Amazon is betting big on Alexa.
That much was evident Thursday night inside the company’s newest skyscraper in Seattle, where more than 300 people gathered at an invite-only recruiting event for the Amazon Alexa team.
Amazon provided free food and drinks to attendees, who had a chance to meet with employees and learn more about Echo, the company’s popular voice-activated, voice-response intelligent speaker.
The event, which was live-streamed via Amazon-owned Twitch, featured 15-minute talks from three key people helping lead the Alexa team: Senior Principal Engineer Frederic Deramat; Alexa Smart Home Director Charlie Kindel; and Senior Manager Amir Aslani.
“We haven’t really been shy about why we wanted to run this event,” Kindel told the crowd while on stage. “We have lots of innovation to do on behalf of customers, and most of you know people who might be interested in working on something like Echo and Alexa — maybe it’s you.”
Deramat, Kindel, and Aslani didn’t reveal anything new about Echo or Alexa, but did discuss some of the philosophy behind the technology development and the inner workings of the software.
Aslani noted the popularity of the device, which plays music, reads the news, controls home appliances, and much more. It has a 4.4-star rating on Amazon with more than 30,000 reviews — a third of which include the word “love,” Aslani said.
“It’s not just about the utility,” he added. “The product is sort of becoming part of the family; it has a place in the home. People are interacting with it in ways that go beyond just turning on lights or listening to music. It has become part of the household, and that’s pretty incredible.”
There was a mix of Amazon employees and others simply interested in the company’s technology at the event on Thursday.
“I’ve been in the smart home industry for a couple of years, and I thought this was a good avenue to learn how Alexa is growing,” said Deepthi Uppala. “I had trouble figuring out how many teams there are, and what they all are working on, and thought this would be a good opportunity to figure that out. And, they are hiring like crazy.”
Amazon, which competes with companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft that are also developing virtual assistants, is certainly on a hiring spree for Echo and Alexa teams — a search on its jobs site for “Echo” shows 569 open positions, while a search for “Alexa” shows another 241 positions.
Dan Abbott, who said he works at “another large tech company” in Seattle, said he wanted to learn more about the platform.
“The cool thing about Alexa is how many different parts of manufacturing, cloud services, and platform tools are all coming together at once,” he said.
“I just wanted to get face time with a couple developers and ask them specific questions,” he said. “It’s much better than what we get through forums or Twitter or anything.”
Olson added that he wishes Amazon did a better job with its developer community engagement for Alexa, but noted that the “platform is better than anything else out there.”
Even random Amazon employees were hanging out, just curious about the technology.
“It’s one of our inventions that actually made it big,” said Grigory Lukin. “It’s something from science fiction novels.”
Thursday’s event is another sign of Amazon’s investment in its smart speaker and virtual assistant. Amazon, which recently bought a Super Bowl advertisement highlighting the device, has been steadily adding features to Alexa, and a recent report said it’s working on a portable version of the Echo — a possible first step toward another foray into the smartphone market for the company.