn messages seem as though she’s grabbing you by the shoulders, shaking you, and saying “what the hell are you thinking?” Some of those posts, I could not help but to pile on with her common sense messages, advice and integrity. 

Scrolling through her feed, you will see she lives life transparently and truly cares about people. She’s larger than life with a keen understanding of the intersection of humans and technology. Lani is a talented and prolific writer often varying her style from editorial to Op Ed. 

I suppose I could sum it up by saying a big heart, a big mouth, and from a big state: Texas. 

[00:01:25] Lani Rosales: 

We said Texas, like we always said Texas. And so Texans that are born here identify as Texans first and Americans second, which is very controversial to say, but very true.

[00:01:39] Trac Bannon: 

You are listening to Real Technologists. I’m your host, Trac Bannon, coming to you from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. Each week we choose a unique guest behind leading Edge Tech innovation to explore their genuine stories, their true journeys. Technology touches nearly every aspect of our lives. It’s being driven by diverse perspectives and experiences of real humans.

You’re in the right spot to hear about the Real Technologists reshaping our world. Stay tuned for stories that will give you something to noodle on. 

Lani Rosales is Texas born and bred; growing up in the rural area south of Austin. She was neither affluent nor poor. She was a Texan. So much so that her parents sent her off to elocution classes to dampen her Texas draw. In that small Texas town, she was a free spirit. 

[00:02:51] Lani Rosales: 

I was mostly raised my single father, my mom’s in my life now, but I didn’t know her growing up. And during senior year, my dad was going through divorce with my stepmom who had been there. And so everybody was distracted.

 I didn’t report in a lot to my parents because I didn’t have any big reason to, I didn’t have bad grades or anything. I was the good kid, so I kind of just got to do what I want. 

[00:03:09] Trac Bannon: 

From a young age, she was drawn to writing and self-expression from a sixth grade newspaper through being the editor for the high school yearbook, she dove into any writing opportunity that she could. She had a deep bond with the high school journalism coach. One has to wonder how that relationship filled in some of the gaps while her family was distracted with the divorce.

That journalism coach had to step away. It was especially difficult for Lani. She had developed a very strong relationship and truly trusted the guidance. The school needed the journalism coaching rule filled and made a decision to call in an athletic coach. This decision would eventually have a dramatic and lasting impact on Lani.

On a personal level, I can really identify with Lani’s story of growing up in a small town where you know everyone in your grade. In Lani’s case, one of her classmates had a terminal diagnosis. The new journalism coach sent her on an assignment to interview her classmate, her friend. 

[00:04:07] Lani Rosales: 

We all knew he wasn’t gonna make it to graduation, but she wanted to do a spread on him. And I really felt like that was kind of like ambulance chasing and I felt like the way she was asking me to do it was very salacious and basically told me that I needed to make the readers cry.

And I was like, well, we all know him. He is gonna die. Like of course we’re gonna cry, but like, that feels weird. And so when I told her I wouldn’t do it, she told me that I was gonna be removed from the staff. I was worried that I would lose any possibility of being able to stay in the journalism program at University of Texas because I had already gotten in, it was my senior year.

[00:04:41] Trac Bannon: 

This is the type of empathetic and compassionate person Lonnie was and is today. She honestly gives a damn. She went to visit her friend and realized she would not and could not write the story. When she arrived back at school, convinced of her decision, the coach reprimanded her with words that would scar her for the next few years. 

[00:05:03] Lani Rosales: 

She told me that, I wasn’t fit for journalism and I took that because I was so young… an adult telling me that I wasn’t gonna cut it.

[00:05:09] Trac Bannon: 

Lani graduated from Lake Travis High School in 1999; a time when Texas was being thrust into the national spotlight.

Native son and cancer survivor. Lance Armstrong won his first Tour de France inspiring a generation to live strong. Texas governor George W Bush announced he would be running for president. Quite a time to be heading off to college. Education was important to Lani. 

[00:05:31] Lani Rosales: 

I really wanted to get into a good university, and I didn’t come from money. And so I knew that I was gonna have to make it happen myself, but we were right at that threshold where my parents made enough money that we were like middle class, so we didn’t qualify for any financial aid or anything like that. 

[00:05:47] Trac Bannon: 

She headed off to her dream college: University of Texas. The dream crashed down around her when she arrived. She had a poetic vision of what it would be like. No one had really prepared her for being on a large campus. It didn’t meet her vision. 

[00:06:01] Lani Rosales: 

So I went to college and I was lost and I had this vision. I had this vision of college that you go there and like you sit in circles outside in little groups and like talk about philosophy or whatever.

And I got there, my first class was like 800 to a thousand people. I’d never even seen that many people in one spot before.

[00:06:19] Trac Bannon: 

Remember her passion for journalism? And remember that athletic coach who said Lani didn’t have what it takes? That left a stain on Lani’s confidence. UT was the college of her dream and she had declined offers at other schools. Even so, she switched majors from journalism to English. For the next few years, she switched her majors a few times. 

[00:06:41] Lani Rosales: 

Alright, I guess. I’m gonna go there and I guess I’ll do English. And then I switched back and forth between English and Spanish a bunch and ended up just so ready to leave… which can get me outta here faster, because I’m tired of giving all money so… english.

[00:06:53] Trac Bannon: 

Like many college freshmen, Lani discovered even more freedom than she had growing up. She also discovered beer. She had been so hard on herself for so long, that she swung to the opposite side of the pendulum from being that good girl in that small Texas town. 

[00:07:10] Lani Rosales: 

And my attitude at that time was like, if I pass these classes, I pass… And I didn’t really care. So if you ask me my GPA from college, um, I don’t know what it was. Honestly, I don’t, it wasn’t good. 

[00:07:21] Trac Bannon: 

Lani was still in college when she met her husband, Ben. They’ve been married for 22 years though funny that she essentially brushed him off when he first said hello.

She was studying at a Starbucks since it was quiet. Ben walked up and asked her what she was reading. 

[00:07:36] Lani Rosales: 

So my literal answer was, um, English I’m studying, I just literally went back to what I was doing. And so then he sat down at like one table over and there was no one else there, it was like empty.

 So then he started talking to me and I was so dense. I was like, dude, I’m fucking studying. Like, why are you talking to me? 

[00:08:03] Trac Bannon: 

Thank heavens for persistence! Ben is a couple of years older and was already in the professional world. Lani had no idea why this adult was talking to her. In her words, “they know how to pay bills and stuff, and I still lived in a dorm.”

She and Ben began dating while she was an undergrad. Like many undergrads, she took on odd jobs to make ends meet. She worked in a bridal salon though she had obviously never been married. Brides were often rude to her, she didn’t care for that environment. 

She also had never worked in a real estate brokerage. Ben, however, owned his own brokerage firm and asked her to come and work with him to help him make inroads into the luxury apartment market. 

She needed a job and this one came without a job interview. Once she was there, she moved into marketing quickly. It was a natural fit for her outgoing personality, and she’s quick to credit her father’s influence on her marketing and design ability. He is a graphic designer and had prompted her to take art courses while growing up. She was a rising rockstar. 

[00:09:02] Lani Rosales: 

I took over pretty quickly, because my conversion rates were a lot better than what they, had been achieving with their CMO. And so at age, like I think I was 22 at the time, I became their CMO, which looking back I’m like… why’d you hire a 22 year old? But I guess I was okay!

[00:09:17] Trac Bannon: 

Lani and Ben married the day after her last college final. She refused to marry earlier because she was concerned about the optics. She did not want anyone to accuse her of college as a way to get her “M.r.s. Degree” 

 it was 2004 and the internet was becoming more widely accepted and growing in availability. The biggest online choices seem to be which email service to use: Yahoo mail, Juno Mail, or the newly launched Gmail from Google. 

Lani kept her focus on the brokerage for about five years. She was using the internet for experimental marketing and finding many clients reticent to work with realtors that they had met online. Ben started a new media lab and began doing digital media research. Ben’s vision and innovation fanned the Flames for Lani becoming an accidental technologist. 

Ben had prior experience with corporate PR and started to publish the research results online using a pen name. At first, all the information and insights were related to real estate. Lani was still at the brokerage and began helping with proofreading. They wrote about their experiences and the difficulties transitioning to being an online presence and they shared technical ideas, challenges they faced and solutions. They called the original site Realtor Genius and it grew quickly.

[00:10:39] Lani Rosales: 

He got a cease and desist from the National Association of Realtors for using the word realtor in his url. At the time I was so scared, but he was like, no, this is an opportunity. And I was like, what? This is not an opportunity. He was like, yeah, we can either roll over or we can talk about how the big bad guys are coming after just somebody trying to do good. And so he had to put his name out there and said, okay, I am a real broker. This is what I’m doing. And within like 10 days, he had 40 people writing.

[00:11:06] Trac Bannon: 

It was 2005 and they were chugging along using WordPress. WordPress was released in 2003 and was quickly adopted for web content creation and management. The content creation was a bit of the wild wild west though contributors got WordPress credentials and banged out a couple of sentences whenever they wanted.

Realtor Genius was now getting 40,000 unique visitors a month. 

Lani was there in the early days of the digital magazine and the content. Ben’s innovation mixed with her own social skills, gave way to their next step. 

[00:11:38] Lani Rosales: 

I’m just kind of naturally a nerd, like tech people were kind of our social scene anyways. And so we would go to different meetups the very early years, and people would tell us… oh, we love what you’re writing. 

We’re like, it’s not for you. It was not written for you. It is for like practicing realtors, brokers, MLS executives, people like that. And they’re like, yeah, but if you just take the word real estate off, it’s pretty agnostic.

We were having to do a name change anyways, so change it to the American Genius where we can celebrate the genius of what’s going on around us 

[00:12:18] Trac Bannon: 

This is how they became American Genius and how Lani Rosales became a luminary digital voice covering technology and the impacts on humans. She is an amazing conversationalist and she cares about issues impacting people. 

She has been front and center as new technologies and social platforms have come online. Twitter launched in 2006 and quickly spread. Twitter had an estimated half million users by the time the South by Southwest Conference celebrated its 20th anniversary in March of 2007. Lani was among the new Twitter users. 

[00:12:53] Lani Rosales:

When the American Genius started Twitter hadn’t even been launched yet. And then when Twitter launched and there were like 10 Austinites on Twitter, and it was like, let’s meet each other in person. And we did. And then the next month people kept asking me, what are we doing this month?

[00:13:08] Trac Bannon: 

Lani has always lived in Austin. It’s in her blood. 16 years ago, she and Ben started meetups with others in the region that tradition lives on and has become known as BASHH… Big Ass Social Happy Hour. She loves Austin, she loves people, and it shows. 

You can see this in her coverage of leading technology too. But ask Lani if she’s a technologist and she will respond “NO”. I have to disagree. She has the innate ability to spot new technology and immediately innovate creative uses and perhaps more importantly, she’s a bit of a futurist. She can forecast ways that technology will impact different industries and the lives of everyday people. What are the ways this new tech could change culture? 

She credits her technical writing to consistently keeping her finger on the pulse of culture and tech. On occasion, you can coax her to admit to having a certain level of subject matter expertise. 

[00:14:07] Lani Rosales: 

Here’s why I don’t call myself a technologist. I’m a tech user and an end user and a fan. But we did a series called Stump the Developer and we had different high level developers come talk about different subjects and then people in the room would try to stump them.

 And so every now and then when there was a lull, like I would try to ask a question, but my dumb ass raised my hand one time and said, I don’t even remember what the question was because I almost cried afterwards. 

 Like I had enough understanding that I knew Java should be able to do something. And the person up front who’s like a high level former Microsoft developer startup guy, he was like, oh, um, Java’s not the same thing as JavaScript. We’re talking about JavaScript today. I was like, how are they not the same fucking thing?

 I was one of the hosts and, uh, everybody in the room knew me.

They thought it was hilarious. They thought it was so fucking hilarious. And they still bring it up and still make fun of me about it. And fine, I’m not gonna ask questions anymore, so that’s why I don’t call myself a technologist.

[00:15:05] Trac Bannon: 

Lani identifies as a writer, first and foremost, Ben has been her muse and mentor. She is highly tech literate with an uncanny sense of the impact on the human condition. 

[00:15:16] Lani Rosales: 

The truth is that Ben has been my primary mentor, just because he was able to blaze some paths before I was, he and I compliment each other really well.

[00:15:26] Trac Bannon: 

Since 2007, Lani has been the Chief Operating Officer and News Director of the American Genius. She has authored hundreds of articles that explore the human condition and technology. Like the rest of humanity, she’s been researching and experimenting with ChatGPT recently. Her most recent post includes research into possible jobs that ChatGPT could eliminate. Her position is always common sense based and practical. Will there be an impact? Lani says, yes. Can you prepare for it? Lani says Yes. 

And with that certain sass that she exudes, she went as far in her research as to engineer prompt, asking ChatGPT what jobs could be eliminated by ChatGPT. Lani’s value add is being able to react as only a human can. Her message to the masses: get smart and learn to use the tool. Though she does add the kicker that “The robopocalypse is upon us, y’all.” 

And of course, her humor gets the best of her from time to time like her recent OpEd where she asked ChatGPT to write cover letters acting as Satan and acting as the Pope.

She is real. She’s a real technologist. Someone who navigates life challenges with honesty and is willing to take chances. Instead of reinventing herself. She’s continuously growing, learning and adjusting. Lani has recently added video streaming to the American Genius to rave reviews. 

The crazy Texan can be introspective, though, as she looks over her life and career so far.

[00:16:59] Lani Rosales: 

I would tell my youngest self to calm down a little bit and not take myself so seriously. Because I was just so stressed as a middle school and high school kid. I was always sick with stress. Um, so just chill out, man.

I really would’ve gone back to that moment where that journalism stand in person for high school, when she told me I couldn’t cut it in journalism. I should have asked somebody else. 

I should have asked somebody else that I trusted, um, an adult because I knew my parents weren’t connected to us. I couldn’t ask them, I would’ve said, in college, maybe that time try a little harder. Because I think I missed some learning opportunities by just kind of fucking off and just trying to get through it.

I ended up kind of full circle where I began, but I, I feel like it did kind of take me off track away from my passions for several years.

[00:17:40] Trac Bannon: 

And that’s a wrap for today’s episode of Real Technologists. I want to thank my guest, Lani Rosales for sharing her story. Your insights and experiences are truly inspiring. I’m grateful for the opportunity to share them with the audience. This podcast is a Sourced Network production and updates are available weekly on your favorite audio streaming platform. Just search for real technologists and consider subscribing. Special thanks to our executive producer, Mark Miller, for making this show possible. Our editor and sound engineer, Pokie Huang has done an amazing job bringing this story to life. Thank you both. The music for today’s episode was provided by Blue Dot Sessions, and we use Descript for spoken text editing and audacity for the soundscaping. The show distribution platform is provided by CaptivateFM making it easy for our listeners to find and enjoy the show. 

That’s all for today, folks. This is Trac Bannon. Don’t forget to tune in next week for another intriguing episode of Real Technologists and something new to noodle on.

Episode Guest:

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius, she co-founded BASHH (The Big Ass Social Happy Hour, a popular tech networking event in Austin), Austin Digital Jobs (a massive, rowdy Facebook Group), Remote Digital Jobs (their newest Facebook Group), is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Episode Transcription:

[00:00:00] Trac Bannon:

In our world today, technology plays an increasingly significant role in shaping our lives. The way we communicate, work, and even entertain ourselves is being revolutionized by tech. Behind every innovation, there’s a person, a human being with unique experiences, perspectives and challenges. Understanding what shaped their perspective is a real goal.

From The Sourced Network remote offices in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, welcome to Real Technologists. Each week we explore the genuine stories and true journeys of folks shaping our digital future. How did they navigate this complex world of ours? What challenges did they face? What are the innovative ideas that continue to propel them forward?

Each episode is crafted to broaden your perspective, spark innovation, and help you make better decisions by showcasing the diversity of thought and experiences within the tech industry.

Today, we’ve included some short excerpts to give you a taste of what’s to come.

Let’s start out with Jennifer Leggio, Chief Marketing Officer for Netography and cybersecurity strategist. She’s also luminary for the accountability and responsibility and security marketing. Just who helped her along the way?

[00:01:17] Jennifer Leggio:

” He would push me and say, I see more in you. I see more in you. And so because of that, Cisco wasn’t enough for me anymore, and it wasn’t Cisco. It was the role because it’s such a huge org. My role was very finite there, focusing on security strategy and communications and messaging and such. I’m like, you know what? I’m gonna quit.”

[00:01:41] Trac Bannon:

Caroline Wong, Chief Strategy Officer at Cobalt got her start with eBay as an intern. Her experience and exposure to eBay said in motion a series of domino events transforming her into a leading voice in cybersecurity. Funny to think it all started with dating a Stanford student.

[00:02:02] Caroling Wong:

” For my summer internship between my junior and senior year, I wanted to live at his house with his parents in Silicon Valley and not my house with my parents in San Francisco. And so when I applied to internships that summer, and I must have applied to 50 different internships, I only applied to companies located in Silicon Valley. And I got an internship in IT at eBay.”

[00:02:31] Trac Bannon:

Katy Craig is a cybersecurity expert who has spent her career focused on the US Navy. She’s a retired veteran, educating the next generation of ethical hackers.

[00:02:43] Katy Craig:

” It’s very special to build a ship, to be part of the pre-com crew, to be a quote unquote plank owner is a very special, privilege. I am a plank owner of Bonham Rashard. We went through a lot on that ship. I was there on 9-11 when the planes hit the towers. we deployed early to go hunt for Osama Bin Laden.”

[00:03:06] Trac Bannon:

Lonya Ford grew up on the south side of Chicago and joined the military as a way to put a roof over her head and maybe give her an education. When she started out, she found herself believing that she could not be her authentic self.

[00:03:19] Lonye Forde:

” It was scary joining the military because I was transported to a land where no one spoke like me. No one really looked like me. And so that was, a tough environment for me. And, you know, for a while I think what I started to do was conform a little, right?

[00:03:39] Trac Bannon:

Rosalind Radcliffe is an esteemed IBM fellow driving big blue to drink their own champagne, so to speak, in their adoption of modern software practices and DevSecOps. As a self-proclaimed high school dropout, she is leading the way for the DevOps-ing of IBM’s z/OS.

[00:03:58] Rosalind Radcliffe:

” So I went to school in Wisconsin for two years and then my dad was moving to Florida to teach at the University of Florida via England for a year. And so they sent me to the university and the university said, would you like to show up in August? I said, no, I’m going to England for a year. So let me go to England for a year and I’ll come back and then I’ll go to the university. And so technically I’m a high school dropout.”

[00:04:22] Trac Bannon:

That’s what Real Technologist is all about. I delve into the lives of innovators to discover their journeys, their passions, and their motivations.

This is Trac Bannon, the host and storyteller for the Real Technologist Podcast. I’ve been in the tech industry since the 1990s. Along the way, I’ve worked with scientists, researchers, consultants, educators, military and hardcore technologists driving digital innovation.

I’m an active member in many technical communities ranging from digital transformation to software architecture, to DevSecOps. With a vibrant network of professionals who are constantly monitoring what’s going on, I’ve developed a passion for uncovering unique stories and perspectives.

I believe that behind every technological innovation, there’s a unique individual with a captivating story to tell. Our goal, my goal, is to bring you face-to-face with the real technologists behind the latest tech trends, and to give you a glimpse into their lives, their passions, their motivations.

Real technologists is more than a podcast about diversity. It’s about amplifying the goodness that comes from our diverse spectrum of voices and experiences. It’s about genuine stories, true journeys, our complex world. Whether you’re a tech enthusiast, an entrepreneur, or just curious about the world of technology insights, the interviews are sure to inspire and educate. Consider joining me weekly at Real Technologists. Each episode will leave you with something to noodle on.

Episode Guest:

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The American Genius, she co-founded BASHH (The Big Ass Social Happy Hour, a popular tech networking event in Austin), Austin Digital Jobs (a massive, rowdy Facebook Group), Remote Digital Jobs (their newest Facebook Group), is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.