We sat down (remotely) with Alisa Gromova to talk about her work as a Technical Trainer for Unqork, being a rubber ducky, and how she found the joy of teaching.
What do you do at Unqork? What’s a typical day like?
I’ve been a Technical Trainer at Unqork since November. Essentially, I teach people—new hires, partners, clients, and whoever else needs to know—how to build with the Unqork platform. My days are really varied. Certain days I’ll train a new group from 9-to-5, while on others I’ll do one-off sessions for a few hours for clients. In between training, I’ll assist with various projects our team is working on and answer configuration questions. The Enablement Team also recently started running our Bootcamp program. It’s an intensive 3-week training, focusing on getting new users ready to jump in on their first projects.
If you had told me 5 years ago I would be talking to people and teaching for a living, I would have told you that you were crazy. When I was younger, I avoided all forms of public speaking. However, training found me, and I’ve gained this passion and love for it.
Do you work closely with the Technical Implementation Specialists?
I typically train the Technical Implementation Specialists when they’re first hired, which is always nice. They’re very engaged and eager to learn. It’s really great because they know that they’re going to be dealing with the Unqork platform day-in and day-out. After they’ve been trained, I might work with the Technical Implementation Specialists on specific projects. For example, I helped build a portion of the GetFoodNYC Portal in response to COVID-19. I don’t necessarily get to work on many client projects, but when I do, it’s always a fantastic learning experience and a great way to see how former trainees are applying their practical knowledge.
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As a Technical Trainer yourself, we’d love to hear about your own experience learning how to use Unqork—what was your training process like?
When I started at Unqork, I was one of about 170 employees. Now we’re at roughly 300 employees, so the expansion has been immense. Just a year ago, the Technical Trainer team was much smaller than it is now. We only had one other trainer at the time who was, of course, incredibly busy training everyone else.
My training involved a lot of shadowing him, asking tons of questions, and taking copious notes. This meant I was tossed into the deep end a little bit—but I wouldn’t change that for the world. I really like figuring things out for myself and testing a variety of things to see what happens, so I spent a lot of time just exploring the platform and learning to build by trial and error.
Can you tell us about what kind of work you were doing before Unqork?
Before Unqork, I was at a company called Securitas, which is a global security company. The department I was a part of developed technology for security officers and their managers to use. I would train the managers on how to use the software and make use of the analytics. You could say my background is varied and I’ve always been the type of person who wanted to learn everything. My education focused on cognitive science, which combines ideas from computer science, psychology, linguistics, and philosophy. I also really enjoy graphic design. It took me a little bit of time to find something that suited me.
Eventually, I realized that I love teaching people; I love imparting knowledge. I love being able to explain something to someone, which often involves rearranging how I say it because not everybody learns in the same way. I think that’s where a bit of that cognitive science background still plays a role—being able to translate concepts into something each individual person understands is where I find a lot of joy.
Are there any frequently asked questions that come up during early training sessions?
Some people come to the sessions with a deep understanding of programming and know how to work in their respective languages really well, so it can be hard sometimes for them to abstract back into something more surface-level. You’re working with drag-and-drop pieces, it’s not code. When you take people who are so deep in code and bring them into no-code, the questions often sound like, “Well, how do I use this platform to do this specific thing that I’ve programmed a thousand times?”
I also get a lot of questions like, “What happens to my data? Where is my data stored? Do I have to start this way? How do I connect with an API?” Part of answering those questions becomes translating and thinking about what those concepts mean for us and for Unqork.
How does your teaching fit into the Unqork Enablement universe?
Along with trainer-led instruction, we have the StackOverflow community, self-guided training, labs, capstone projects, and of course, Unqork Academy.
The Academy is mostly managed by our writers. They get feedback from subject matter experts and that all gets fed into Academy, so when we’re teaching we refer students to that resource a lot. If they want to take a look at something again, the Academy is a hub where they can refer to videos, write-ups, and step-by-step instructions on how to do things.
I’ve been called a “rubber ducky” for people, as in, “Thank you for being my rubber ducky! I answered my own question by just talking at you.”
What have you learned about teaching since you started as a Technical Trainer?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is patience, and just letting people talk through things as they ask their question. I’ll hop on a call with someone and they’ll ask me a question and I’ll say, “Ok, can you walk me through what you’re doing? Can you explain why you’re doing this?” And as they talk it out they often end up solving their own question. I’ve been called a “rubber ducky” for people, as in, “Thank you for being my rubber ducky! I answered my own question by just talking at you.” And I’ll say, “No, that’s exactly why I’m here. I’m here to reflect back things you already know.” They have the critical thinking skills, it’s just building that confidence to act.
A big part of being a trainer is being able to take things apart and identify where the problem is. One of the largest parts of application building, whether it’s through code or no-code, is figuring out why something doesn’t work. That’s actually one of our projects—for the group capstone project we break the students into groups and give them an application that doesn’t work very well. They get the opportunity to take something built by someone else, dig in, and see why things aren’t working. I think that’s one of the best ways to learn, and it’s great getting to explore this alongside everyone who’s getting familiar with the Unqork platform.