Next up in our Employee Spotlight series, we spoke with Joe Finsterwald, Gradifi’s chief technology officer. Joe oversees all of the technology behind Gradifi’s platform and told us about the platform’s security, the ease of its use and deployment, as well as how working at Gradifi has made an impact on his life.
Joe manages Gradifi’s designers, developers and tech engineers to ensure our SLP platform is always up and running. He’s been with Gradifi for nearly two years — before our launch and before we even had office furniture. Joe was integral in the development of Gradifi, helping to write the initial platform. Before joining Gradifi, Joe led a multi-year project to re-architect and completely rebuild Vistaprint’s aging B2C product customization platform.
Needless to say, Gradifi wouldn’t be what it is today without the help from Joe and his team. Take a look below to learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at Gradifi and what makes our platform truly unique.
What makes the Gradifi platform so secure when it comes to handling thousands of individuals’ personal financial information — from account numbers to loan information to highly-sensitive payroll information?
Joe: Both security and scale were first class concerns of our platform architecture. The majority of the team comes from an ecommerce background — in fact, a large number comes from Vistaprint. As a result, we designed everything for high availability and elastic scale so as our computation needs grow, we can scale out instead of scaling up. We’ve all seen firsthand a number of big security breaches — namely, those at Yahoo!, LinkedIn, etc. We wanted to ensure that security received the attention that it deserved. As for data, we actually strive to capture only the information that we need in order to facilitate payments. Our focus is solely on helping employers to pay down the student debt of their employees. Doing security well is a critical consideration in any modern software engineering endeavor.
How is Gradifi able to accomplish simplifying the process for users, while still processing a lot of data on the back end?
Global accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers was not only our first customer but was also our development partner. Their team helped us to build a system that supports a huge enterprise but also a system that is easy for small businesses to deploy. One of the biggest challenges was getting the user experience (UX) right. This meant from day one that we wanted to invest in a best-in-class UX that was intuitive and easy to use. Our product manager and designer ran effective focus groups in conjunction with PwC customer surveys and focus groups, so we knew we were getting great feedback from people using the pilot program. Our team incorporated that customer feedback, which made our product very user friendly from the beginning.
Without giving away Gradifi’s secret sauce — what do you believe is its biggest differentiator?
Ultimately, it is about having awesome people. From the beginning we’ve ensured that we’ve hired only first rate engineers to work on our product. We hold a very high standard and at Gradifi we have always gone by the motto of working smarter, not harder.
Our team put together a system that requires very little human interaction and we are able to manage a lot of code with a small team. We have very clear channels of communication and are therefore able to pivot quickly to address any challenges that may arise. We knew it was important to win the software game when we were starting out with the platform.
Something that we are incredibly proud of is when we were going through the process of being acquired by First Republic Bank, their team did an audit on our platform and it came out clear and secure, proving that our team had done the best job possible in creating a safe and user-friendly platform.
What are some of the top characteristics that make the Gradifi platform stand out against the competition?
The top three things that set the Gradifi platform apart are its ease of use, security and reliability. What’s really cool about our system is that we designed it to support both SMBs and huge enterprises. Our smallest client has one employee and our biggest client is PwC — and we are able to handle both. No matter the size of our client, it requires little effort to get started on our platform. Our system is also incredibly extensible — something that we knew we wanted from the beginning. For clients, like PwC, we can support custom integrations and special features like SSO (single sign-on), or custom reporting requests.
Another area where I feel we have a huge competitive advantage is in automation. Our engineers are automation experts. We’ve also heavily invested in automation of all sorts including: test, build, deployment, job, etc. With this investment in test automation, we’re able to catch most code errors before we even begin formal testing. Likewise, our whole build process is completely streamlined to require minimal human involvement. Most developers that I’ve talked to are blown away by how automated our whole process is.
You and your wife are signed up for the Gradifi program. Tell us what this means to you financially and personally and what has meant to your family?
As an engineer, I always think it’s really great when you can “eat your own dog food.” Gradifi’s CEO, Tim DeMello, was incredibly generous and allowed my wife to be the first member of the Family Plan. It is so satisfying to get emails that the payments have been made. I can check the link to the site where there is a dedicated history of payments, and it works great on mobile. The payment plan has made an impact on her loans. We’ve been able to pay off one loan completely and we are now working on her next one; a federal loan with $30,000 left. We are thrilled that we are making headway and constantly knocking down years off that loan. I am so grateful for the service we are able to provide to help other people get out of debt faster.