Sohan Maheshwar is an Alexa Evangelist at Amazon. His role involves inspiring and helping developers build incredible voice experiences using Alexa. Sohan has earlier worked as a developer evangelist for Gupshup and InMobi and has spoken at conferences around the world. In his spare time, you will find him either consuming pop culture or tossing a frisbee around.
How did you find design?
I started my career as an iOS app developer in the early days of the mobile app ecosystem. Back then, apps were very basic and borrowed their design ideas from web pages. Over time, designers realized that a touchscreen lent itself to a slew of new interactions, such as swiping and pinch zooming. It was pretty amazing to see how mobile apps really transformed into rich experiences. That was my first introduction to design and it has influenced my thinking ever since.
Describe your role.
I work as an Alexa Evangelist at Amazon. My role involves inspiring and helping people build incredible voice experiences using Alexa. We reach out to developers, designers, product managers and entrepreneurs through in-person events like conferences, events, workshops or through educational content online.
How do you and your colleagues generate creative ideas?
A lot of my good ideas come from conversation. Picking apart a topic with different people and enabling an atmosphere where all ideas are accepted without fear of being judged fosters great creative ideas. My team is responsible for educating people on building Skills for Alexa. Recently, we had a session where we defined our teaching objectives for the year and then split into groups of 3 that each created as many sticky notes as possible on how we could do this. To foster more creative output, there was a prize for the team that had the most sticky notes at the end. The focus was on quantity before we batched the ideas, and this exercise was very successful.
How do you encourage collaboration between teams?
That is an interesting question, especially because I work with a local team as well as a global team! Apart from standard practices like weekly stand-up meetings, we have brown bag sessions where a new feature is presented to the rest of the team. We also have internal channels on our collaborative messaging tools where we send out updates, questions and even cat gifs (!). All this communication fosters productive collaboration within the team.
What advice do you have for leaders attempting to create an innovative workspace?
Make sure there is diversity on the team, and give everyone a voice, regardless of role or seniority.
How do you see the design business evolving over the next years?
To sum it up in one word: Conversation.
I truly believe Conversational UI is going to be huge in the coming years. Traditionally, UI on the web and mobile have forced humans to think like computers, and now we have the tech capabilities to make computers think like humans. Conversational UI, whether chat or voice, significantly lowers the barrier to access technology and I am certain it will be at the forefront in the next few years.
Tell us about your talk/workshop.
My talk serves as an introduction to Voice Technology and how it is the next major disruption in computing. I will talk about Alexa, the cloud-based voice service that powers Amazon Echo and provides access to thousands of skills that enable customers to voice control their world. You will also learn how the Alexa cloud service works as well as best practices in voice design.
What advice do you have for young people?
Read! One habit I see slowly dying out among the younger generations is the habit of reading. If you had to choose one thing you can do for ‘x’ minutes every day that will significantly improve your life, I’d advise you to read.
What is the hardest part about being a leader?
Whether you lead a team at work or in a sport, understanding what motivates everyone can be challenging. Different people have different drivers that motivate them, and fulfilling each of these without applying your own biases can be difficult, but ultimately makes a great leader.
What is your favorite part?
The opportunity to inspire people who trust your judgement. As a leader you get a chance to unite a bunch of people to work towards a common goal and figuring out how to do that is a rush.