Like a lot of you out there, I received an Echo Tap from my daughter for Christmas. The funny thing is I had the same idea as a gift and bought the Echo for my wife and grandkids. I also received the Echo Dot through my company. Needless to say, Alexa is all over my house. For those of you who are not familiar, Alexa is the wake word. This triggers the Echo to listen to your command. Immediately after doing a little research to see what Alexa was capable of, I noticed there were skills that you could enable for further functionality. As I have a passion for learning new things, I thought how cool it would be if I could build my own Alexa skill. What if Alexa could help me study for an exam? Well, now she can.
As my focus is on cloud technologies, I searched through the skills library to see if I could find anything around Azure and AWS. It turns out that there were a couple around AWS but nothing around Microsoft, specifically Azure. So I knew what my next project was going to be. I did a little research and found some guidance around building your own Alexa skills app, based on the trivia framework.
The really cool thing about this is I could use the AWS Lambda service which allows you to run code in the cloud without having to worry about deploying or managing the servers. If the traffic to my skill all of the sudden ramps up, the service will scale out as needed and when the traffic slows it will scale back in. This is what is referred to as “Serverless Computing”. You mean I can run code in the cloud without having to worry about the server or the infrastructure, it scales as needed and its highly available? The answer is Yes. This is a very powerful service which I feel is going to get a lot of attention moving forward.
I simply created a Lambda function in AWS, added my code, set the configuration and added a trigger for the Alexa Skills Kit. I then logged into the developer console and opened the Alexa Skills Kit where I defined my skill. This included providing skill information, defining the interaction model, setting the configuration using my newly created Lambda function ARN (amazon resource name), configuring the publishing information, and specifying the privacy and compliance. The capability exists within the developer portal to be able to test and validate as well. Once my skill was tested and validated I submitted it for certification. The certification process can take up to 7 days to go through testing at AWS to ensure you have met security requirements and the functional and user experience passes. If your skill doesn’t meet the criteria you will be notified and asked to resolve the issues and resubmit. Make sure you do not infringe on anyone’s intellectual property.
My Alexa skill is based on studying for the 70-533 Azure Infrastructure exam. I was excited to receive an email that my skill has been certified and has been published to the skill store. I encourage you to check it out and please rate it or provide a review. The name of my skill is “Azure Quiz Buddy” and you can search for it or locate it under the Education and Reference category.
I hope you will enjoy my new Alexa skill and be inspired to go and build your own.