Chris Olah: My Journey From Sales To Technology
Chris Olah5-Minute Read
PUBLISHED: November 08, 2022
My journey at Rocket Companies® has been a rollercoaster, from a start in sales, to finding my place in technology. Our culture has allowed me to continue to grow and find my place at this company and that could be your journey too.
How It All Started
Hi! My name is Chris Olah and I’m a Senior Digital Product Manager at Rocket Central, responsible for setting the vision and strategy for our suite of Conversational AI products. Namely, Liv, our Virtual Assistant designed to support Rocket client needs throughout their financial journey.
After graduating from the University of Michigan in 2014 with a degree in economics and political science, I found myself unsure of where I wanted to take my career. However, I had heard of a growing powerhouse of a company that was leveraging its success to give back and invest in Detroit. Their commitment was so great that they had recently uprooted their headquarters out in the suburbs and moved right smack-dab in the center of downtown Detroit. As a life-long metro-Detroiter this effort was meaningful to me. The company was Quicken Loans, now Rocket Mortgage®. I applied.
8 years later and I’m happily still here. It’s a fact I proudly share: In a labor market where the typical path to capitalize on opportunities and professional growth is to hop companies every few years, I’m still here. Let me tell you why.
My Start In Sales
I spent my first two years as a Mortgage Banker specializing in helping our serviced clients buy a new home. This means I was given the opportunity to assist clients who already held a mortgage with us purchase a new or another home. These clients were already familiar with the brand and our process, but most importantly our technology products.
I’d often chat with our clients about their experiences working with us during their last transaction and ask what drove their decision to work with us in the first place. Often, the differentiator was that our technology made their mortgage transaction simple and efficient. As a banker, knowing how complex mortgages can be, I knew that was no easy task.
Rocket Technology Programs
During my time in banking, I had always heard just how special the culture was within Rocket Technology and, most enticing to me, the investment the company makes in innovation. Specifically, at the time, programs like Bullet Time and Hack-a-thons.
Bullet Time was a weekly half-day innovation program where technologists were encouraged to set aside their daily commitments and to focus on forward-thinking innovations. Hack-a-thons were 24-hour sprints – where Technology team members competed to build a prototype in a day. These programs have since evolved and improved into quarterly Hack Week innovation programs.
Knowing firsthand from our clients that our technology was making a major difference in their lives and the culture of innovation within the Technology team drove me to set up a discussion with my Vice President to discuss what my career could evolve into within Rocket Companies.
Making The Move To Technology
The conversation with my VP of Mortgage Banking was the first of many, tangible examples of Rocket Companies leadership supporting my career growth and development. Admittedly, I was nervous entering into the conversation. Although I was only 2 years into my banking career, I was a top performer on the team and was a trusted mentor to my peers.
Leadership within banking could have easily taken the stance of “the team relies on you, and we need your contributions to meet team goals” or “we’ve invested countless resources in training, coaching, licensing, etc.” to convince me not to explore new opportunities within the organization. But that wasn’t the case.
The message was that because I had shown extreme dedication to hone my banking skills, understand our business and processes and helped hundreds of Americans purchase a home, there was full support from the company to explore other areas to impact our business and our client’s experiences with us.
A New Home In Tech
I moved over to technology in the fall of 2017 as a Business Analyst supporting one of our Telecommunication Technology teams – a team that was focused on improving our clients experiences interfacing with our Interactive Voice Response (IVR) phone menu systems.
The first project I was tasked with was decreasing the amount of effort, measured by time spent, required by our clients to make a mortgage payment via our IVR. This project validated my perception of our Technology team’s mission to deliver products that made our clients lives easier. A client making their mortgage payment through the IVR is a small moment amongst many, many other moments where a client interacts with our technology, but we were still dedicating the resources to optimize it – because every client interaction matters to us.
As I moved into technology, I was eager to participate in the innovation programs our company offered. In 2017, Siri, Alexa and other virtual assistants were starting to see mass consumer adoption and, because I was working on similar client-to-computer interactions while focusing on IVR improvements, I became interested in if and how virtual assistants could be beneficial to our clients.
During a 24-hour Hack-a-thon in 2018, I partnered with a few other technology folks to build a prototype to demonstrate the vision of how a virtual assistant could help our serviced clients manage their account and answer simpler inquiries, 24/7/365 without the need to interact with a human.
A Culture Focused On Innovation
Rocket leadership bought in and trusted the vision we laid out during our presentation upon the completion of the Hack-a-thon. A team was created to build out the first iteration of a virtual assistant, with the ultimate vision of virtual assistants evolving to become the virtual concierge for Rocket Companies providing instantaneous, 24/7 support of client inquiries via webchat and other communication channels.
Within a few weeks, we went from a nugget of an idea, to building a prototype in a Hack-a-thon, to having a full Technology team dedicated to the build.
That virtual assistant we created in the Hack-a-thon is now called Liv and has expanded to assist our clients on RocketMortgage.com, RocketHomes.com, and via SMS. Today, there are around 50 team members spanning across Data Intelligence, Product Strategy and Design dedicated to supporting Liv’s growth.
The investment in Liv’s growth is a testament to Rocket’s trust in its team members and their ideas – and that, paired with the company’s leadership support in me chasing my career goals, is why I’ve been here for 8 happy years.
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