Goldman Sachs' head of EMEA technology: 'We don't work very long hours'

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Goldman Sachs' head of EMEA technology: 'We don't work very long hours'

Joanne Hannaford, the EMEA head of technology at Goldman Sachs, has a message for any engineers who think a technology career at Goldman Sachs will mean 80 hour weeks. - It won't.

Speaking at this week's Women of Silicon Roundabout conference in London, Hannaford said Goldman's reputation for long hours is overdone, at least in technology. "I know we have a reputation for working very long hours. It's unfounded," said Hannaford. "No one would have the type of career I have had... in that kind of forced working environment."

Hannaford has spent 22 years at Goldman after joining from RBS in 1997. She was promoted to managing director in 2001, partner in 2013, and became head of EMEA technology in February 2017.

"I don't care what time people come and go and whether they work from home," said Hannaford, adding that what matters most is the quality of the code. 

Goldman has 2.5bn lines of code and produces another 16m every month. It's developed its own method of ensuring engineers maintain high quality output. Across the firm, Goldman has a metric that shows programmers on a daily basis whether the code they create is enhancing or detracting from the overall quality of Goldman's code base.  "It's completely changed how they think about their work day-to-day," Hannaford said. 

Hannaford said a huge 3,000 of Goldman's 9,000 engineers work on SecDB, its proprietary risk and pricing system.  Here, Goldman has an even more explicit way of making sure coders produce excellent work. Every night new SecDB code is released on something called "The Train." Before the release happens around 1.5m tests run, and if a single piece of new code on the train is wrong, the release is stopped and individual coders are called out. "It's part of our culture," said Hannaford. "An email goes out and says Jo Hannaford's stopped the train. It's really embarrassing." 

SecDB is now 25 years-old, and Hannaford said they had a birthday party for the system last year. "We don't consider it to be heritage, we don't consider it to be legacy," said Hannaford. Generations and generations of Goldman staff have worked on SecDB, she added: "To evolve that platform over 25 years took a lot of skill and collaboration."

Hannaford has spent the past year working on Goldman's new digital bank, Marcus. "My boss called me and says I want you to launch a digital bank in the UK called Marcus...I was given a deadline of nine months," she said.  Although Hannaford's whole career previously had been on wholesale banking technology, she said she didn't balk at the challenge (and that other technologists should learn from this). "I didn’t say, 'Why me?', I didn’t say 'do you think I’m good enough?'". I said, 'Right super.'"

In the U.S. there have been some complaints about the aggressive time frames surrounding the Marcus project, which technologists complain are leading to long hours and a culture where senior staff are saying "yes" to everything even if it will be a huge stretch. However, Hannaford said the project's main outcome has been to further break down the demarcation between technologists and business people. "The [distinct] role of an engineer vs. the role of a [business] colleague was erased and we were just a group of people trying to solve a problem."

Hannaford said she herself continues to code every day, and that she also takes time out upskill. Every year, she says she studies two or three coding courses in the evening at City University. "I am often twice the age of the people in those courses but I am there programming," she says. "It creates a little ecosystem for you. You get to know the people on the course, and you can ask them questions."  And so now you know where to hang out in the evening if you want to meet Goldman's head of tech in London.

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