Creating an Alexa skill for kids: Clown Names

I’ve taken a break in writing about my normal topics (AI in the workplace, upskilling) because I’m building Alexa skills for my portfolio and documenting the process here.

For background, I’m a UX researcher and conversation designer who was laid off from a conversation AI startup back in March. I’m building Alexa skills to experiment with voice design, and maybe get hired along the way. This is the third skill of five (here’s the write up of Alexa skills one and two).

After building two dialogue-heavy skills, I wanted to create a simple skill. I also wanted to try a feature in Voiceflow where I could pull data from a Google Sheet. This is super useful if you want to make conversation design easier and make your Alexa skill more dynamic.

Instead of writing all possible Alexa responses into Voiceflow, you can instead pull them from a Google Sheet, assign them to a variable, and use that variable throughout your conversation to access the data. I wanted to try this out.

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Creating an Alexa skill as a content marketing channel: Job Complaints

I’m continuing my series on designing Alexa skills right now. I’m experimenting with building different types of Alexa skills by using my creative writing skills and stretching my technical skills.

When I got started with Alexa skills, there wasn’t a ton of documentation on Alexa skills for conversation designers. So I’m documenting (read: dumping thoughts!) on my conversation design process for Alexa conversation designers. I’m using Voiceflow as my no code conversation design platform.

This is the second of five Alexa skills in development. (see the first here)

My Background

I’m was laid off in March from a UX researcher and conversation designer job. I was previously working on a chatbot. Now, I’m interested in working on non-linear conversations for voice applications.

The birth of a second Alexa skill 

This idea for an Alexa skill started as a book marketing challenge. I was looking for ways to promote my new career book, Punch Doubt in the Face: How to Upskill, Change Careers, and Beat the Robots. Cutting through the noise to get your book in front of the right audience is always a challenge. I was brainstorming non-traditional marketing ideas. That’s where the idea of Alexa as career coach came in.

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Creating an Alexa skill with a unique personality: Remote Buddy

I’m super interested in designing Alexa skills right now. I want to combine my technical conversation design skills with creative writing to create engaging voice experiences.

When I got started with Alexa skills, I found mostly Alexa tutorials for developers. So I’m documenting conversation design process for curious Alexa conversation designers.

This is the first of four Alexa skills in development.

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These are the “robots” that are taking your jobs

Since I’ve written a book with the phrase “beat the robots” in the title, I get asked a lot whether or not robots are going to take our jobs.

It’s a common question but a bit off the mark. Robots aren’t taking our jobs (unless you’re in manufacturing or retail, in which case robots are actually taking jobs).

Instead, it’s software that is changing how we do our jobs and in some cases, creating fewer job opportunities in traditional occupations. This software is usually called automation software or RPA – Robotic Process Automation. It’s sophisticated software that mimics repetitive human tasks and does them 24/7.

But in some rarer cases, this software is completely taking jobs.

Case in point, this article: Microsoft lays off journalists to replace them with AI

Microsoft is laying off dozens of journalists and editorial workers at its Microsoft News and MSN organizations. The layoffs are part of a bigger push by Microsoft to rely on artificial intelligence to pick news and content that’s presented on MSN.com, inside Microsoft’s Edge browser, and in the company’s various Microsoft News apps. Many of the affected workers are part of Microsoft’s SANE (search, ads, News, Edge) division, and are contracted as human editors to help pick stories.

The craziest part in that article beyond the fact humans were being replaced by AI is that they had to clarify that the editors were in fact human.

In a time of global pandemic and anti-racist protests, we need good journalists who understand nuance and context more than ever. Corporate America doesn’t seem to agree.

And it’s of course, this automation trend not limited to writers. In January, the mega entertainment channel, iHeartRadio laid off hundreds of DJs and replaced them with AI:

The dominant player in U.S. radio, which owns the online music service iHeartRadio and more than 850 local stations across the United States, has called AI the muscle it needs to fend off rivals, recapture listeners and emerge from bankruptcy. The company, which now uses software to schedule music, analyze research and mix songs, plans to consolidate offices around what executives call “AI-enabled Centers of Excellence.”

(Side note: This is my plug for the best, non AI radio station out there: KEXP, whose fundraising tag line in 2018 was robot-free radio and continues to play human curated playlists)

With coronavirus accelerating automation in the workplace, I’m not optimistic this trend is going to go away.

Curious about this subject? I recommend checking out my book on how you can adapt to this changing workplace.

robots taking jobs

6 online tools to make job searching during coronavirus less difficult

Let’s be honest: Job searching during coronavirus is brutal. Job searches in normal times aren’t easy. Job searching during COVID and mass layoffs adds a new layer of complicated: companies ghosting candidates, more competition for fewer jobs, and a newly remote workforce.

Add to that the general low level anxiety of doing anything during a pandemic and job searching during coronavirus is enough to beat down the most optimistic of job seekers.

So here’s a list of my favorite digital tools to make job searching during coronavirus less painful.

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Upskill yourself: The best free online courses with certificates

The massive online course platform, Coursera, is offering a selection of free online courses with certificates until July. That means you have access to free online courses for massively upgrade your career. If you’ve ever thought about learning a new skill by taking an free online course, this is the time to do it.

In normal times, you’d pay $49 a month to use Coursera and make progress towards a certificate. But we’re in coronavirus times. So Coursera is giving away access to free online courses with certificates to help you upskill.

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Companies still hiring during COVID

If you’ve been recently laid off, get more resources from the podcast 50 Conversations.

Finding companies hiring during COVID is a huge challenge. If you’ve just been laid off and need a job ASAP, you need to be able to quickly find companies that are still hiring during this pandemic.

Thankfully several websites are keeping lists of companies that are hiring during coronavirus. I’ve been sharing these lists on my podcast for layoffs, but I’m putting my favorite ones below.

Here’s where to look for companies that are still hiring during our global pandemic. Share with anyone you know who has just been laid off.

LinkedIn’s list: Here’s who’s hiring right now

The first is LinkedIn, which offers a daily, continuously updated list of companies still hiring during COVID. Log in to LinkedIn, and find the list of companies still hiring in the top right hand corner box. Under Special Report: Coronavirus, click on Here’s who’s hiring right now

list of companies hiring during coronavirus from linkedin
LinkedIn’s list of open jobs during coronavirus

LinkedIn’s list of companies still hiring during COVID cuts across industries, listing major hiring sprees like Instacart’s push to hire 300,000+ contractors to Squarespace hiring 100 workers.

If you’re looking for a job after a layoff, start with this list.

Jobscan: Ultimate List of Companies that Are Still Hiring

Jobscan.co is keeping an updated list of companies that are hiring during covid. Jobscan is resume optimization tool that helps your resume get past the ATS machines (listen this podcast episode where I discuss how to update your resume using automated tools).

Jobscan is keeping an aggregated list of companies that are hiring during the pandemic pulling data from BlindCandorlayoffs.fyi, and StartupHireMe.

The list includes filters like “still hiring” and “hiring freeze,” as well as the option to filter by type of job.

list of companies hiring during coronavirus from jobscan
Jobscan’s list of companies that are still hiring during COVID

The Muse: 94 (and counting) companies that are still hiring during COVID

This Muse is also keeping an updated list of companies that are still hiring.

Each list offers a summary of the company with links to a company profile on The Muse and an option to explore open jobs. This kind of list makes it easier for job seekers to learn a bit more about the company to learn if it’s a fit before searching for jobs.

In a time of mass layoffs, a lot of consumer facing companies – the brands that job seekers know best – aren’t hiring. Instead, software and enterprise brands dominate. For many job seekers, it may be the first time they encounter a company. Reading a quick overview of a company is a bit more inviting than reading a company name on a spreadsheet.

list of companies hiring during coronavirus from the muse
Profile of a company that is still hiring during the pandemic from The Muse

FlexJobs: 70 Flexible Companies Currently Hiring Remote Jobs

Flexjobs, the paid job search platform for remote jobs, has a list of 70 companies hiring during COVID. While the list is from April, and there is no indication of whether it’s being updated, it’s useful as a starting point for finding a remote job during COVID.

list of companies hiring during coronavirus from flexjobs
Flexjobs offers a list of companies hiring remote workers during COVID

Flexjobs is a paid website. To avoid paying for flexjobs, simply Google the company name and the word “careers” and save your dollars.


Want a guide to the remote job search?

In the guide you’ll get:

  • 250+ companies that hire remote workers
  • A mega-list of remote job boards
  • Reflection questions to clarify remote job search goals
  • The Remote Job Toolkit
  • Tips to stand out in the remote job search
  • Curated career resources to support you in your search

Let’s talk about layoffs

The layoff news is bleak. Last week, 3.3 million people filled for unemployment, as COVID-19 spread and states issues stay-at-home orders. We are in a period of mass layoffs. Seeing those company layoff numbers are brutal but this chart from CNBC is what really put it into perspective:

As someone who graduated into the 2008 recession, that chart blew me away. I didn’t get laid off in 2008 but it was nearly impossible to find a good job in those years. I ended up taking loads of random jobs, mostly temporary, to get me through and pay my bills. Family and friends were laid off then too.

Seeing a chart like that just hurt my brain. Most of us know what it felt like to job search or work in crappy jobs during the 2008-2010 period. I’ve been talking with friends and we’re wondering if it’s going to feel like that again. Some say it’s temporary. Others can’t say we can be sure at all because global pandemic!

On top of that, I was laid off two weeks ago. I was contracting as a conversation designer for a conversational AI startup. So I’m joining the ranks of job seekers looking for work. It’s an odd position to be in – a career expert with a new book who has recently been laid off. It’s an identify shift for sure.

Book plug!

So I’m doing something a bit different for the time being. I’m interrupting interviews with career changers on my podcast to talk about layoffs. Instead of interviewing people about their career changes, I’m putting together a series to help job seekers navigate layoffs. Ironically, the last episode I did before our

We don’t talk much about layoffs as a society. Unless a family member or friend goes through it, layoffs are simply a number on the screen as we scroll through our daily news.

I want to change that. I want to talk about layoffs and more importantly I want to talk about how to get through it. From dealing with the initial shock after a layoff, to making a new budget, to finding a new job in a very competitive market, people need help finding their way after a layoff.

I intend to help them. If you know someone who has been laid off, send them my podcast, 50 conversations.

Here’s the first episode in the new series: An intermission: I just got laid off and everything is weird

We need to hear more success stories after layoffs

Transitions like this are difficult as the impact is felt by teammates, colleagues, and friends we have known and partnered with through ups and downs. For those who will be leaving, we thank you for your many contributions to Expedia Group and wish you safe travels as you find your next opportunity.

Expedia cuts 3,000 jobs, including 500 at new Seattle HQ

As I read the statement above from Expedia I couldn’t help but wonder if layoffs are just the new normal now. While that statement has obviously been through the corporate PR wash machine, it sounds exactly like what flight attendants say as you leave the plane. “Thank you for flying with us today. If you’re continuing on your journey here at JFK, we wish you safe travels.” Maybe that’s intentional; it’s a travel company after all.

The statement is really an acknowledgement that all jobs are temporary anyway and that we shouldn’t don’t get too comfortable.

Layoffs suck. There’s no denying that. The numbers appear as blips in our feed as we scroll, scroll, scroll, scroll, which makes it easy to ignore. But layoffs are emotional affairs by those who are hit by it. People who are laid off feel shame, sometimes embarrassment, and of course, anger.

But given how frequent layoffs are occurring, and how company layoffs are now applauded as part of a business getting it’s shit in order, we need to change the narrative on layoffs.

There should be no shame in getting laid off. If you’ve been laid off, it’s not always your fault. Its the companies fault for not having their business in line or adapting to the new work realities. It’s their fault for not caring about their employees enough.

Companies continue to talk about employer loyalty without addressing that there isn’t any loyalty to employees. It’s rare to find a company who is loyal to their employees.

The Google alert I have set up for news about layoffs

As workers, we need to be proactive in our new world of work. We need to always keep in the back of our heads that we may be part of a future layoff. And that means thinking about your work in a totally different way.

I’ve got a new podcast episode that talks about the reality of layoffs. In it, my guest covers how to be proactive in your career and expect the unexpected:

How to bounce back after a layoff to come back even stronger

We’re talking about:

  • How she felt after her first layoff and how it differed from her third lay off
  • How she prepared for
  • How she because a Salesforce power house thanks to her proactive approach post-layoff
  • How to answer the question “Why did you leave your last job?” after a layoff

Kelly’s story is part of the success stories after layoff that you rarely hear about. And with layoffs feeling like the new norm, we need a lot more of these.

If you work in higher education you need to push back against facial recognition on campus. Here’s how.

Beyond being abused, there are many ways for this technology to fail. Among the most pressing are misidentifications that can lead to false arrest and accusations. … Mistaken identity is more than an inconvenience and can lead to grave consequences.

Joy Buolamwini, “Coded Bias”: New Film Looks at Fight Against Racial Bias in Facial Recognition & AI Technology

tl;dr: Support students and alumni on March 2, a day of action against facial recognition on campus. 

If facial recognition technology is being used on your campus, would you know about it? If it is being used, do you know how it’s impacting the communities you serve?

It’s easy to check out when you hear about facial recognition technology. The term still conjure up images of Minority Report or more recently, thoughts of China. Facial recognition use in every day life feels kind of far off if you’re not working in AI or security industry spaces.

But I’m asking you to check in. Because facial recognition technology is being deployed rapidly here in the US with little to no oversight into how it’s used or who it impacts. Facial recognition technology is being used in school districts, in churches, in restaurants, in grocery and retail stores, in job interviews, in the workplace, in public housing, on flights and cruises, and by police departments.

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