Look mom, I published an Alexa skill

I created an Alexa trivia skill. Call me a nerd, but it was fun 🙂 If you haven’t already, check out the Alexa Skills Development quest from qwikLABS, the reason I’ve been eating, sleeping, and breathing Alexa Skills for the past couple of weeks.

My Alexa skill took me about 3 days between starting to work on the skill and clicking submit. It will probably take you less – I asked for outside help on my icon, which added some time (thanks to my sister-in-law for the awesome artwork!) and I spent an afternoon working on my trivia questions. 

Here’s what I learned about developing an Alexa Skill:

1. My skill got rejected. Guess why?

Take AWS and Windows for a test drive

Are you running Microsoft apps on AWS? Or interested in switching to AWS? You came to the right place for AWS for Windows training resources. Check out Scott Zimmerman’s blog post, outlining updates and new resources from both Amazon and qwikLABS available to you. Or check out the new training page, also on the Amazon site, AWS for Windows.

qwikLABS and AWS collaborated to develop four Quests, to help you focus on certain areas of AWS and Windows:

AWS Windows qwiklabs

One or two of these would look AWSome on your resume…

The top AWS for Windows lab? Creating Amazon EC2 Instances with Microsoft Windows, with an average of 4.3 stars in the past month. Take this lab and fulfill 8 credits worth of requirements for three of the four AWS for Windows Quests in one shot. And if you’re just getting started, may I suggest the top intro (free!) AWS for Windows lab: Introduction to Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) with Windows Server (highly rated at 4.1 stars). 

Then follow up on the lab with a test drive: 

Comment (or tweet us @qwikLAB) to share how your project is going – we would love to hear your insights. You never know, your advice could make a great lab!

3 ways to save the world with AWS & Serverless Architecture

The Serverless Design with AWS Lambda quest badge would look great on your cape… so what are you waiting for? Learn what you can do with serverless design and AWS Lambda with the latest quest from qwikLABS. 

1. Use AWS Lambda to create your own Alexa skill – yep, voice design! 

You can build your own Alexa skill – and feel free to use the skill in the lab as a template to make your own! While the Amazon Echo might not pass the Turing test (yet), there is an incredible amount of potential in the device (and a free t-shirt). 

Meet the new Amazon Redshift Quest

Got data? If you have lots of it, Amazon Redshift can help. And qwikLABS can help too, with the newest quest: Advanced Operations Using Amazon Redshift!

Click here to see all the labs in this Quest.

Your Quest, should you choose to accept it, delves deep into the world of Amazon Redshift. You will learn to optimize for storage efficiency and query performance, use your data to create prediction models, and more. After all, what’s the point of all that data if you can’t use it?

Here are some of the things you’ll do in the Quest: 

100 Labs, 100 Credits Up for Grabs

Today is a big day for qwikLABS. We reached the 100 -Lab Milestone. And we’re just getting started. 

So what’s next? Thought you’d never ask!

9 Steps to reach AWS lab #101, and win 100 credits along the way

  1. We’re looking ahead to the next 100 AWS labs, and we want your ideas. Tweet us (we’re @qwiklab) with the hashtag #nextqwikLAB and share your ideas (or like us on Facebook or LinkedIn and do the same thing). The three best ideas will win 100 credits.
  2. We just published the 100th AWS lab. You have a grand total of 100 AWS labs (10×10, 50+50, 99+1!) available to you today! 
  3. Do you think you can take all 100 in a month? Are you a qwikLABS Advantage subscriber? 
  4. While this is a big milestone, we are looking ahead to the next 100 AWS labs. And we want your help. 

    How many coffee beans went into the making of 100 qwikLABS…

  5. Tell us what you want the next AWS lab to be, and why. 
  6. Tweet us (we’re @qwiklab) with the hashtag #nextqwikLAB and share your ideas. Or like us on Facebook or LinkedIn and do the same thing (hint: you get more characters on Facebook to express your brilliant lab idea).
  7. On 6/9 midnight Eastern, the contest ends (that’s Thursday). We’ll pick our top 3 favorite lab ideas. Then we’ll create those labs. Yup, that’s right. You could decide what’s in the next AWS lab!
  8. But wait, there’s more. If your idea is one of the 3 winners, you will receive 100 credits, good for any AWS lab on qwikLABS.com. To the victors go the spoils! 
  9. Stay tuned, we might ask for your help deciding the 3 winners when we get down to the last few favorites…. Yes, you can even vote for yourself!

What do you think? See any labs you would like?

PS: Oops, we’re already at 103…

Learning Deep Learning

Our phones can take us on 600 mile road trips with turn-by-turn instructions. Don’t feel like driving? Use that same phone to summon someone who is happy to chauffeur you. 

Need an image for the perfect meme when your buddy tells you about a crazy dream he had last night? Here you go –>

Cats don't care

You’re welcome. Photo courtesy of Trish Hamme(CC Attribution)

Of course it’s not all about cat videos. One of the fastest growing technologies today is found in the realm of Deep Learning. 

Deep learning uses networks to learn levels of representation and abstraction (think of this as classifying or categorizing things by many different characteristics). Deep Learning uses those levels to make sense of data like images and sound. Advances in Big Data mean that Deep Learning is able to learn better, faster, and more efficiently.

So what’s it good for? Medical technology, Artificial Intelligence (like self-driving cars), and voice recognition. (Have you spoken to Alexa, Siri, or Cortona lately? Is it just me or are they getting smarter?)

I’m not trying to say that you should know more about Deep Learning…. but you really should. Not only does it permeate daily life, but it’s cool! How does one learn about Deep Learning, you ask? Not to worry – there’s a lab for that! 

The Introduction to Deep Learning lab is perfect for beginners, but still fun for more advanced users. Not only does this lab do interesting programmatic work, it is also totally free of charge. 

You will complete 3 Deep Learning projects:

  1. Teach your program to recognize things in a photo (psst this is my favorite one!). Upload a photo (baby picture? your dog? selfie from your last vacation?) and challenge a program to identify what it is. No hints! It’s eerily accurate. Next you will teach a program to recognize objects in photos it has never seen before.
  2. Computer cat

    Curiosity kills? NBD, I have 9 lives. Photo courtesy of angela n.(CC Attribution)

    Teach a program learn to read handwriting. Spoiler alert, the program learns to read (messy) handwriting with 98% accuracy.
  3. Give a monkey a typewriter and you may or may not get Shakespeare, but give this program the Shakespeare command and you get fully formed, properly punctuated Shakespeare-esque poetry! Sort of. You be the judge. “His life impossession craves thee.”

It is the first lab in the qwikLABS NVIDIA Deep Learning Quest. It’s a free intro lab, so I encourage you to check it out!

Badges in the phone system, or Got flair?

"Because if they take my stapler"

Photo courtesy of JD Hancock(CC Attribution)

We need to talk about your flair. No, not terrible buttons you pin to your shirt for your shift at Chotchkies. I’m talking about your qwikLABS flair!

Earn badges that show off your skills and expertise (like Solutions Architect-Professional Exam Prep, or Corporate Apps on AWS for Windows). Don’t pin these badges to your shirt – instead, you might post them on LinkedIn or Twitter. By completing a Quest and earning a badge, you gain experience, skills, and confidence in that particular area of AWS. (Read more about Quests and earning badges here.)

A better way to flair at work

Does your team use qwikLABS for training at work? (Check out this post on using share groups to get teams up to speed on AWS.) The Amazon team uses qwikLABS as a professional development tool. When someone at Amazon finishes a Quest, he or she gets to add the badge they earned to their profile in the company phone directory, recognizing their efforts and accomplishments. Does your company do something similar?

AWS badges

Do these come in buttons…

This type of recognition, in the company directory, can be a water cooler conversation that you actually want to have.

  • See what Quests you and your team members have in common.

  • Ask your coworker about the new SysOps Associate Exam Prep Quest badge that you might have your eye on.

  • Know who might be able to help you out with a new project with a service you’ve never used – like someone with the Deployment and Management Quest badge – and the best part is they’re only a phone call away!

How does your team recognize accomplishments? 

You need to take this

Hello, AWS labs?

Hello? We have new AWS labs! We made them for you. Photo courtesy of Delwin Steven Campbell(CC Attribution)

We have new AWS labs, and they are calling to you. Even better, two of them are free, just the way we like them! Let’s dive in.

But wait, there’s more…

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week!

Discovery apples

Apples meet Amazon Web Services. Photo courtesy of Nick Saltmarsh(CC Attribution)

Teachers have a tough job, and it’s getting tougher by the day. Students have the entire world at their fingertips thanks to the smartphone in their pocket, the computer in the library, the tablet in their backpack, and Cloud computing giants like Amazon Web Services delivering constant content. Teachers at all levels have faced this dilemma for generations: how to get students engaged and learning about the cutting edge of the latest technology (and how to keep pace yourself). 

Today, classrooms are full of digital natives. How can you, as a teacher, help your kids get ahead? 

student_ipad_school - 142

Photo courtesy of flickingerbrad(CC Attribution)

One steadily growing answer: teach kids to code. Between Minecraft, a coding training program disguised as a game, and programs like this inspiring story of homeless teens learning code as a gateway to marketable job skills, we see remarkable classroom experiences evolving every day. 

But what if you want to go one step further? Don’t get me wrong, as a kid, I loved learning to code (thanks Xanga!). But what if I told you that there are tons of resources, many of them free, you and your students could use to learn about the Cloud? (Here are about $130k reasons why it’s a good skill to pick up.) 

The Cloud is a pretty abstract concept, especially when you’re a total newcomer to Cloud computing behind-the-scenes. Hands-on learning in the form of science labs, field trips, practical demonstrations and more seem to have the most lasting impact on learning and retention, particularly for students in grade school or college. 

Fortunately, there’s a lab for learning the Cloud with Amazon Web Services (an industry all-star) – more accurately, there are 97 labs that give students hands-on experience with Amazon Web Services. All you need is a computer with an internet connection. You can start both teaching and learning today. 

Amazon Web Services Lab

This is not the lab I was looking for…

How do these labs work?

Your Cloud labs await you at www.qwikLABS.com.  There are over 30 introductory-level labs that teach you how to use Amazon Web Services, all of them offered free of charge. Start simple with a basic, here’s-how-to-store-files-in-the-Cloud with Introduction to Amazon S3 (includes a youtube vid). Students learn how to upload an image (maybe a picture of their pet, their favorite food, or a vacation snapshot – or a selfie?) into an S3 bucket. Spoiler alert, many of the images they see on the internet are stored in S3 buckets (Pinterest, anyone?). 

Need a little more help? Here’s a 4-lab lesson plan that walks you and your students through the basics of Cloud computing, using Amazon Web Services. The best part? All of the labs in this plan are totally free of charge.

Sample Lesson Plan for introducing students of all ages to the Cloud with qwikLABS

Minecraft, the painless alternative to stepping on tiny plastic bricks

Have you ever stepped on a lego brick? Toy blocks have quite a history (and not just in relation to your decision to wear slippers). John Locke (writer and philosopher), Friedrich Froebel (often referred to as the father of kindergarten), Maria Montessori (teacher and first woman in Italy to earn a medical degree) and many others recognized the value of playing with blocks to encourage problem solving, identify dependencies and patterns, and visualize mathematics.

Minecraft's predecessor

A bare foot’s worst enemy.