As a help desk agent, a colleague once told Heather Luna not to apply for a systems administrator 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 grow.
“After that, my mindset completely changed,” says Luna. “I said not only am I going to prove I can do that job, but I'm going to do it well. And that was just the beginning.”
Luna quickly progressed from being a systems admin for the Wharton School in Philadelphia to a senior IT analyst, working on enterprise-level projects with a notable Seattle company.
“I guess I never saw myself coding,” says Luna. “But with the help and inspiration of the development communities, I knew I could do this job. Now I want to do that for other people, for other women like me.”
Her strong mindset for IT and coding continue to inspire her to innovate with technology, including Alexa. Today she is a renowned Alexa skill builder and the creator of Happy Days, a 4.2-star Alexa skill that was featured in PC Magazine and Entrepreneur.com.
“It’s exciting to see the Alexa team keep upping their game in voice,” says Luna. “There are so many different things I can experiment with, like Echo Show. I just can’t imagine what they’ll come up with next.”
An Early Inspiration Leads to a Love of Technology
When Luna was 10 years old, her mother would get together every Friday night with her best friend to cross stitch. That friend, a software developer, would let young Heather play on her computer.
“That software developer was probably the first strong female mentorship I ever felt,” says Luna. “That's why after all these years, one of my passions is getting girls involved in technology at a young age, because I see what it did for me.”
After finishing school, Luna’s interest in computers led her first to build computers from scratch, then to work her way up to help desk administrator. But, always looking for new challenges, Luna saw an opportunity as a systems admin at Wharton. Despite her co-worker’s discouraging remarks, she succeeded and flourished in the position.
“That was the first time in my technology career someone told me I couldn't do something,” says Luna. “When people got wind of that, I had a whole team of people assuring me that I could do this, including Wharton's CIO. I decided to go for that.”
When Wharton hosted DjangoCon on its campus in Philadelphia, Luna’s friend invited her to help with the event. But DjangoCon turned out to be much more than helping out a friend.
“I met these great developers from the Python and Django communities who were just so impressive,” she says. “I’d never considered coding, but the positivity around me made me believe I could do it. It was intriguing.”
An Alexa Developer is Born in Happy Days
It was that positivity that led Luna to apply her newfound Python skills to a technology she’d seen her husband—a software developer at Amazon—working on: Alexa.
“The world can be a troubling place,” says Luna. “Having dealt with depression myself, I know sometimes you just need a little jolt of inspiration. So I decided to build Happy Days, an Alexa skill that delivers a positive quote whenever you need one.”
Luna says the completed skill was only 200 lines of code and pretty basic since she built it as a learning experience. For example, her first skill stores all the quotes within the code—there’s no database component to it. The voice user interaction is very straightforward, too. The only option is to ask for a quote, and then ask for another one.
“I always try to help people, whether it's in my work life or my personal life,” says Luna. “I just wanted to give users some ‘pep’ back in their step, if they had lost it.”
Happy Days has given Luna herself a few positive, if unexpected, jolts. For one thing, she suddenly saw her user metrics jump without warning. The explanation, she found, was that both PC Magazine and Entrepreneur featured Happy Days as one of the best Alexa skills.
“I was not expecting this skill to take off like that,” recalls Luna. “It was pretty cool to be written up in one online magazine, but to be mentioned in both? Sometimes I still can't believe it.”
Happy Days garnered over 65,000 unique users in less than 12 months. But it still had one more surprise in store for its creator.
“I built Happy Days to help people,” says Luna. “But when Amazon started its Amazon Developer Rewards program, Happy Days met its criteria for high engagement. In just six months or so, I've made over $4,000 in developer rewards.”
Becoming an Inspiration and Teacher for New Women in Voice Development
Luna still remembers the female mentor that first piqued her interest in technology by letting her “play” on her computer. But she also remembers how hard it was in college, being one of only two women in a computer class—and seeing the other drop out after a few short weeks.
“In technology fields, there are still far more men than women,” says Luna. “That pressure can end up driving women away from technology instead of towards it. They need mentors to say, ‘It’s okay, just keep going, you won’t regret it.’”
That’s why Luna is developing a program to teach young girls to build an Alexa skill, using Happy Days as a template. Not only does it get the girls interested in voice technology and coding, Luna says it will build their confidence that technology is a real, viable option for them.
“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.”
Build Engaging Skills, Earn Money with Alexa Developer Rewards
Every month, developers can earn money for eligible skills that drive some of the highest customer engagement. Developers can increase their level of skill engagement and potentially earn more by improving their skill, building more skills, and making their skills available in in the US, UK and Germany. Learn more about our rewards program and start building today.