Matt Joseph has quickly made his mark at BNY Mellon, taking on the role of head of the Jersey City Innovation Center two years after joining the company straight out of college in 2013. Matt is a self-described “geek” who is passionate and smart about technology, equally at ease with writing code, testing products, and experimenting with the user experience. He is in effect the community leader for more than 300 employees who work in the Innovation Center on new technologies and innovative ideas to deliver exceptional products for clients, their clients, fintech firms, and other financial services companies. Matt recently spoke with Behind the Scenes about his role.
What was your career path to BNY Mellon?
I came to the company three and a half years ago, directly after earning my undergraduate degree in computer science and Spanish at the University of Pittsburgh. Some people are surprised about the Spanish degree combined with computer science, but they’re both languages. In other words, they are both ways of expressing ideas.
I joined the company as part of what is now called the Technology Leadership Program. At the time, it consisted of two five-month rotations. My first rotation involved migrating a Java Enterprise application to our open-source cloud environment. In the second rotation, I worked on part of our Big Data initiative, migrating quality assurance and production software to a dedicated platform and getting it running in our cloud environment.
After those rotations, I joined the Enterprise Business Architecture team. Business Architecture is the common language that connects business strategy and technology using fundamentals like business capabilities. I was involved in analyzing a couple different business lines, and I worked on Digital Pulse, our Big Data analytics platform. Ultimately, as I was working on various innovative projects beyond my core role, I was offered the opportunity to lead the Jersey City Innovation Center.
Many computer science graduates want to work for pure technology companies like Google or Apple. Why were you drawn to financial services?
There has been a perception that going to a technology giant offers more creativity and innovative thought than a sector like financial services, but that perception is changing. In my experience, it’s simply untrue. Banking is a dynamic combination of innovation and tradition, and BNY Mellon really exemplifies the best of both elements.
Finance is the backbone of the economy. There is no place that is more ripe for innovation.
I see the reactions of visitors who come into our Innovation Center and hear what we’re working on. It’s powerful to hear them say, “Wow, I didn’t realize you guys did that.”
What would a visitor see if they walked into the Jersey City Innovation Center?
You would probably walk in expecting bankers, but instead you’d see employees in jeans and polos. You’d expect an open space, but you would probably be surprised that there are no corner offices. That’s what people mean when they talk about flat organizations. Visitors always comment on the energy level – I’m sure they expect a lot of buzz, but they probably don’t expect it to be quite as energetic or collaborative as it is.
What kind of work is being done in Jersey City?
Anything and everything. I usually point out pure application development, reusable front-end components, cloud technology, infrastructure automation, tech product management, and much more. Jersey City is one of eight BNY Mellon Innovation Centers worldwide, and while we all have tremendous range, we also each have a focus. In Jersey City, we work on the foundational building blocks of BNY Mellon’s NEXEN digital ecosystem. So you will see platform programmers working side by side with people from treasury services or asset servicing – the platform technology teams are working with the technical experts who actually build and use the client applications. This interaction can really change the way technologists approach a solution. With NEXEN®, we’re bringing all of BNY Mellon’s offerings together in a way that delivers the whole firm to our clients with a unified experience.
What are you responsible for as the head of the Innovation Center?
I’m sort of the mayor. My role is to engage the community of residents who work in the Innovation Center and to show the rest of the company and the world what we’re doing. I’m responsible for making sure the center is meeting its goals and vision, and I frequently liaise with the leads of the seven other global Innovation Centers. And maybe a moonshot here or there.
The Innovation Centers are ultimately about changing the way we work. BNY Mellon has made a tremendous commitment to change the company from the inside out. A big part of my job is culture change and helping people understand what makes employees successful. To succeed in the Innovation Center, you have to have a passion for using technology and creativity to solve problems. We need people who can think about usability, and who are capable of building things not only for themselves but for others. I try to get my residents thinking about what else they can provide to the user. Everything we do here focuses on solving real problems. During my day, I might be involved in NEXEN strategy, workplace design, industry partnerships, or talks with startups and fintechs, among other things. I spend time almost every day showing people the work we are doing.
Suresh Kumar, our CIO, taught me a great lesson: managing is not about telling people what to do; it’s about getting them to believe.
My job is to elevate the team and get them to perform at a higher level – to put their heart into it as well as their mind. We have passionate, talented individuals, and we want them along for the ride as we revolutionize our organization.
What do you do outside of work?
Besides technology, I’m into photography, cooking, traveling, and much more. Photography gives me a chance to see things from a different perspective. I’m currently shooting with a full-frame mirrorless digital camera with a variety of lenses. It’s important to have diversity of interests, and switching from the fast-paced technology that I use throughout my day to the more meditative, aesthetic-focused photography work is a rewarding way to switch gears.
Continuous learning is very important to me, so I have a lot of interests. One skill I have found more important than any other in my work is being to learn and adapt and break down complexity. That’s not something specific to technology either. For example, who knew that there was so much to the world of coffee? In my quest for better espresso, I’ve learned the ins and outs of espresso machines, grinders, and roasting. In order to be a serial specialist, you need to learn how to pick up new skills in any area. You could call it learning how to learn. The Innovation Center gives me opportunities to do that every day, on a wide range of areas such as employee happiness, cloud technology, and data science.