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Hundreds of thousands of developers have been inspired to build with voice to make customers’ lives easier, solve real problems, and entertain users each and every day.
Many women are at the helm of these innovations. These are the builders and entrepreneurs who are building thriving businesses, making everyday tasks more delightful, and pushing the boundaries of what’s possible with voice.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re excited to share stories from some of the inspiring women who have been pillars of innovative voice design in the developer community. They are building the future of voice with Alexa, and inspiring more women to join them along the way.
As the co-founder and CEO of Opearlo, one of the first voice design agencies in the United Kingdom, Jess Williams helps clients reach customers through engaging voice experiences with Alexa.
Her Alexa skills range from productivity skills to help users manage basic daily activities to skills designed to educate and entertain kids. Some of her most popular skills, including Find My Phone, Easy Yoga, and Easy Meditation, have earned Alexa Developer Rewards.
When it comes to inspiring women in technology and voice, Williams is passionate about encouraging more women to get involved.
“I want to inspire more women to get involved in voice because it is such a new and exciting space,” says Williams. “I truly believe there’s going to be a growing need for voice designers and developers going forward.”
After 23 years working in IT, software engineer Kesha Williams discovered a new passion and one she wants to inspire other women to pursue—voice. Her love for technology has followed her throughout her career, which inspired her to build Alexa skills for use both in the home and in the workplace.
She built her first Alexa skill, Live Plan Eat, to help her plan her family’s weekly meals. The experience inspired her to bring Alexa to work at Chick-fil-A where she writes software for the IT department. There she prototyped three skills with the goal to improve the customer experience using voice.
Williams’ work with voice also extends to another area that’s important to her: women in STEM. She created a skill called STEM Women that highlights women’s achievements and contributions in various STEM fields.
“Technology has opened a lot of doors for me, and it’s a great feeling to share with others the lessons I’ve learned with voice,” Williams says.
As a help desk administrator, a colleague once told Heather Luna not to apply for an IT position, insisting she didn’t have the right mindset for such a job. But telling Luna she can’t do something only fueled her desire to prove her colleague wrong. Luna quickly progressed from her help desk position to being a systems administrator for the Wharton School in Philadelphia to now a senior IT analyst at a Seattle tech company.
It was an early love for computers that inspired Luna to pursue her passion for technology, and that passion extends to innovations like Alexa. She’s also the creator of the popular Happy Days skills, a 4.2-star Alexa skill that was featured in PC Magazine and Entrepreneur.com as one of the best Alexa skills.
In addition to her IT work, Luna wants to become an inspiration and teacher for new women in voice.
“I wholeheartedly believe in supporting and creating opportunities for women who want to get involved in technology,” says Luna. “Building an Alexa skill was such a positive experience and had such a positive effect on my career. I want to make sure that opportunity is within everyone’s reach.”
Andrea Bianco has always been fascinated by smart homes. When Amazon released the first Echo, she decided to combine this new technology with her love for home automation. She started a smart home consulting business to help homeowners build the house of their dreams.
Bianco’s clients are residential homeowners who are looking to integrate Alexa into their homes in sophisticated ways. She helps them achieve this goal by designing and implementing personalized smart home solutions. She identifies the right Alexa-certified smart home products to meet their needs and works with Alexa developers to build custom skills. With one of Bianco’s favorite custom skills, the homeowner can ask Alexa for the status of various home devices—lights, coffee pots, humidifier, even curling irons—either by voice or by using a custom mobile app.
Bianco says her daughter is the one who inspired her to pursue a new adventure in smart home and voice. And she encourages all women to take notice of the opportunities technology can offer.
“Women are bringing Echo into the home as much or more so than men, and sometimes a woman’s perspective makes all the difference,” says Bianco.
Akilah Bolden-Monifa is no stranger to new and exciting ventures. At age 40, she made her first career pivot from practicing law to becoming a full-time writer. After receiving an Amazon Echo as a gift, Akilah Bolden-Monifa was inspired to conquer something new at age 60—learning to build for voice.
She was energized by voice and its ability to reach so many people through Alexa-enabled devices. She saw this as an opportunity to give voice to a subject that felt deeply personal to her, which led her to build a skill called Black History Everyday.
As a self-taught skill builder, Bolden-Monifa continues to build for voice to educate and inspire her users.
“To know that so many people can hear the skill and be as enlightened through sound and knowledge as I was—it is, I think, very, very profound,” says Bolden-Monifa.
Anna Perelman is the CEO and creative force behind stellé, a company offering a line of beautifully designed wireless speakers that captivate consumers with both their look and their sound. When she started the business, her aim was to reimagine boring, boxy speakers into designer home furnishings. But swift advancements in voice technology elevated her designs into the realm of truly smart speakers.
Perelman recently worked with Amazon to integrate the Alexa Voice Service (AVS) into stellé’s popular Pillar line of speakers, bringing the power of voice to customers. But the innovation won’t stop there. She intends to integrate AVS into all stellé products.
“As a woman, voice is all about making life simpler and more seamless today, whether it's getting a recipe, checking your calendar, or playing your favorite song,” says Perelman. “Those are the features that I love about Alexa, and it’s exciting that we’ll be bringing these capabilities to our products.”
Hamilton has a unique path to becoming an Alexa developer. She studied English in college and worked various jobs at a time when computers were just starting to become more commonplace. Though others were resistant to the new technology, Hamilton was fascinated. She took every opportunity to learn more, and soon fell in love with programming.
This fascination led her to pursue voice design after attending an Echo demo at an Amazon developer event. She threw herself into skill building and has risen to become a noted authority on building Alexa skills.
"I knew Alexa would be revolutionary, the next major leap forward in technology, and I could be a part of that,” says Hamilton. “I wanted to help create the experiences I wished for as a user.”
As one of the original Alexa developers, Hamilton has plenty of learnings and best practices to share with other developers. She is committed to educating others about Alexa and provides expert advice on her blog, Love My Echo.
Following a career at NASA, Amy Stapleton was excited to turn her love for telling stories into a business. With the rise of voice technology and Alexa, Stapleton saw an opportunity to deliver stories in a new, highly engaging way.
She started a company called Tellables, which creates story-based voice experiences for Alexa. The skills are designed to keep children engaged while developing critical-thinking skills. One of her skills called Tricky Genie has been so successful that it has earned money as part of the Alexa Developer Rewards program.
“I couldn’t sleep that night, I was so thrilled,” says Stapleton. “The rewards provided us with the funds and the motivation to continue evolving our game skills and also build new skills in other categories.”
Stapleton says she knew fresh content would be critical to not only keep players coming back but also keep them engaged for longer sessions. And her approach appears to be working. Tricky Genie remains a top skill, maintains a 4-star rating, and regularly receives positive feedback from children and their parents.
Karen Wickert’s background as a mechanical engineer has led to some unique opportunities. After being exposed to software testing in a previous job, Wickert took a role at Sonos as a software test engineer and is now a software test manager.
The role has introduced Wickert to all the possibilities that voice can bring, especially for device makers who are integrating Alexa directly into their products. Today, Wickert is a powerful force behind the quality of Sonos One, which is a smart speaker with Alexa built-in.
Wickert’s unique involvement with Alexa at Sonos shows voice offers far more opportunities than just being a developer. Wickert encourages women to search out companies willing to uphold them, and then share their stories to inspire others to do the same.
“Yes, it can be a hard road,” says Wickert. “But just imagine the experience you can have if you open yourself to all of the possibilities that voice enables. How can you not want to be a part of that?"
Developers around the world are building rich voice experiences with the Alexa Skills Kit and Alexa Voice Service. Help shape the UI of the future and enable customers to engage via voice. Build skills to make Alexa smarter using the Alexa Skills Kit, and integrate Alexa into your product with the Alexa Voice Service.