What is your job and what do you do in your job? How does it relate to STEM?
For the learning part, Alexa is constantly learning how to do new things. It is my responsibility to be an expert on Alexa, so I am always keeping up with the latest news and releases. It also means that I need to understand how to use the new technology to write better software.
For the building part, I spend almost 50% of my time creating new things for users to do with Alexa. Two things I’m currently working on are a giant trivia game, and a Star Wars database. The Star Wars database will be able to tell you about anything in the Star Wars universe, including droids, characters, vehicles, weapons, planets, etc.
Finally, the teaching part of my job is my favorite, but it’s only possible with the first two parts. I have to spend a ton of time learning and building to become a credible expert to teach. I travel all over the world speaking with software developers that want to make their own apps for Alexa.
My role really sits in the middle of all of the STEM letters. Science is a big part of it, because we are experimenting with artificial intelligence to make Alexa work. This requires things like hypotheses and controlled experiments to determine what works, and what doesn’t. Technology is an obvious one, since we make technical devices, and run Alexa as software in the cloud. Computer engineering is an important part of creating software for Alexa. Understand what is (and isn’t) possible, and the mechanisms to accomplish them is important. Finally, there’s math. Any software developer will tell you that they use things like algebra every day, but this goes even deeper with voice applications for Alexa, where we use math to determine what you said, the probabilities that it matches our expected outcomes, and to generate responses.
What education did you pursue to achieve your job?
What are the advantages and disadvantages of working in the STEM field?
One of the disadvantages is that most STEM careers require a commitment to constant learning. If you stop keeping up, even for a few years, it’s easy to get so far behind that you almost feel out-of-date. The software industry moves incredibly fast, and you really need to keep up to maintain success and relevance. STEM roles also tend to not be very diverse, which is a huge disadvantage for those involved. Diversity in the workplace makes software better, because it brings everyone’s perspectives together. When there is a lack of diversity (85% of software developers are men, for example), the end product is worse for everyone.
Why do you believe STEM is important now?
I also think it’s important because it is estimated that there will be almost 2,000,000 STEM jobs that will go unfilled by 2022 because there won’t be enough people with the right education to do them.
How important do you see STEM jobs being in the future? What new jobs might need to be added to the field?
I can see a very near future where an entire restaurant is supervised by one person, but run by computers and robots. A future where nobody owns or drives a car anymore, but just calls for a self-driving robot to take them where they need to go.
And with voice, where scheduling appointments with your dentist is as easy as telling your voice assistant to schedule one. The assistant compares your calendar with your dentist’s calendar, checks your dental insurance to make sure it is covered, and makes the appointment. It probably also books you that self-driving car to get there. 🙂