As a budding journalist at Fortune magazine, Jenny Mero interviewed people with unusual occupations. According to Mero, when she shifted into an editorial role, she found herself involved in web redesign projects—something she knew nothing about. So Mero taught herself a bit of web programming—only to discover another type of programming that interested her far more: voice applications.
Building engaging skills fit Mero’s fun-loving personality. The Alexa Champion doesn’t take herself too seriously, often wearing tutus and other costumes while running. And she loves playing music and dancing while she works, especially when enhancing and creating new content for her music-centric Alexa game for kids, Freeze Dance.
“I play music while I work to test it for the skill,” said Mero. “My mom, nephews, and niece help me test, which means there’s a lot of dancing going on at our house. If the music doesn’t make us dance, it doesn’t make the cut.”
A native New Yorker, Mero says she studied sociology at Wesleyan University, then landed a job as a journalist at Fortune magazine. There she interviewed fascinating people with unusual jobs at Fortune 500 companies for the feature column You Do What? According to Mero, some of her more interesting subjects included a glass blower who made custom vessels at a manufacturing company and a chemical engineer who tested chewing gum at a gum company. Then, a step up the career ladder led to an unexpected shift.
“I worked my way up into an editorial position overseeing web redesign projects for large media companies,” said Mero. “I felt lost because I didn’t understand what the developers were doing, so I dug in and learned some programming myself. That led to a passing interest in mobile app development, then some courses about AWS and Alexa skills.”
At first, Mero had no plans to change careers to technology—she saw these courses as nothing more than a fun personal challenge. Also, she knew the tech industry’s reputation for being difficult for women and people of color. But dipping her toes into the field of voice technology, she soon discovered the opposite: she says she’s experienced only a positive and inclusive reception.
“Voice developers are open and welcoming to everyone,” said Mero. “I feel I can reach out to anyone on Twitch, Twitter, or LinkedIn for help, or hop on a quick Zoom call if I’m stuck on a problem.”
According to Mero, her parents are originally from Ecuador and these family ties give her strong South American roots and help explain her fascination with the Amazon—the Amazon River, that is—and her absolute obsession with sloths. She says she loves the gentle creatures because they always look like they’re smiling, which in turn makes her smile.
In fact, Mero says she’s so fascinated with the sloth’s habits that she filled her apartment with sloth memorabilia—and even named her voice design agency Appy Sloth. Her hobby also influences the Alexa skills she builds, such as adding an Amazon Rainforest theme to Freeze Dance.
“Freeze Dance—a classic kid’s game with a tech twist—combines dancing and facts about different regions,” said Mero. “I love reading reviews from grandmothers who play it with their grandkids. I get joy knowing these kids are learning while also interacting with their families.”
Mero says her ultimate goal is to use technology to bring joy to people and encourage real-life connections rather than isolation. She carries the satisfaction she finds in her work into her interactions with others, helping nurture younger generations. A firm believer in lifelong learning, she teaches children and people in creative fields to code and build voice-first apps.
“Programming is an important skillset and encourages problem solving,” said Mero. “I believe every child should learn at least some programming early on, whether or not they ever go into a technology field. As a mom and former foster parent, and I’ve seen kids flourish and grow when they’re empowered to build something themselves.”
As an active member of the developer community who often attends Office Hours on Twitch to help other developers, Amazon honored Mero as an Alexa Champion in early 2020. She feels other aspiring developers can relate to her path to the voice industry.
“Many people want to build Alexa skills but think they can’t without a technology background,” said Mero. “I’m living proof that you can come from any background, apply what you already know, and pick up the knowledge you need for successful skill building.”
Though Mero won’t deny journalism offered some fascinating opportunities—who else gets to interview a glass blower?—she says she finds it empowering to focus her time and energy on her newfound love of voice. She recently saw Freeze Dance featured on the Alexa mobile app next to a Disney skill, which thrilled her. She also finds joy and inspiration reading happy customer reviews and knowing that her skills encourage children to keep learning and reach for their dreams.
“The Freeze Dance icon features a child of color,” said Mero. “I wanted to make sure kids of color see themselves represented in either an icon or through my content. Subtle messages are extremely powerful. That’s what keeps me going.”
“2021 will be the year we’ll see an acceleration of brands adopting voice technology. It’s impossible to ignore that voice is a powerful channel that allows brands to meaningfully engage with customers —and offer them valuable and personalized content.”
- Jenny Mero, Founder, Appy Sloth