Alexa skill tutorial: How to write your first voice-assistant app

This step-by-step developer guide show you how to customize an Amazon Alexa skill to make your own directory or phone book

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“Alexa, what’s the weather forecast?” “Alexa, when is the next New York Giants game?”

There are thousands of things you can find out by asking Alexa, the voice service behind Amazon’s popular Echo, Dot, and other hardware. And, if there’s not already a “skill” that does what you want, it’s not that hard to build your own. In this tutorial, I show you how to create a staff directory so Alexa can look up members of a team.

Defined: What is an Alexa skill

In some ways, an Alexa skill is similar to a web application: There’s a front end and a back end. When interacting with a skill, users speak to Alexa-enabled hardware as the front end instead of typing into a browser. Alexa developers create code for a skill’s voice user interface in Amazon’s developer console, as opposed to in HTML and CSS on a web server.

How to set up Alexa skills

But the front end is just setup. To make Alexa respond appropriately to requests, back-end code is needed as well. A skill’s back end can be hosted on pretty much any HTTPS web service. However, when first starting out, it’s simplest to use a software development kit (SDK) or framework to write the code and then host it on AWS Lambda. Amazon’s Alexa Skills Kit SDK is available for Node.js (JavaScript) and for Java. There’s also a non-Amazon-created Python framework, Flask-Ask. In addition, AWS Lambda supports C# for Alexa skills.

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