Managing meetings made more magical, with help from Alexa

Ralph's Meeting Manager (TM)

As part of his studies, Ralph came to work with Versantus for a week. Ralph's 16, and had never built an Amazon Echo skill before. In a week, he created something so awesome, we offered him a job. 

The agenda

We love to support anyone that is passionate about coding, development and using technology to improve lives. One of our friendly customers asked if we had space for an A-level student for a week. "Of course we do!", we said.

Having talked to him on the phone before he started, we knew that Ralph was going to be super-smart, confident and eager to learn. He wanted to experience life at a professional web development agency (Why choose us, then? - Ed), and we were delighted to help.

We wanted to give him the best possible experience of life in a busy agency, sharing a typical working week across all of our departments to help him decide whether a career in web development was right for him. We set up a full week for him: meeting the boss for an "inspirational" speech, herding cats with the project managers, solving problems with customer support, colouring in with the UX and design team, testing, testing, testing, and "software development 101" were all scheduled in.

Lots of action points

Ralph started quickly, ploughing through all of the tasks we gave him. He soaked up knowledge in no time, and was so enthusiastic, that the entire team wanted to find more for him to do. But what?

A few days earlier, our MD had stuck a Post-it on the wall of the meeting room and proudly declared that from now on, meetings would run smoothly if only we followed the Post-it

postit-meetings.png

Some hope. Unfortunately, someone moved the Post-it, and we soon slipped back into bad habits. 

Agenda, anyone? No thanks. Finishing on time? Don't be ridiculous.

So an idea was formulated: why doesn't Ralph create an Amazon Echo skill that helps get the Post-it message across, but in a smarter, more modern, and more "Versantusy" way? A bit of a stretch goal for young Ralph, sure, but he was happy with the challenge.

The Big Idea

Working with one of our developers, Vitor, he was introduced to the basics of voice interfaces and Amazon Echo. They decided that the skill's job would be to guide the user through a meeting, helping them stick to the agenda, stick to time, and agree some actions at the end.

Ralph's Meeting ManagerTM was going to be A Thing.

They decided to build the skill in the Python programming language and used Amazon's Lambda "serverless deployment" platform, so there was no need to set up a web server or hosting. Using Lambda and Python meant that within a few hours, and with not-very-much help from Vitor, Ralph was well underway.

The demo meeting

We use a Scrum process to manage our projects, and one of the important behaviours is an "end of Sprint" demo, where everyone in the project team is shown progress so far and we match this up with the project goals. This helps to keep the team focused on priorities, and gives everyone plenty of opportunities to give feedback and make changes. We wanted to follow the same process with Ralph's Meeting ManagerTM, and we set a demo date of Friday afternoon.

The end of the week was approaching fast, and Ralph was beginning - finally - to look a little nervous. Perhaps we'd stretched him too far? After all, as a 16-year-old with no experience of building an Echo skill, and only recently learning about Lambda, Git, Python and the Post-it, how could we expect so much? What had we been thinking?!

We tried to be supportive: "It's ok," we said,  "you've tried really hard, but it was too much. Just tell us what you learned. Don't worry about a live demo". But Ralph is a determined developer, and this just spurred him on.

Thursday evening came and went, and Ralph was still working hard. 

On Friday, he locked himself away in the meeting room for most of the morning: tweak, test, debug, repeat... The demo was scheduled for Friday afternoon, but would he be ready? 

Of course he was. 

I don't think any of us knew what to expect, but we certainly weren't prepared when Ralph showed us the Skill. Everyone was blown away by how well it worked, and how well Ralph presented it. He'd spent most of Friday morning preparing what he was going to show us, and how he would explain the skill. After just two or three days of work, Ralph had created an outstanding prototype. What a superstar!

Thanks, Ralph

We're really grateful to Ralph for choosing Versantus for his work experience. We think he enjoyed his time with us, and we know for a fact that we did. We hope he'll be back to see us for more once he's completed his studies. If he does or not, we know for certain that he will be successful in his chosen career. 

And wherever he works, we know that meetings will run exceptionally smoothly.

Check out the video, below, to see how Ralph's Meeting ManagerTM works, and if you want more information on how Versantus build technology that helps real people, or want to experience working at Versantus yourself, get in touch.