Alexa Skill Development (Dallas)

Just finished a couple of Alexa software developer courses and creating my first Alexa skill for Hebrew Vocabulary.  Alexa is Amazon’s home voice system.  The new second generation Alexa device is only $99.99, while the smaller Echo Dot is $49.99.  You can also talk to Alexa on your Amazon Fire Stick (Smart TV), and Alexa is being embedded into more devices each year.

This article blow gives several ideas of how you can do content marketing, grow your business, get customers and prospected involved and sharing, and even take orders via Alexa.

Technical Info

Alexa runs on the AWS (Amazon Web Service) platform, specifically using AWS-Lambda, which is the “serverless” technology.  At today’s price, you can run 1 million Lambda programs for free (on the free tier), and then pay on $0.20 (yes, only twenty cents) for each additional million.  That’s a lot of Alexa interaction for a small price.  You might have other minor charges if you use sound files stored on S3 (Simple Storage Solution) or use DynamoDB to store state (user) information (so when the user comes back you can remember information from the previous session).

What does AWS-Lambda and “serverless” really mean?  Well, hopefully it’s obvious that the code has to run on some computer server somewhere.  The point of “serverless” is that it doesn’t matter where.  You don’t have to pre-allocate any certain amount of computer resources.  For years, Amazon has been using it’s EC2 (Elastic Cloud) service to allow people to host their servers on the cloud.  That’s a great offering for porting existing software and servers. They have a variety of different size servers, with different configurations, to meet various needs. With EC2, you can pay by the hour, or reserve a certain number of “instances” for a lower price.  You can scale-up EC2 instances as needed with Elastic Beanstalk.

But when it comes to “Serverless”, there is no need for EC2 and no need to pre-size your needs.  You are only billed for what you use, in increments of 1 million executions.

Many Alexa software developers are using NodeJS (a Javascript framework) as the programming language of choice, but they also support Python, Java, and Microsoft .NET (C#).

Before finding a developer, you need to do a design first, or sit down with an Alexa architect to design the conversations, dialogs and to explore the possibilities.  You can for example, play MP3 files on Alexa.

Here’s a great example from Stubb’s Barbequeue.

Alexa programs can call your webservices and possibly interact with your existing order system, allowing customers to order or re-order products as needed.