Noah Grosshandler was always interested in storytelling—he just didn’t realize how he might apply this interest in the tech industry until he found Unqork.
Q: Let’s start with a little bit about you and your background—tell us about how you ended up at Unqork.
Noah: I was actually recruited for Unqork right out of college. I went to NYU, at a school called Gallatin. The idea at Gallatin was essentially that you make your own major. You take classes all across the school, you work, and you come up with a thesis. My thesis centered around how the stories we tell about ourselves impact how we lead our lives. It had elements of marketing in it, elements of narrative theory, storytelling, film, that kind of thing.
While I was in school, I kind of bounced around. The great thing about going to undergrad at NYU is that you have the ability to intern and work at real companies all year long. I think I probably had nine or ten internships—it was kind of cutthroat. So I was really just trying all of these different things to figure out what I wanted to do in the professional world.
During my last year of school, I was interning in the Operations division of this event technology company called Luster. In December of 2018, I went to their company holiday party. I was graduating in January, so I was hoping to use it as a networking opportunity for a potential job.
I ended up meeting Jane Tran at that party, who’s the Head of Solutions at Unqork. We started talking and after telling her a little about me, she said, “Hey, I think you’d be interested in Unqork.” I was hesitant at first because I wasn’t a computer science student. I had taken one intro CS class during my freshman year of college, and I barely considered that real experience—we took our final exam on a piece of paper.
As I started talking to Jane a bit more, what really won me over was the idea that you don’t have to be a computer scientist to develop with Unqork. That was really exciting to me because it got rid of a lot of the things which had originally turned me off of computer science, like learning syntax and computing languages. I’m a much more visual person. So once I learned about what Unqork was doing, I jumped at the chance—and now Jane’s my current boss.
"[W]hat really won me over was the idea that you don’t have to be a computer scientist to develop with Unqork. That was really exciting to me because it got rid of a lot of the things which had originally turned me off of computer science, like learning syntax and computing languages."
What is your role at Unqork today?
I’m a Business Product Specialist. We have our hands in a lot of different pots, which I find really exciting. Our main purview is taking the custom client implementations that we build with our bigger clients and turning them into productized versions that we can offer off-the-shelf.
We’re noticing that a lot of our bigger clients are doing a lot of similar activities, like onboarding or account management workflows. There are always going to be particularities and unique pieces for each client, but the heart and soul of it is often the same. You go through a lot of the same steps. My team is trying to distill general versions from these applications that can either be turned into products we can go to market with, or can be used as a launchpad for new clients to help them accelerate development.
There’s a lot about software development that can be very tedious—there are certain steps that aren’t that difficult or exciting but you just have to do them. What we’re trying to do is get rid of that tedium and say, “Okay cool, all of that stuff is already done. We did it once so that you guys never have to do it again. Now we can get into the exciting stuff and start digging into what your business actually needs.”
Did the work you did at previous internships translate well into the work you’re doing now at Unqork?
When I initially started at Unqork I was actually spending half of my time working in the Marketing department and half of my time on the Solutions team. A lot of my previous internship experiences had been in advertising because I initially thought that was the direction I was going to go with my career. I had applied to a bunch of places in advertising and actually was offered a position at a big agency, but I was like, “No, Unqork is way cooler.”
In terms of my previous experience, it’s a little bit like what I mentioned about my thesis in college—I frame everything in terms of storytelling. I think that every application you build, from the customer journey to the UX and the design is a story, even if you don’t think of it as such. How do you tease out information about somebody? How do you display things here versus there? With Unqork, you can build whatever you want—but choices can be paralyzing, freedom can be paralyzing. How do we create something that we can tell a story around that is compelling and actually makes people realize, “Oh, this is something that we need and that’s actually going to help us so much”?
What’s your day-to-day like as a Business Product Specialist?
Oh man, it’s all over the place. Right now I’m working on our marketplace initiative. There are a lot of other companies and platforms that specialize in things that we don’t, and we understand that our clients use these technologies alongside Unqork. The idea behind this marketplace initiative is that we want to make it easy to integrate these technologies into whatever they’re building on Unqork. I’m working with the marketplace team to create a series of integrations that are pre-built and out-of-the-box.
A normal day might start with a meeting with my project manager for the marketplace team—we’d typically just go through our priorities for the day or week. Sometimes we’re working with new vendors who we’re still in talks with and we show them examples of what a specific application could look like. Sometimes we’re working with a vendor who’s already signed with us and we work on making integrations as simple and user-friendly as possible.
Something I really love about my job is that it’s incredibly collaborative. There are so many different teams that have to touch these moving parts, so it helps to talk through it with everyone and find the nexus of all of the different pieces. You might reach out and say, “I’ve worked on a client onboarding flow and you three people have also worked on the client onboarding flow in another capacity, let’s all get in a room. Let’s talk about what you guys have done.” We want to focus on those commonalities and distill them into something that can be reproduced on a larger scale.
Can you tell us about any specific products you’re building with the marketplace team at the moment?
I’m working on my first big product right now, actually. I’m developing a wealth/retail onboarding product. So, say you want to sign up for an account with a financial institution—I’m building a product that helps solidify all the details around an account. How do I actually go in and change my address? How do I approach the manager of the bank and check all of the balances of all the accounts that I have? Things like that.
Unqork has such a strong foothold in the largest financial institutions in the world—but this project has been really exciting for me because this is something we can market to regional banks. This product could help smaller banks that don’t always have the option to use a completely custom onboarding program. It’s a big deal, because the first time you interact with an institution is so important. You’re defining and creating an experience that hopefully people can enjoy, that’s effective, and gathers all the right information. Onboarding sets the tone for how you’re going to experience this kind of entity—which is obviously not a person, but plays a large impact in your life.
If you feel strongly about your bank, I think that’s an amazing thing. If you feel safe and confident that your money is being well managed, I think that’s fantastic, and this product could help regional banks better control that experience.
And finally, to close things out—what are your thoughts on what the future of no-code looks like from here?
The concept of no-code is really important to me. Right now, it still seems that software engineers are often a specific type of person—my experience is that they tend to be white, educated males who went to school for computer science in a program dominated by people who looked exactly like them. I think there are all sorts of structural issues surrounding the way that software is made and technology is made in the world these days.
One of the most famous examples that comes to mind is the AI hiring tool made by Amazon, which was meant to read through resumes and promote the ones it thought would make good hires. What ended up happening was that the AI tool kept highlighting men over women, because that’s who was already working in the positions it was looking to fill. Essentially, the tool used the data from this male-dominated industry to teach itself that men were preferable candidates. It’s these kinds of issues—especially as we move into a more technology dominated world—that really scare me.
What’s so great about no-code is that it provides an entry point for people who may not have gone to those formal programs, or may not have felt comfortable in those programs to really explore, create, and become technologists themselves. To come up with the best possible solutions, you should have a cross-section of people who have different ideas, come from different backgrounds, and are promoting different viewpoints. That’s what makes something really beautiful and effective. I think that one of the easiest ways to get there in tech is this concept of no-code, something that you can approach blindly if you’re interested in it.
Working at Unqork has taught me that technology means so many different things. People tend to focus on this traditional image of the developer, the person who sits at their computer and writes lines of code all day. Yes, that’s important and valuable, but there are so many other avenues out there. If you don’t necessarily feel you fit that particular mold, you shouldn’t be turned off by the tech industry as a whole. That mentality is what makes me really excited about the future of no-code.