This engineering student turned down a full-time job to earn a living developing Alexa skills for the world’s leading brands

Staff Writer Feb 23, 2022
Alexa Skills

For Ashish Jha, the path to becoming an Alexa skills developer for some of the world’s biggest brands originated in an unexpected place: the dialogue of his favorite TV shows and sci-fi novels.

Though he started out building websites during his early years as an engineering student, Jha wanted users to interact with his work beyond just what appeared on the screen. After seeing an Alexa device replying to a character in an episode of USA Network’s Mr. Robot, he realized that voice offered the type of natural connection he found through books and series.

“I was drawn to voice from the beginning because it’s intuitive, and feels like a conversation that’s accessible to everyone,” says Jha. “Even though the field of building skills is new, it’s something I can explain to my grandparents.”

After attending the first-ever Amazon Alexa dev-day workshop in India as a second-year student and learning about the blank canvas that voice apps offered, he got to work.

Jha’s first published skill, Quiz of Thrones, lets diehard HBO’s Game of Thrones fans put their knowledge to the test, while channeling the quick wit and swagger of Jha’s favorite character, Oberyn.

Next, he created The Walking Dead: Unofficial Quiz, and reached thousands of users. “When these games went live on the Alexa Skills Store, it was the first time I saw my name beside something I built on my own. That was definitely when I caught the bug,” Jha says.

From self-made games to Fortune 500 clients

Jha found a broader community by participating in and winning voice app hackathons organized by Amazon India.

“Alexa hackathons were a turning point that gave me a chance to showcase my work, and they also proved there were opportunities out there in voice,” Jha says. He took on topics proposed by Amazon, broadening his portfolio to include skills on travel and personal finance.

At that time, there were still few formalized positions available for skills developers. But as influential brands and personalities sought to build their presence through voice, it was Jha’s early, self-made projects that made him stand out. So when the celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor wanted a voice-powered smart recipe cooking assistant, Jha helped him build it.

“A lot of people and organizations, including Amazon’s Alexa India team, began reaching out after I won the hackathon. This put me in a position where I could actually choose what was most interesting to work on,” he says. “I figured, ‘Why not start with a name everyone knows?’”

Soon, working with both agencies like Vixen Labs and MagicCo, and as a freelance skills developer, Jha’s list of clients expanded to include some of the biggest companies in the world.

As an independent contractor, Jha can reach clients around the world and publicly showcase his past work through freelance marketplaces like Fiverr and Upwork. What began with winning merchandise transformed into a sustainable revenue stream that affords him the freedom to pursue projects across the Alexa development ecosystem on his own terms.

Learn from Jha

For those interested in building their first skills, here are Jha’s tips and tricks:


1. Utilize Sonic Branding

Jha says that the world's leading brands are focused on using sound design not only for sonic branding but as UI elements to help the user's understanding of lists, actions, and confirmations.

[Learn how to use Sonic Branding for your skill]


2. Gamification for Retention

Jha says that the most important idea behind each voice app is making sure the user comes back. In each skill, he tries to include a little thing like a short quiz, changing up the greeting, or rewarding with badges — to enhance users’ experience. This, he says, ensures their retention.

[Enhance voice experience with session attributes]


3. Visuals for the Win

Jha built the Learn Lingo skill to learn Spanish. Now, it includes words and phrases from 35 languages and features flashcards to help users revise their knowledge. Combining contextual conversations with visuals seems like a daunting task, but it provides the best experience to customers.

[Start by creating the simplest engaging visual elements]


4. Seek Advice When in Doubt

Jha recommends engaging with the community of Alexa skill builders, asking questions, and participating in hackathons. Keeping Up is a game that teaches financial basics and it’s one of several skills Jha submitted to Alexa hackathons — not just as a learning experience but to promote his expertise.

For developers looking to get started earning money with Alexa skills, Jha says, “there’s never been a better or easier time to dive into the world of voice. Each day, a bigger knowledge base is established for you to draw from.”

He also notes that the best way to explore how voice works is to use it yourself and become immersed in the ever-growing community through meetups, conferences, and online demos.

“Once you discover what types of problems you want to solve, you can explore related skills and take inspiration from the projects of other developers,” he says. For instance, Jha describes his skills development reaching a new level after learning about  a US-based skills builder who found a way to integrate realistic, dynamic sounds to a game.

Despite keeping busy with client requests and a steady flow of work, Jha says that at the end of the day, “It should feel like a hobby that lets you connect with new people, travel, and keep learning. Things are moving so quickly and the possibilities are endless.”

Get inspired by the community and meet other skills builders on Amazon Alexa Twitch.

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