By Alyse Kalish
Let’s say you want to be a part of building something great in your career—something people can tangibly benefit from, something no one else has thought of, and something you can point to and proudly say, “Hey, I made that.” If that’s the case, look no further for inspiration than Miriam Daniel.
She’s currently the VP of Alexa and Echo Devices at Amazon. That means she and her team are the brains behind the imaginary woman who answers all the random requests you make, from “Alexa, tell me what the weather’s like” to “Alexa, set a reminder to pick up milk” to “Alexa, play ‘Baby Shark.’”
We sat down with Daniel because, quite frankly, her career path is pretty cool—from working as a developer to joining the leadership team at Intel (and staying on for more than 14 years) to transitioning into AI and eventually landing her role at Amazon. Besides joining Amazon at a time when AI and speech technology was just taking off, Daniel has had the pleasure of building a product from the start that can help people—especially those who are disabled—lead more efficient and happier lives.
Here’s how she broke into this creative field, how she balances being a tech leader and a parent, and what advice she has for aspiring innovators.
Tell us a bit about your career path and how you ended up at Amazon.
I spent the first few years of my career working as a developer in various service industries, and then moved on to work at Intel for more than 14 years. I started there as an engineering leader before transitioning to product and business roles, eventually becoming the Director of Innovation Strategy and Product Management.
Then five years ago, I received a call from Amazon. After going through a rigorous interview process and consulting with a couple of my mentors, I decided to make the move. Today, I lead a talented, multidisciplinary team that spends a lot of time thinking about customers—what they want out of voice-driven devices and specifically how Alexa can make their lives easier and more convenient.
What made you want to enter this field?
I started dabbling in speech and AI while running the innovation group at Intel. The power of voice as an intuitive and natural means of human interaction with technology fascinated me. When presented with the opportunity to lead the Echo product line at Amazon, I jumped at it, knowing that this could be a transformative leap in using voice as the ultimate simplifier, cutting through many layers of friction to access information and services in the cloud. I was also excited to be a part of an early-stage innovative product with the ability to shape it from the start. I was ready for a big challenge.
What gets you excited about your job?
I’m excited by the fact that I get to innovate every day. Sometimes I feel like a kid in a toy factory—I dive right into putting the puzzle pieces together to solve hard problems that in the end simplify lives.
Building an entirely new way of interacting with products through voice and visuals was an incredibly difficult problem to solve. When we started, this was a completely new means of interacting with machines, and to see how far we’ve come (of course, there’s still so much more to do) motivates me every day.
What’s the biggest challenge in your role? The biggest reward?
The challenge is that building an Echo device is about so much more than just creating a piece of hardware—it’s about designing an experience, and it’s an experience that’s getting smarter every day. There’s no playbook here or precedent to go off of—we’re exploring and innovating as we go. There’s no such thing as “done.”
The biggest reward is when a customer tells me that they love the products we’re building and how much voice technology has changed their lives for the better. We hear anecdotes from parents, grandparents, teachers, distant family members, and customers with disabilities all the time, and their stories are truly heart-warming.
What’s one thing people don’t know Alexa can do?
Alexa is always getting smarter and is now starting to do things for customers that once were considered science fiction. One example is a feature called “Hunches.” As you interact with your smart home, Alexa learns more about your day-to-day routine and can sense when connected smart devices—such as lights, locks, switches, and plugs—are not in the state that you prefer.
For example, if your living room light is on when you say “Alexa, good night,” Alexa will respond with “Good night. By the way, your living room light is on. Do you want me to turn it off?”
Continue on to The Muse to read the complete article.