When I started my job as Technical Director at thirteen23, the owner Doug Cook and I were sitting in a room chatting about projects. At some point during the meeting he said “Alexa, is it still raining outside?” Uh what!? Previous to this I had never seen or heard of an Amazon Echo. Somehow I completely missed it. Needless to say, after the meeting I went back to my computer and immediately bought one. Since then I’ve been hooked on it, writing custom skills and taking advantage of all the integrations. I wrote a 3-part series on my experience building Alexa skills, and thirteen23 has played around with custom integrations such as controls for connected speaker systems.
In a couple of months my coworker Nikki Clark and I will be teaching a workshop at SXSW 2017 on how to design for and build an Alexa skill. If you’re in Austin this March for the SXSW Interactive Festival, you should sign up!
Speak up! Build an Alexa Skill for a Cause
Last year when it was announced that our idea was selected for a workshop at SXSW—we still weren’t decided on the focus of the workshop.. Our biggest concern was allowing non-programmer participation, so we knew it needed to be simple. The second concern was doing something meaningful, something that would go beyond just a learning experience. After brainstorming ideas, we decided to use the Alexa Skills Kit Fact template, and cater it to important causes in the United States and around the world—poverty, homelessness, gender inequality, suicide, bigotry, climate change, etc. In total we identified 35 causes, illnesses, and other issues, and created a set of facts for each one. Participants will pick a cause from our set, build a skill with facts about their chosen cause, and (hopefully) submit it for certification by the end of class.
Through the help of Jen Gilbert, Marketing Manager at Amazon, we will also have onsite Alexa support for our workshop attendees, AWS credits for attendees, and 6 great prizes to be given away at the end. Thanks Amazon!!!
Also keep in mind that Amazon Alexa will be at the 2017 SXSW Sports and Tech Hackathon which will be a great opportunity for those already building skills.
SXSW Tips From a Local
If you’ve never been to SXSW in Austin, Texas, you’re missing out on a really great time. In a span of 10 days, a massive amount of people converge in downtown Austin to watch films, see live music, and talk tech. It can be a little overwhelming. At the same time that hundreds of sessions are happening at the convention center, there are hundreds of parties going on, hosted by film, music, and tech companies, all within walking distance. On top of this, there are tons of really awesome food trucks with lots of creative delicacies to keep you fueled up, not to mention the best barbecue in the nation. If you are going to SXSW Interactive this year, here are some tips to get the most out of your experience:
- Plan ahead. Get online and develop a plan for what you want to do. It will make your experience much easier. Also, leave pockets of time for exploring.
- Don’t stress about missing something. You will miss a lot, and that’s ok, because you will also stumble upon some really amazing things.
- Pace yourself. It starts early every day and goes late into the night.
- Pack snacks. There will be times when you don’t get a chance to fuel up, and you’ll be thankful you packed something for those moments.
- Stay for the music! If you are only coming for the interactive portion of SXSW and you have a few more days of vacation, stay for the music portion, which goes through the 19th. There is PLENTY to do, even without a badge or wristband.
- Sign up for the workshop! See below.