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International Women’s Day: Seven women behind Amazon Alexa
Today, in honour of International Women’s Day, Amazon celebrates women behind Amazon Alexa. From Amazon leaders to founders of voice-forward start-ups to and Alexa Fund entrepreneurs, meet seven women working to deliver the best voice experience possible.
In her role as vice president of product management for Alexa devices, Miriam Daniel often feels like “a kid in a toy factory.” She’s had the unique opportunity to build an entirely new way of interacting with machines, and that challenge motivates her every day.
Miriam said that to solve those complex problems, she spends a lot of time thinking about customers and what they want out of voice-driven devices.
“The biggest reward is when a customer tells me that they love the products we are building and that voice technology has changed their lives for the better. We hear anecdotes from parents, grandparents, teachers, distance family members, and customers with disabilities all the time and their stories are heart-warming.”
– Miriam Daniel, vice president, product management for Alexa devices
Daniela is the founder and chief executive officer of DefinedCrowd, a fast-growing artificial intelligence (AI) startup that is also an Alexa Fund portfolio company. With 18 years of experience working in speech technology, both in academia and industry worldwide, Daniela built DefinedCrowd to help data scientists collect, refine, and structure training data for AI and machine learning applications.
“The Enterprise Portal we built for DefinedCrowd still makes me so incredibly elated. To take a PowerPoint concept and make it a reality – and watch some of the biggest technology names in the world use it – is simply amazing.”
– Daniela Braga, founder and chief executive officer, DefinedCrowd
When she came to Amazon, Sarah Caplener never imagined she would be leading the Alexa for Everyone team, focused on making Alexa an indispensable part of the lives of customers with disabilities, older customers, and family caregivers.
“I am proud of the team we have built and the first features we have released: Tap to Alexa, an accessibility setting on Echo Show and Echo Spot that enables customers to interact with Alexa through touch or text input, and Alexa Captioning, which allows customers to see text on-screen for Alexa responses. Together these features represented the first steps toward making smart speakers accessible to people who are deaf, hard of hearing, and have speech impairments.”
– Sarah Caplener, senior manager, product management, Alexa for Everyone team
A few years ago, Milkana Brace left the corporate world, despite being on a fast career track and having many opportunities ahead.
“I left because I wanted to have a shot at building a different kind of company. I had no specific idea, no co-founders, and no plans. But, I took the plunge and never looked back.”
– Milkana Brace, founder and chief executive officer, Jargon
She created a company called is Jargon, which enables voice applications on services like Alexa to structure, manage, and optimise their content. Milkana founded Jargon in December 2017, and almost a year later, it completed the Alexa Accelerator, powered by TechStars, successfully pitching and demo-ing the product to investors. In March 2019, Jargon raised a $1.8m seed round, which included participation from the Alexa Fund.
Michelle Lalljie’s current role leading the operations and product launch organisation for the Alexa Voice Services (AVS) team at Amazon marks the sixth time she’s built something from the ground up.
“I stepped into AVS with a broadly defined role, assessed gaps, grew a team, and associated processes to add value to the organisation,” she said. “It’s especially fun when it’s something we’ve never done before, and it requires scoping, planning, and driving the solution across the finish line amidst ambiguity. What can I say, I’m a typical operations person.”
– Michelle Lalljie, head of operations, product launch, Alexa Voice Services Device Solutions & Enablement
Kate Stone tapped into all her learnings to start Novalia, which develops interactive paper surfaces that connect to Alexa. Using a Bluetooth platform and touch sensors, users can capture data through touch and view interactions in real time. Novalia, an Alexa Fund portfolio company, received investment through the 2018 Alexa Accelerator class.
“I love to create product experiences that surprise and bring wonder to people on their journeys, hopefully with what feels like a little magic or fun.”
– Kate Stone, founder, Novalia
Priya Abani is the director of Alexa Voice Services (AVS) device enablement, working with the community of device manufacturers to integrate Alexa into new and existing experiences.
“The learnings from new segments, like speakers, PCs, smart TVs and displays, and hearables, keep us on our toes. Over the past three years, the team has successfully engaged and innovated with hundreds of brands, earning the trust of our device manufacture community and end-customers.”
– Priya Abani, director, Alexa Voice Services
When she’s not “delighting customers with daily Alexa interactions,” Priya likes to play with her dog, Brie, or pick up a paintbrush.
Amazon today celebrates these seven women, and all women, on International Women’s Day, 8th of March, a global day honouring the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.