Chatbot with Microsoft Azure

In lieu of SleepScore Labs newest sleep solution, SleepScore App, our Customer Service team wanted to create a chat alternative to support this product launch.

Over the course of three furious weeks (one to vet out the needs, and two to build), I worked one-on-one with our Customer Service Manager on outlining the bare minimum of what we’d really want in this type of feature.

It’s safe to say, that you can get trapped inside of a rabbit hole fairly quickly with ideas but after easing in a bit our solution was to design an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) Chatbot.

We took as much existing data we could from previous customer service engagements, organized them a bit and indexed them within a Web Service called QnA Maker. I connected that dot to a Microsoft Azure Bot Service as a NodeJS Web App and published it to a channel called Live Assist.

A NodeJS chatbot powered by QnA Maker, Microsoft Azure and channel, Live Assist.

Housed entirely inside of Microsoft products, I was for the most part impressed on how straightforward it was to put all three together to build out something real customers could actually engage with. There was no additional coding on my part and getting to the finish line on time was in itself a win.

If you ever wanted to try building this out yourself here’s the bare minimum you’d need:

  • QnA Maker: which will index your questions and answers and open an end-point for your web app (chatbot) to consume.
  • Azure Bot Service: which is actually how you create the chatbot.

The optional requirement here is the channel. Building out a chatbot requires you to point your chatbot to a channel. In our case it was Live Assist because that was the requirement. But this could easily ship to other channels like Facebook, SLACK, etc.

I’ll be making a follow-up post to this for the most part as a retrospective to outline the journey and its gaps to this implementation in hopes that one day I have the opportunity to make more improvements at this first pass on building out a chatbot.

Thanks to, Microsoft Developer US for getting me started.

Differences between constructor vs ngOnInit() method

Constructor ngOnInit
Typescript feature nothing to do with Angular One of the Angular life cycle hook method
constructor is transformed to function with the same name as class created ngOnInit being added to prototype of the class created
Called by Javascript Engine Called by Angular
Constructor is automaticlly called at the time of creating object of the class Invoked by Angular when everything in the component is ready
Used for Injecting dependencies Actual business logic performed here
Not everything in component is initialized at the time of invocation Everything is ready at the time of invocation

 

Thanks to, Angular js Wiki

SleepScore Labs Data Dashboard in Angular 2

In April of 2017, I was tasked with design and development of a data visualization dashboard for new customers of SleepScore Max, a non-contact sleep improvement system. Designed for both iOS and Android users, my role was to build a web application which would compliment this sleep solution experience by connecting the dots between sleep data and pragmatic advice in a more robust fashion.

I took it upon myself to go head first into Angular (granted my previous experience with AngularJS) but I got a first-hand view of how different both JavaScript frameworks were.

SleepScore Max login page written in Angular.

SleepScore Max login page written in Angular.

I kickstarted this project prior to the full standardization of Angular CLI so I was pretty much left to my own devices on how to properly build and deploy this application into a cloud instance.

I credit PluralSight author Deborah Kurata as the initial key to making this project work. Specifically, her course in Angular: Getting Started was a jaw-dropping course on Angular’s moving parts. Needless to say, now that I have both AngularJS and Angular perspectives, my best assessment on distinguishing between AngularJS and Angular is that while AngularJS thinks of drafting features from controllers and scope, with Angular you need to abstract those things via components.

To dumb it down for me, I’ve come to think of a component as simply a web page (the overall object), while the super powers you write inside of that web page act as the methods and properties of that web page. Coming to that conclusion wasn’t linear. I needed to dive into TypeScript since it is the driving force in authoring modern Angular apps.

I’m still tinkering with TypeScript and have a long way to go to understand its full value but I definitely became a fan simply because it makes a JavaScript author a bit less error prone. Let’s face it, web browsers are still running JavaScript in ES5 and not ES6. Having that superset above JavaScript to reinforce little things like the data-type of an object is awesome and learning how to write a component in TypeScript helped reinforce how I’ve dumbed down the difference between AngularJS and Angular.

A splash of jQuery animation for the sleep score petals, CSS styling to chart out the breakdown all inside of an Angular dashboard.

A splash of jQuery animation for the sleep score petals, CSS styling to chart out the breakdown all inside of an Angular dashboard.

Yes, this dashboard is also responsive.

Yes, this dashboard is also responsive.

What’s next? I’m already thinking about the upgrade path into Angular version 5, smoothening out continuous integration and making Angular CLI the gold standard for facilitating all portions of this project.

 

Responsive Web Design for Thermofisher.com

3 years ago, Thermo Fisher Scientific (previously Life Technologies) was tasked with enhancing its original mobile experience integration which leveraged Moovweb’s cloud platform. It was a good solution in getting the domain introduced into browsers outside of desktop, specifically mobile and tablet devices but it certainly came with its own set of constraints.

While Moovweb was an excellent platform for enhancing on mobile conversion rates it came at the cost of scalability and ease of maintenance. The overall platform required you to maintain two separate codebases—your desktop HTML and Moovweb’s SDK, which effectively transformed your HTML into mobile-friendly elements. It was also a page-by-page type deal. Every page would require its own transformation. Every transformation was its own subset of code. The first two waves for those previous projects had the strictest of intentions on mobile-optimizing eCommerce related workflows for all regions but in English only (e.g. checkout flows). It was not enough. The domain needed more flexibility in a web property that could display well to a majority of legacy and evergreen browsers as well being agnostic of device type.

Because of these limitations the Responsive Project for ThermoFisher.com was designed to effectively address the following constraints:

  • Reduce dependency on additional vendor code.
  • Generate mobile, tablet and desktop experiences from one codebase.
  • Scale solutions which would be available globally and not just page-by-page.
  • Responsive interfaces for all regions, all languages.
  • Extend the experience beyond eCommerce: content authored areas and channels outside of B2C.

The domain is huge and its attached ecosystem is a collection of multiple applications owned by multiple teams with their own standard of implementation. Adding to that loophole, not every application in the domain was a candidate for this new responsive experience. From June 2016 and forward, our team had to break features down into chunks.

It was agreed that the header, navigation and footer would be the first to address as this was considered the foundation for everything else to work. Each app would rope this subset of components based under their back-end constructs (e.g. Java, ColdFusion, etc.). This took 3+ months. Not an easy feat if you consider the amount of tooling currently being offered from these areas. You have a series of controls for search tools, commerce and deep links into areas such as login and Order Support.

Real estate doesn’t come cheap with smaller screen sizes. The basics needed to be in order first. In essence, an organized CSS media query strategy for an agreed set of breakpoints and a baseline approach for DOM manipulation in the event this choice ever needed to be made.

Listed below were some saving grace plugins, libraries and frameworks from the open source world which allowed us to get our job done:

  • Bootstrap 2.3.2 – the overall HTML, CSS and JS framework for delivering responsive enabled user interfaces. Keep in mind that support for legacy browsers in IE8+ was priority. Also, since the domain is driven from a desktop-first approach this framework was still considered standard.
  • jQuery 1.8.1 – a minor upgrade path for better DOM selector performance. Originally, 1.8.0 was elected to be the global jQuery library available but that caused problems for older Internet Explorer browsers with .ready() firing prematurely. See jQuery defect 12282.
  • Responsive HTML Tables – a CSS technique which turns table elements into div blocks with labels being controlled through data attributes.
  • TableHeadFixer – a jQuery plugin which was modified in-house to give content authors more flexibility in drafting HTML tables with features such as locked table headers or columns.

 

Debugging Tips and Tricks

Writing code is only one small piece of being a developer. In order to be efficient and capable at our jobs, we must also excel at debugging. When I dedicate some time to learning new debugging skills, I often find I can move much quicker, and add more value to the teams I work on. I have a few tips and tricks I rely on pretty heavily and found that I give the same advice again and again during workshops, so here’s a compilation of some of them, as well as some from the community. We’ll start with some core tenets and then drill down to more specific examples.

Debugging Tips and Tricks