Certified as an AWS Alexa Skill Builder

May 23, 2019

5 min read

I'm sure I had every intention of writing a detailed post about the curriculum and how hard the exam was, etc. Clearly that didn't happen, as I am migrating my blog to a new platform and I only see a blank document in front of me. Here's the recap of my journey from never interacting with an Alexa device to becoming a certified builder.

Pre-COVID, I used to head up to the AWS Summit in New York City every summer. There were usually only a handful of sessions that aligned with my day-to-day focus was at that time. The rest of the day I would fill with sessions that would broaden my horizons but mostly likely wouldn't ever really need to use in practice. In 2018, one of those sessions happened to be an Intro to Alexa Skill Building breakout session with Jeff Blankenburg (editor note to come back and check the spelling of Jeff's last name). In those 45 minutes, I went from zero desire to develop skills for smart devices, to it becoming the new obsession to learn. I went full-tilt building nonsensical stuff. As I quickly dove into the deep end, I came across a program Amazon was running for Alexa developers. They were holding monthly reward programs for Alexa skills that were developed, fulling QC'ed through their internal Quality Assurance team and published to the Alexa Skill Store for open consumption. Many times it was a t-shirt or some developer credits to cover the cost of hosting on AWS, but there were a lot of possibilities to get Alexa devices - specifically the newer models and hubs they would come out with.

Admittedly, this is where I took advantage of the system. I immediately noticed that their checklist to consider a skill acceptable for the public marketplace was lackluster at best. You had to do the bare minimum to get things approved. The one thing that I do have to say was really nice about their team, is when your skill did fail the initial submission process, you would receive an email that specifically outlined what was wrong and how to fix the issue. I used this to my advantage. I began rolling out half-baked ideas, just to create simple proof of concepts that I could later sell in as possible feature sets for real clients. From simple Question and Answer skills where everything was hard-coded, to API integrations with Google Maps, Yelp and ZocDoc, to name a few. I even created a crowd-sourced horror story skill, that was (in my personal opinion) unjustly rejected, but that's a story for another time.

After a few months of bogus releases and getting free swag, Amazon announced that they were going to offer a beta-exam to become a certified Alexa Skill Builder to developers who've published skills into the marketplace. If you know me personally, you know that certifications are like Pokemon for me - gotta catch 'em all. For the next few weeks I was reading the ins and outs of everything that was in the Alexa ecosystem. Then in January of 2019, I went and took what arguably was one of the hardest certification exams I had ever taken to that day. There were aspects of that exam, that in all the reading and studying that I had done, never came up once. However, where some of the concepts did appear, were in those failed attempts at getting one of those bogus skills published. The detailed email responses from the Alexa team on why a skill wasn't passing and how to resolve the issues, those were my saving grace. Regardless of that, I still had a feeling in my gut that I wasn't going to pass. I wasn't terribly broken up about it, as that this was a beta-exam and Amazon knew that they had their own kinks to work out. They were providing credits to retake the test when it was officially released to those who didn't pass the beta.

I walked away with the knowledge of my shortcomings and focused on those areas in my downtime. I began to develop a proper skill, writing flows for all scenarios and even conducted user testing. Sometime in April, I'm killing some time, waiting for a meeting to start and I open my email to a congratulations letter stating that I had actually passed the certification exam back in January.

Wrapping this up because it's getting late and my eyesight is getting blurry... I got certified. I got busy on other projects. I had some life events.

As we are about to wrap up 2021 - I haven't written a new Alexa skill since that day. I do use Alexas more regularly though - mostly to read Audible books to me, but it's something. I suppose I will get back into Alexa development in the future, as I continue my journey in accessibility and overall inclusiveness (both digitally and in real life).