Alexa Your New Programming Buddy
Written by Sue Gee   
Monday, 28 May 2018

Amazon Alexa has been given a useful role in the software development process, taking care of mundane programming tasks and so increasing productivity and speeding up workflow.

While engaged on his his master's research in computer science at University of British Columbia, Nick Bradley came up with the idea of using voice commands to a virtual assistant to overcome a common problem with software development, that of having to work with multiple tools.

As Bradly explains:

"It can be quite complicated to switch between the different tools because they each use a unique syntax and you have to understand how to put them together. The idea to use Alexa came out of my frustration from using these different tools and having to spend so much time looking up how to do it and use those tools together."

Together with computer science professors Reid Holmes and Thomas Fritz, Bradley decided to test whether software engineers could use simple, conversational language to ask Alexa to complete some of their tasks, the same way we ask it to give us the weather forecast or play our favourite songs. In this video he demos Alexa in the new role of programming buddy:



The researchers said it was more than just a matter of teaching Alexa some key phrases and mapping different commands to the work, they also had to figure out common multi-step tasks engineers were performing and build a system that could automate those tasks.

As outlined in a paper that is being presented this week at the International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) in Gothenburg, Sweden, the result was Devy, a Conversational Developer Assistant (CDA) that enables developers to focus on their high-level development tasks.

Devy reduces the number of manual, often complex, low-level commands that developers need to perform, freeing them to focus on their high-level tasks. Specifically, Devy infers high-level intent from developer’s voice commands and combines this with an automatically-generated context model to determine appropriate workflows for invoking lowlevel tool actions; where needed, Devy can also prompt the developer for additional information.



The researchers then asked 21 engineers from local Vancouver software companies to test out their system and evaluate it. While the engineers found the tool useful and provided lots of positive feedback, there was one challenge - using voice commands in an office environments was found to be distracting to their neighbours.

As a result the next development will be to create a chat bot to fulfill a similar function so engineers can type minimal requests and have the system perform their multi-step tasks so they can focus on the more important parts of their jobs.

It is very good to see Alexa doing more than telling jokes and switching on the lights. While I'm a bit doubtful about wanting to hold a 20-minute conversation with Alexa, having help with workflow sounds like a great idea. But knowing how often Alexa doesn't quite understand I do hope the researchers incorporate checks that she does do what you expect. Let's avoid "Alexa I said "re-sort all labels" not "delete all tables"...

More Information

Hey Alexa: Amazon's virtual assistant becomes a personal assistant to software developers

Context-Aware Conversational Developer Assistants

Related Articles

Alexa For Business - The Big Shake Up

Alexa Prize For Conversational AI

Amazon Alexa Extending Its Influence

The State Of Voice As UI 


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Last Updated ( Monday, 28 May 2018 )