A love of continuous learning will help you thrive

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You may have heard of the term “growth mindset” (as opposed to “fixed mindset”). People with a fixed mindset feel they are born with a certain level of ability that can’t change. Those with a growth mindset believe that they can develop their abilities through hard work and effort. People with a growth mindset can increase their intelligence over time while those with a fixed mindset plateau.

I’ve long been an advocate of continuous learning. I enjoy picking up new skills, whether learning new technologies or practicing hobbies. This attitude has helped with my career and is the most important attribute I look for when building out a team. Sure some hard skills are required for a role. But if you have the right foundations, I’m more impressed with what and how you’ve learned. …

How we built a custom eventing system to understand customer behavior from the start

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We’ve all heard of the Lean Startup approach. Build fast, learn, and iterate. And building the MVP of LegUp’s platform was no exception. We went from early market tests to a product used by child care providers and families in less than three months. That journey is a story for another time, but you can appreciate at that speed it’s easy to go heads-down into the code. It’s tempting to obsess on the product more than the customer need that you’re addressing. That’s the problem I found our development team falling into.

We did early customer interviews. We codified our pre-product manual processes. I knew the broader problem we were solving up front. But as you build, how do you know if your design nailed the core value proposition? How do you tell how your MVP customers are actually using your tools — beyond what they tell you? Did our providers understand how to “go through the funnel” to post their open seats with us? …

Summary from an Ask Me Anything session from a section leader in Stanford’s Code In Place program

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Advice from an industry veteran

I recently had the pleasure to serve as a section leader for Stanford’s innovative Code In Place program. This global program was taught by Stanford instructors for people with no prior coding experience. Students covered the first half of Stanford’s introductory computer programming class going from scratch to writing Python projects to read and process data files and images. More than 80,000 people started an application for the course. Acceptance was only limited by the number of section leaders who each led weekly live sections in groups of 10 people.

I’ve long been an advocate of lifelong learning. It’s a large part of what excites me about running a startup (the opportunity to learn from wearing many hats). It’s why LegUp is a strong advocate of internships that allow bootcamp graduates to gain real-world programming experience. At the end of the course, a few section leaders led AskMe Anything sessions. I wanted to share summaries from people looking to continue their software learning and careers. …

How our startup designed an event-driven architecture to automate e-mails in a cost effective way

As part of our product, LegUp communicates with families and day care providers. Automating this workflow is an important part of our ability to scale. As a scrappy startup, we wanted a solution that allows us to build something scalable at an affordable price. We decided to use AWS’s Simple Email Service (SES) to help manage our e-mails. To provide scalability and avoid throttling when sending bulk e-mails, we built an event-driven system. This system integrates with Simple Queue Service (SQS) and Simple Notification Service (SNS). It is managed through a Lambda function.

If you’ve tried using SQS or other event-bases systems, you’ve likely encountered the problem of idempotency. The same message can be delivered multiple times. …

My story of venturing out from a Corporate VP role

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LegUp Cofounders

I joined LegUp as a cofounder and CTO and recently left my role as a VP of Technology at Expedia to focus full-time on my startup. LegUp is using technology to help working parents and their families find trusted childcare. It’s early days and an exciting road ahead of us, but I wanted to take some time to reflect on my journey and hopefully give some insights to others considering similar moves.While we’ve only just started LegUp, I’ve been exploring joining an early stage startup for the past year and a half.

Every career journey is unique, and that’s even more true when making the move between the corporate and startup worlds. There isn’t much written about the mechanics of finding a co-founder or joining a startup in a situation like mine — a senior person looking to join with someone in the early days. I hope the story of my journey helps others consider similar moves. …

Using new SSML tags to add emotion to responses

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Celebrate your wins!

Amazon recently released support for new emotions and speaking styles. These new SSML tags are easy to integrate into your code and provide a powerful way to add emotion and excitement to your skill. I write games for Alexa, and found these features tailor-made for my win/lose responses.

Both of these features are content-only features. To incorporate them into your skill, you only need to update the SSML response that you return.

For now, emotions are only supported for US English skills. Speaking styles are supported for US English and Australian English skills (with the caveat that the music speaking style is only supported for US English). You can provide locale-specific responses in your code. Or you can leverage a library like ssml-check. …

What I learned by leading an Alexa-development workshop

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Alexa Development 101, photo courtesy of Mindspand

I’ve been building Alexa skills for the past few years, with over a dozen published skills in the Amazon Alexa store.

I’m a lifelong learner and first got involved with Alexa three years ago. It was a great way to learn a new programming language and play with emerging technology. And this love of learning has kept me involved as new voice features and patterns have emerged. A few months ago, I decided to share this passion by hosting an in-person course. I partnered with a local Seattle company, Mindspand, to list and promote it.

It can be intimidating putting on a workshop. There are plenty of free professional articles, tutorials, and videos available. Why should someone pay to learn from me in person? …

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¿Alguna vez has recibido un mensaje de cryptic error al desarrollar para Alexa? Esta es una frustración común cuando Alexa o Google Assistant no entienden una respuesta. Ambas plataformas esperan una respuesta utilizando SSML (Speech Synthesis Markup Language). Las respuestas SSML son cadenas XML que se adhieren a ciertas etiquetas, atributos y valores permitidos. Estas plataformas son sensibles a las desviaciones de este estándar. Y ninguno proporciona detalles para decirte por qué tu respuesta es mala.

Distinguishing multiple people on a single Echo device

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Multiple people talking

Amazon recently released Alexa skill personalization as described in this blog post. This feature lets developers use voice profiles to tell who is speaking to a device. Before, developers could only differentiate users based on the account holder (the userId). Now a new personId field can identify different people using the same physical device.

In their blog post, Amazon details a few different use cases for this feature. Uber can link accounts to the person making the request rather than the Amazon account owner. Or you can track game scores and progress on a per-person basis. …


Garrett Vargas

Co-founder and CTO at LegUp | Former CTO at CarRentals.com (Expedia) | Latino father of 2 | Lifelong learner | Leader of global tech teams and active coder

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