I think the phrase that brings together a lot of what I’ve learned and then done professionally is “problem-solving.” I love being presented with a problem or challenge and then working to solve it. Here’s an example: I went to Boston University for my undergrad work and started out as a mathematics major. It was a good fit at first, because at one level, solving problems is exactly what mathematicians do. But about a year or so into the program, I found that my courses were focusing more on the theoretical side of the subject. So I took a computer science course and decided, “OK, I could actually make a career out of this.”
I began my career with Accenture as a summer intern in the Boston office. I was working on a large software implementation for a government project. That role taught me what consulting was and I kind of fell in love with this idea that in your job you could be helping any client or company in the world, in any industry, to meet their challenges and embrace opportunities.
Today, I am an advanced application engineering specialist (i.e., a software engineer) with a group within Accenture Technology called the Liquid Studios. We build rapid prototypes for clients using new and emerging technologies. Here’s how it works: A client comes to us interested in applying a new technology to their business—cloud, for example, or blockchain or virtual reality. But they don’t want to get into a situation where they invest in a two-year project only to find it’s not suitable for them.
So our teams (sometimes nicknamed the Accenture “SEALs” team) create a prototype in a matter of weeks. We put that in front of the client, test it, and see if it actually makes sense for their business. If it doesn't, OK—they didn't spend a ton of money to figure that out, and we can iterate or try something else. If it does work, however, then we can help the client scale the prototype up and fill it out as a real solution. It's pretty exciting. I like to say that my job is basically like a “hackathon” every day.
Why cloud? Why AWS?
At the Liquid Studios, it’s not like we actually have to use the cloud. But we’ve found that it works so well that pretty much all of our projects are based around cloud or on the cloud. It's easy to spin up an Amazon EC2 instance or server, use it for however long we need, then shut it down when it’s not needed. Plus, we're not committed to it for years. We pay as we go. All in all, the cloud makes it easier for us to do our jobs.
In terms of platforms, Accenture is technology agnostic, so we use basically all of the cloud providers. However, on my team, AWS is the one that we use the most. (FYI, I am an AWS Certified Solutions Architect—Associate). I really love AWS for several reasons. One has to do with all the services they offer. Basically anything you could ever need, you have right in AWS. For example, we've used AWS Rekognition for a couple of projects—a solution that enables you to add image and video analysis to your applications.
The second reason in favor of AWS is that there’s such a community around their technology. If we hit a roadblock in AWS I can do a search on it and usually find that someone has run into that issue before and has already described a solution. Plus, AWS really listens to their users. If you do have an actual issue with their platform, they'll go ahead and fix it for you or add new features if you request them.
Finally, AWS cloud supports innovation because there is very little upfront cost to getting started. You can test a solution out, fail quickly in the beginning, and either start over or iterate. All of this can be done without investing heavily, so failing becomes less scary.
Mixy-ing it up
One of the most interesting (and fun) projects I get to work on is Mixy, an AI solution we built originally in the Liquid Studios and introduced at the AWS re:Invent Summit in 2017. Leveraging the power of AWS, the Mixy device can mix a drink for you from anywhere in the world with a single request to Alexa. You just say “Alexa, tell Mixy to make me a….” and AWS handles the rest.
I took over management of Mixy following re:Invent. We did some basic code clean-up, re-did the hardware, and redesigned the look of Mixy, making it more manageable, easier to carry around and clean, and so forth. A lot of requests to demo Mixy flooded in from all over the world so, today, we have about 10 Mixy’s around the world. I coordinate all of them, help teams run Mixy and answer questions. It's very interesting.
Other fascinating and challenging work I do at the Liquid Studios is around chatbots. Many large companies want to use new and emerging technologies, but find them hard to introduce. So I’ve worked on several chatbots for clients. For many of them, it’s their first exposure to artificial intelligence and machine learning. I’ve also worked on a mobile blockchain game that helps increase people’s understanding of what blockchain is all about and what it can do.
AWS and Accenture
Finally, let me say a bit about the AWS group here at Accenture—the Accenture AWS Business Group. These teams are fantastic. They've gathered together experts in the field to help clients realize the importance and value of cloud and AWS. Having these experts within Accenture helps to solve complex challenges, especially with moving to cloud.
I’ve had many opportunities to learn about AWS and why cloud computing is so powerful. I genuinely enjoy researching all of the AWS services and the impact they make.