Interested In Cloud Computing? But First, Start With Alexa Skills
By Kamal Jacob
The cloud computing arena as a whole is undergoing a major change and transforming to a new level. This clearly depicts the economic shift from commodity-based capital industry towards the intellectual capital front. All the repetitive virtual machines that exist today will be wiped out, and mundane and tedious maintenance scripts will be decommissioned. The cloud of the future is already started to undergo a serverless style of computing and is driven by Functions as a Service or FaaS that is not dependent on and performed by server-based infrastructure or platform services.
One of the most simple and interesting ways to explore the horizon of cloud computing services is with the help of the new concept of event-driven i.e. the serverless functions. It is by best understood by developing a custom Alexa skill. It is not only fun but also an engaging way and it acts as a good entry point into the API-driven world of cloud computing and emerging serverless architecture patterns.
Image Source: https://developer.amazon.com/
Overview of Alexa and Echo
The Echo has introduced by Amazon in 2014. It was the first standalone device which was powered by a smart voice assistant. It is worth mentioning that the launch of the Amazon Echo and its voice service, Alexa, has brought the virtual assistants out of our smartphones and into our homes and offices. Soon after its advent, competitors like Google followed along with devices like Google Home, and the voice assistant got a great response from the consumers. A recent study also predicted that soon there will be more people who would be using voice-activated devices in their daily lives and the number already increasing by the passing year. While the Echo is a robust product by Amazon, its real values lie in Alexa, the voice platform that is powering it. The Alexa has evolved beyond the Amazon Echo and it is now also one of the hottest and the emerging platforms in technology. The large companies are investing and encouraging developers to learn this state of the art technology so that soon businesses can leverage this technology.
Image Source: https://9to5toys.com/2019/02/13/amazon-alexa-skill-blueprints/
Alexa Skills and what makes it interesting
The early stages of adoption for the voice assistant technologies proved to be promising. Later with the advent of Alexa, it was made clear that voice interaction is a breakout technology. Soon after when the Alexa was opened wide to the developers by Amazon, there were most custom skills that have been developed for this service. This is one of the key innovations by Amazon Web Services and the underlying growth of Alexa is majorly powered by the serverless architecture and customer service by Amazon Web Services called Lambda.
AWS Lambda is one of the key services provided by Amazon. It is an event-driven technology which is executed on a serverless computing platform as a part of the pivotal services provided by Amazon Web Services. It provides function as a service i.e a compute service that executes the code in accordance with the response to the events triggered by the function. It is intelligent enough to and also automatically manages the compute resources required by the piece of code that is under execution. In the Amazon Alexa world, the AWS Lambda is responsible for triggering the underlying API calls. So whenever a user invokes an Alexa skill, an event is triggered via an API call. This, in turn, makes it easy to execute a function in response to the event with the help of AWS Lambda.
Image Source: https://developer.amazon.com/de/alexa-skills-kit/tutorials
One of the interesting fact that all attract all developers and they will definitely love about developing for Alexa is that it is language agnostic to a certain extent. Since is developed with the help of AWS Lambda, the Alexa Skills Kit doesn't care much about the language as long as it is making correct calls to the Alexa APIs. So it comes to great help when building smart home skills, which require an Amazon Lambda function. The languages supported by AWS Lambda functions can be written in either of Node.js, Python, C#, and Java. So, it also provides a good opportunity for the developers who are familiar with or are developing an application on such programming languages to leverage their skills in building the required functions which such common languages.
Guidelines to build Alexa Skills on your own
By now we already know that Alexa is one of the hottest and most talked about skills in the market. So independent developers or business professionals who are planning to acquire this skill or even wondering how to get started with Alexa and create skills for growth can start building with using the Alexa Skills Kit. The Skills Kit is one of the best ways of getting our hands dirty and developing for Alexa. There is a lot of information available on the Alexa developer’s portal for details on using the Alexa Voice Service and the Alexa Smart Home and Gadgets tools.The Alexa Skills Set provided by Amazon is broadly written into four categories i.e. Flash Briefing Skills, Smart Home Skills, Video Skills, and Custom Skills.
Image Source: https://9to5toys.com/2019/02/13/amazon-alexa-skill-blueprints/
The flash briefing provides a quick overview of news and other daily content such as comedy, interviews, and lists. A flash briefing skill delivers content for a customer's flash briefing with the help of the flash briefing skill API and defines the format of content and enables us to create flash briefing skills. When we are creating a flash briefing skill, it gives us an opportunity to create our original content to reach customers on a daily basis. It means that we should update our content at least once a day. Alexa caches our content to ensure optimal performance and minimal latency for customers.
The Smart home skills provide us an interface to enable Alexa voice interactions in a simple way. These interactions can be used to control and check the status of cloud-connected or Wi-Fi connected smart devices. The voice interaction model is defined and handled for us with the help of smart home skills in such a way so that our skill uses the power of built-in support for different kinds of devices. Alexa interprets customer utterances and sends messages to our skill to communicate with these requests.
The Video Skills are the set of APIs that enable the far-field control of video devices and allow users to control streaming services and internet-connected video playback devices using an Alexa device. It provides us ways to build skills that let customers control their entire video experience by voice and consume video content without invoking a specific skill. It offers both customers and developers with a reliable consistent experience and interaction model.
Image Source: https://developer.amazon.com/de/blogs/
The Custom Skills are almost everything else that isn't part of any one of the other three categories of Alexa Skills. This is used for all the other voice interactions and making our own custom with AWS Lambda to control our smart devices Alexa offers much more for a developer by opening an extraordinary road to build custom abilities and change over voices into machine commands where we can perform numerous tasks, such as managing IoT devices.
The first three skills i.e. Flash briefing, smart home, and video Alexa Skills have particular APIs to work with and this makes them much more straightforward than building a custom Alexa skill. Nevertheless, building a custom skill from scratch is also that complex as it seems. The prerequisite for this is to have an AWS account to use AWS Lambda functions so as to allow web services connections over HTTPS and follow the steps laid out by Amazon
Image Source: https://dazeinfo.com/2019/03/06/amazon-alexa-developer-reward-program-india/
The current standards in the technology industry are going through a radical economic shift underway. Today's trending market is gaining spikes in areas of automation and artificial intelligence It means that not only all the jobs that are repetitive like the manufacturing jobs will be wiped in the near future, but all the white-collar and mundane jobs or it will be better if we say any job in the future that will continue to exits are the ones which cannot be done by robots or replaced by artificial intelligence.
As per the market research, it is observed that there is a shortage in supply for talent in the niche skills especially in the cloud domain. This scarcity of talent in the area of cloud computing and mapping the developers with proper skills is one of the major impediments for companies with big cloud initiatives. As a result of this outcome, the developers who are fluent and well versed in the cloud technology front are now in great demand and are also commanding some of the highest paying jobs in the industry.
This clearly indicates that we must train our self on these evolutionary technology skills and stay up to date with the market for any innovation in this field to secure our position. On the other hand, it also brings some good news by suggesting that there will be a lot of demand in the near future for such niche skill sets and the one having these update will near have to worry about job protection.