Romain Deltour

Portrait photograph of Romain Deltour taken in 2010 at his weddingRomain Deltour was introduced to the DAISY Consortium by what he calls a "series of small serendipities". He is the lead developer of the DAISY Pipeline 2 project and now also participates in EPUB specification working groups. Earlier this year Romain was co-opted to the XML Guild which is a consortium of independent XML consultants, recognizing his expertise and knowledge. About this appointment Romain said simply, "And there are several XML rock stars in the guild". So, with congratulations to our XML rock star, I am most pleased to share Romain's story with you…don't be concerned, it's only in the third paragraph that he talks about "geeky" things.

I’ve been a staff member of the DAISY Consortium since January 2007, but was first introduced to DAISY folks a couple years earlier (it will be 10 years next spring). How I ended up being part of this amazing community is the consequence of a series of small serendipities.

Technology — Even from an Early Age

As a child, as much as I remember, we always had computers at home (at least since the mid 80's and the Thomson M05 my dad once acquired – if my blurry memories don’t fail me). Back then I used computers mostly for games and, with hindsight, I realize I wasn’t actually aware of their huge potential to improve people’s lives; notably through inclusive knowledge-sharing and communication. Nonetheless I was already fascinated by computers: their versatility, their ability to tell stories or create content, how you could interact with them or even program them.

This fascination led me a few years later to study at a French engineering school of computer science (ENSIMAG) in Grenoble. One course in particular was to leave its mark on my career: it was an introduction to XML languages and XML processing. The course covered various topics: how markup languages can be used to represent digital information, or how a standard syntax (XML) enables the design of generic and powerful processing technologies (XPath, XSLT). It all made perfect sense to me. At that time XML was the 'cool kid on the block' and was seen as the future of the Web. This however has been proved partly wrong since then with the HTML and Javascript renaissance. But the generic principles – the fact that community-developed and open standards can drive interoperability and quality – would remain true. I was sold.

Paying Attention in Class Pays Off

As a student in his early 20s I can’t honestly say that I was always paying attention in class (wink), but I’m certainly glad I did when, at the end of a lesson, my teacher Nabil Layaïda mentioned that a position would be opened in his team at the end of the school year, to work on an authoring tool for SMIL (Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language). Graduation was still several months away, but I kept the information in the back of my mind – it fortunately resurfaced when I was looking for my first post-graduate job. I emailed Nabil, and after a couple interviews I was hired for two years as a software engineer in the Web Adaptation and Multimedia team led by Vincent Quint at INRIA (French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation).

My Introduction to DAISY: a Coming of Age Experience

Photo taken by Romain Deltour in Urakawa Japan in 2005. People are wearing orange life vests. The people in the photo include Hiroshi Kawamura, Edmar Schut, Markku Häkkinen, Vincent Quint, Julien Quint, Thomas Kjellberg Christensen, Jack Jansen (almost hidden), and Markus Gylling My time at INRIA was a terrific experience. I was surrounded by impressive researchers and long-time W3C collaborators, in a team working on cutting-edge Web matters. I met Daniel, who was my predecessor in that position and who was just starting to work for Hiroshi Kawamura under the DAISY for All Project umbrella. In early 2005, Vincent Quint came into my office and proposed that I accompany him to a meeting in Japan where we would take part in an international project to improve the state of multimedia authoring. I was thrilled. I learned that the partners in this project were CWI (co-creators of SMIL) and the DAISY Consortium. I was not an accessibility specialist, although I was sympathetic to the cause and was aware of some authoring best practices (I had developed a kind of OCD about clean markup and valid documents — smile). I left for Japan in May 2005 for what was to be a journey of discovery and a sort of coming-of-age experience.

I met so many interesting people in Tokyo: Hiroshi, George Kerscher, Markus Gylling, Dipendra Manocha , Marisa DeMeglio, Julien, Jack, Ole… to name just a few! For the first time I had the fortunate experience of working with colleagues who were blind. This meeting opened my eyes to accessibility matters and the awesome power of technology to improve access to information. After two days of meeting in Tokyo, we all went for a field trip to Urakawa, in Hokkaido, organized by Kawamura-san. I believe that all of us who went there have fond memories of this very enriching trip. It was the starting point to the "Urakawa Project" which had the primary objective of facilitating the implementation of accessible multimedia authoring tools; it would become the foundation of the DAISY Consortium’s Tobi and Obi software.

Joining the DAISY Team: Learning & Adapting

Group photograph taken in 2010 at a seminar in Japan. Romain is at the far left. Other people in the photo include Greg Kearney, George Kerscher, Hiroshi Kawamura and Markus Gylling. After the Japan meeting, I continued my involvement in the Urakawa project on behalf of INRIA. We had several face-to-face meetings over the next few months. I really enjoyed being part of that initiative which allowed me to closely work with talented colleagues in an international environment. When my contract ended at INRIA, George and Markus proposed to keep me in the loop, asking me to join the DAISY staff. I didn’t hesitate for long — it was an opportunity to work on great technologies, with enriching people, and it was a chance to try to make the world a better place. Could I expect more?

I went through a natural adaptation period where I learned more about the DAISY standards and community (and acronyms too: "so, what the heck is DTB again? and DTbook? and DBB? TPB?" – smile), and started working on the DAISY Pipeline project. I also discovered a new working style, from home, which is sometimes challenging but is flexible enough to allow me to spend quality time with my wonderful wife and two kids (now aged 5 and 3).

Some of the DAISY staff team jammed into an elevator at a meeting in Baltimore, Maryland in 2011. Romain is at the far right.Over the past 7 years, my job evolved into doing both software and standards development. I’m now contributing to the programming of several open source tools, notably leading the DAISY Pipeline 2 project, and I’m also participating in EPUB specification working groups at the IDPF (International Digital Publishes Forum). I continue to enjoy working with, and learning from, great people.

Since I joined the staff team, I’ve witnessed the DAISY Consortium being instrumental in bringing accessibility features into mainstream publishing. I’m enthusiastic about the years to come, when publishing is becoming more and more inclusive, and is getting more and more aligned with the Open Web technologies. Let’s all keep on working together to achieve DAISY’s grand vision of equal access to information!