Geek of the Week

Geek of the Week: Amazon’s Cami Williams talks the discuss on Alexa, and speaks up for ladies in tech

Cami Williams
“I think that voice is going to be the next major disruption in technology,” says Cami Williams of Amazon. “It’s personalizing AI to a very consumable level.” (Photo courtesy of Cami Williams)

Cami Williams is not the voice of Alexa. But she does use her voice to speak on behalf of Amazon’s AI assistant.

In her role as a senior evangelist on Alexa, with a focus on Alexa Games, Williams has attended various conferences and workshops, including the Grace Hopper Celebration for Women in Computing, reInvent, Consumer Electronics Show, and Game Developers Conference.

“We are still in the very early stages of Alexa Games,” GeekWire’s latest Geek of the Week said. “We have some awesome stand-alone skills like ‘Jeopardy’ or ‘Magic Door,’ but then we also have some companion skills like ‘Destiny 2’ and ‘Echo Buttons’ skills. But like any other facet of voice, we have the power to shift the industry and define what it could be. As game developers, it is time to start utilizing voice in the game and recognize it’s potential.”

Before starting at Amazon last September, Williams worked as a software engineer at Google and Clarifai in New York City. She has worked with various organizations, including Made with Code and the National Center for Women in IT and is a proud advocate for diversity and inclusion in the tech industry.

As a representative from the community she has spoken at over 40 different hackathons and events, most notably the White House Tech Inclusion Summit, SXSWedu, ATECH Conference, and Google Women Engineers Conference.

And Alexa is always around to lend an ear.

“I start every morning with asking Alexa the weather and to read my flash briefings,” Williams said. “Throughout the day, I use her to set reminders and alarms, read recipes, play music, and turn on my lights. Aside from my daily routines with Alexa, I love thinking up new skills. I am currently trying to use the Alexa Voice Service to create a smart mirror.”

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Cami Williams:

What do you do, and why do you do it? “As an evangelist, it is my job to inspire people to start developing for Alexa and teach them how to leverage the tools and services Amazon provides. Under Alexa Games, I create and promote content that helps developers look at Alexa from a gaming perspective.

“Up until starting work at Amazon, I was a software engineer at various companies. Evangelism, though, piqued my interest because it was essentially being able to geek out in front of a crowd and share how cool some facet of technology was. I love that on Alexa, things are still somewhat unknown. We are in the early stages of voice and don’t know what it could look like within the next year! When I speak at events, I go with the purpose of inspiring and teaching, but even more so learning from the community: where they see voice headed and what we can all do to help it get there. Beyond that, I have always loved games and tinkering. The fact that my job is now literally working on the gaming side of Alexa is just too cool!”

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? “I think that voice is going to be the next major disruption in technology — it’s personalizing AI to a very consumable level. As developers, now is the time to strike while the iron is hot and unlock the potential of voice in technology. Right now, the developer community has the power to direct where voice will go and what it will be.”

Where do you find your inspiration? “I have a lot of younger cousins and we are all really close. Together, we span various interests and industries and so I love talking with them to hear what they think is neat and where they see things trending. They are also all a lot cooler and smarter than me so I really appreciate their input and admire their creative ability.”

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? “Honestly, I practice what I preach. I have an Alexa-enabled device in every room of my home. I have become so dependent, I even bring an Echo on trips with me so I can have one in the hotel room!”

Cami Williams Amazon
Cami Williams and her pod mates went all out on the decor. (Photo courtesy of Cami Williams)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? “My work buddies Akersh, Justin and I like the idea of working in a functional, high-class environment. So, to embody that we invested in creating a New York loft-life office space. It features brick wallpaper, an Alexa-enabled record player, decanter and glasses filled with our drink of the day (usually apple juice), banker lamps, and a beautiful storage chest for our Alexa-enabled devices. Since that picture was taken, we also added some plants, pictures of us with JFK and Obama, a wood-burned Nobel Peace Prize, and some book shelves to house our many encyclopedias and classic novels.”

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) “I have recently been starting my week with a list for work. Those are the things that I know I need to get done for the week. From there, I can break my week down by the day so I am able to get out of the office at a reasonable time. Being able to cross things off throughout the day is also very satisfying. It helps with stand-ups, too, to state exactly what you have accomplished and what more needs to be done.”

Mac, Windows or Linux? “Mac. No, Linux. No, Mac. Here’s the thing. I use a Mac at work and at home, but I thoroughly appreciate Linux. Not a big fan of Windows. I switched from Windows to Mac OS my freshman year of college and haven’t looked back.”

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? “Janeway, but I haven’t seen ‘Star Trek.’”

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? “Transporter. But mostly because if I got a Time Machine I would be afraid of changing history for the worse, and if I had a Cloak of Invisibility I feel like I really wouldn’t use it much beyond sneaking into movies.”

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … “Host yacht hackathons. How cool would it be to say, ‘I started this project at a hackathon on a giant, classy boat’??”

I once waited in line for … “I actually don’t like to wait in lines at all. Typically if there is a wait, if I can I leave to do something else fun during the wait time or just decide it isn’t worth it. Life is too short to wait in lines!”

Your role models: “My parents and my sister. Both of my parents are hard-working self-starters. They raised me to be determined and focused, and believe that I have the potential to do anything through God and my faith in Him. My older sister is also in tech. She has inspired and encouraged me throughout my career. She will forever be my mentor and best friend!”

Greatest game in history: “Oh NO! This question goes SO DEEP for me! I will have to talk about what I am feeling now versus my all-time, just to be fair. For video games, I am replaying ‘Last of Us: Remastered’ on PS4. Not only are the game mechanics and play through SO on point, but the story is just amazing. One video game that will remain an all-time favorite for me is ‘Minecraft.’ It is crazy the different levels you can go into with that game. Creation within the game is endless, but creation ON the game via mods is also incredibly outstanding. For board games, my team and I have been loving ‘Codenames.’ Great word association game that can handle any number of players. For all time, it’s a toss-up between ‘Splendor’ and ‘Terra Mystica.’ ‘Splendor’ is great because from an initial perspective it is simple but your strategy can take you very far. ‘Terra Mystica’ is great because it is just beautiful. But it is one of those games that you have to devote an entire day to playing because it is so strategically complex. For any other normal game, I went to a Sounders match the other night and it was AWESOME.”

Best gadget ever: “Smart light bulbs. I love coming and leaving home and having them automagically turn on/off, having them sync to music or movies. They are the best.”

First computer: “ThinkPad T. It was great starting out, but after I installed Windows 8 it crapped out on me and I needed to make a switch.”

Current phone: “iPhone 6s Plus! I need an upgrade…”

Favorite app: “Tab. You can take a picture of a receipt, and then sharing your unique code with friends you can select who pays for what (splitting items included) and then it specifies who you need to Venmo!”

Favorite cause: “March for Our Lives.”

Most important technology of 2017: “Augmented Reality.”

Most important technology of 2018: “I am very excited about Amazon Key. I feel like if it takes off, it will change delivery systems for the better.”

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: “Be kind and respect one another. Diversity and inclusion in the tech industry is crucial and needs to be prioritized. We all have something to learn from each other and something to offer!”

Twitter: @cwillycs

LinkedIn: Camryn Williams

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