Intelligent personal assistants like Amazon’s Alexa have become the home helpers we never knew we needed. They can do many practical things—set a timer, give you a hands-free way to call your son on his way home from practice or inform weather-appropriate dress attire.
But have you ever challenged Alexa to a game of chess, or wondered what else she might be able to do? Darian Johnson does, and he’s using the skills and experience he’s gained during his 17 years with Accenture to help create some of Alexa’s next moves.
There is a whole network of people behind the scenes innovating Alexa’s next wave of abilities. When Darian started his role with Accenture’s Amazon Web Services (AWS) group, he decided it was time to dig deeper into AWS and cloud technologies. Here, he shares how he takes advantage of the opportunity to blend his work with his passion.
My work as an ‘Alexa Champion’
After I started with AWS, I saw there was a contest to build code for Alexa and thought it was the perfect way to learn more about AWS and the cloud. Since then, I’ve become AWS certified, and I continue to do Alexa development.
The people at Amazon found out about what I was doing, got excited and asked me to join the “Alexa Champions” group—a developer community of about 30 people who are passionate about Alexa. They blog and speak at conferences about Alexa’s capabilities. Some people are just getting started, and some have a day job like me, but all are united by their love of Alexa.
I’m currently building code that lives in the AWS cloud that allows audiences to interact with Alexa in new and exciting ways. I built code for “Chess Master” so you can play chess with Alexa. I love spending time working on the internet of things (IoT)—for example, using my knowledge of Alexa and building smart devices in the home. I’m most proud of the “Mystic Mirror,” which is a mirror that runs using a raspberry pi—an incredibly cool little computer. You ask the Magic Mirror the weather and it shows it to you in the background. I presented this capability at AWS re:INVENT last year. This project also won Best Alexa Voice Service with Raspberry Pi in The Internet of Voice Challenge.
Boosting my career by following my passion
My work with Alexa has helped me to be a better technologist during my day job in Accenture’s AWS group. I’m a big believer that anyone in technology needs to know how to do this stuff. Doing it in my free time gives me a better perspective of what’s in the marketplace, and what our clients and business need to know about. When I meet with clients, we talk about things that go beyond our projects—like large-scale mass migration. My clients have even recognized the Alexa work that I’ve done, which has been awesome for building relationships and establishing credibility.
Build your passion. Inspire your future.
If you’re interested in this technology, then start by building something. There is so much information online. Build something—and don’t get discouraged, because the first thing you build will probably not be great. And then you’ll try a second time…and a third time. In time, you’ll start to build fun stuff and learn along the way. Now, I’m learning things that don’t necessarily apply to my job today, but they might down the line.
I’ve been on a lot of different projects during my 17 years at Accenture. Sometimes you’re working on projects that are critical to the business, but might not seem as glamorous. But it’s a critical part of our job. And there are so many fun things that you can do to keep learning, growing and being creative. Through our Accenture robotics community and multiple cloud communities, we’re building things that might apply to our clients two or three years from now.
I love that cloud leadership have noticed what I’m doing. I’ve even received a few notes saying, “Love this hobby stuff you’re doing; keep at it; great job.” It benefits me, it benefits my clients—and it benefits Accenture.
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