Balancing the final year of her degree along with setting up HomeHero’s dialogue engine, meet our superstar Junior Developer, Alex Clay.

Growing Up With Artificial Intelligence

I think my interest in technology stems largely from what I watched and read as a kid. Without access to live tv, I ended up watching a lot of Star Trek: The Next Generation on discs from Netflix. Even to this day the narratives I remember best are the ones about the android data. Combined with the fact that I had two copies of each of the original Star Wars trilogy films, I grew up with a fondness for AI before I even knew what it was. 

I think one of the key turning points was when I watched Big Hero 6, there was something about the robot Baymax, whose purpose was to provide healthcare, that really clicked. At that point, I was in my first year of high school, and taking an engineering course as one of my electives. I remember sitting in the cinema and wondering how Baymax worked, the idea of being able to create something like that which could really help improve people’s lives resonated with me for years. 

Initially when considering university, I looked to be an aerospace engineer. Luckily, my abysmal physics skills and good scores in computer science brought me to where I am now, in my third year of a BSc Computer Science program with ambitions to pursue AI in postgraduate study. 

When I think back to what really sparked my interest in technology, it was all the amazing things I saw on screen that didn’t yet exist outside of it. Be it the TRON Lightcycle motorbikes or the Star Trek Holodeck, I wanted to have a hand in creating that future world where such things could exist. 

A Steep Learning Curve

Working at HomeHero has been a really rewarding experience. When I started as an Intern, I was focusing on creating the basis of the dialogue engine and later the Picks microservice. Though university had equipped me with knowledge of many key tools, HomeHero’s platform is predominantly constructed using Amazon Web Services, something I had limited experience in at the time. This meant that the first few weeks were a steep learning curve as I became used to AWS’s Lex, Kendra, and Lambda functions in order to create the initial form of the dialogue engine. 

Now as a Junior Developer and final year student I can appreciate how what I learned in university prepared me for developing software outside of coursework. It’s really exciting to contribute to key pieces of a platform that will help people in their everyday lives. 

Software development can sometimes be a matter of trial and error. I often find it’s a combination of determination and looking up bizarre error codes on Stack Overflow. Part of the reason I really enjoy it is the creative problem solving and the sense of accomplishment when the code runs exactly as I had hoped. Medium is a resource I often enjoy looking at as it’s really interesting to read articles that walk through projects that have similar components. Understanding how someone else applied a piece of functionality or called a particular library often gives a better understanding of how the component works, and how I can apply it myself. 

Remote Working

I’m finding working remotely really interesting, especially as this is my first job in the computer science field. Even though we’re now a remote first organisation and I’m yet to meet most of the team in person, there’s a real sense of connectedness. We meet online every week to discuss what we’re working on. What I noticed, particularly in my first weeks, was how easy it is to reach out. If I have a query or problem, I know exactly who I can reach out to for help, I think that’s the key. There’s always someone to help, or to point you in the right direction. 

Big Plans For The Future

As the technology behind the platform progresses, there’s a lot of opportunity to integrate intelligence. The dialogue engine already contains Lex’s inbuilt NLU and sentiment analysis from Comprehend, which allows it to better understand and answer questions. With the addition of more AI components down the line, the dialogue will be better able to adapt and respond to whomever it’s talking to, allowing the interaction to feel more personalised. Be it anticipating what someone might want to know, or even handling more complex dialogue. 

The sci-fi future homes from films and TV are becoming increasingly more realistic, and while many industries have seen rapid change in the past few years, the home is really entering its renaissance now. 

Time for another? Head to Meet the Team for more interviews with the HomeHero Team.

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