COMMENT: The truth about the different technology jobs in investment banks

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Hey! Congratulations, you landed a job as a technologist at an investment bank! Crack open your development environment and get coding for important traders and investment bankers right? Actually, hold your horses - because your experience will be very different depending on the role you’re placed into.

What's it like working in front office trading and sales, asset management and investment banking technology?

A lot of people want to work in this space when they first start out. If you're a front office technologist, you're going to be allied to a line of business. Think commodities, equity derivatives, rates, portfolio managers in asset management or a maybe even a banking team.

As a front office technologist, you'll be developing tools like trade and position blotters, pricing engines in partnership with quantitative research and market data teams, booking services, research platforms and feeds to middle and back office.

Sounds great? Well....The bad news is that these teams often run very lean. They have arduous support rotas and a lack of investment in adopting strategic frameworks and renewing tech stacks. The most important work is given to trusted individuals, and work tends to be very atomised.

What's it like working in core technology in a bank?

So you got an offer from a core technology team? These tend to be places where the long term strategic work is done. In other words, the work that doesn’t really need to happen for the bank to function on a day to day basis. These core teams will often generate work - and therefore headcount - for themselves. For example, the Core Athena team at JP Morgan is excellent at this. They will embark on a technical strategy for a user interface, develop a framework that starts to be used by business-aligned teams, then change their minds and re-write the framework, so that all the business-aligned teams have to re-write their code to comply with the new way of doing things. Man-years of waste, but the Core team do just fine out of it. If you’re someone who only wants to interact with other developers and be able to keep up with industry trends, then core teams are the way to go.

What's it like working in middle and back office technology in an investment bank?

Here you will find a whole host of teams doing different types of work. In the back and middle office you have compliance and regulatory technology teams who have to work to externally mandated deadlines. You also have market risk, payments and settlements, valuation control and capital management.

If you work here, your clients will be teams in operations, in financial control, in compliance, or in any other non-revenue generating team. Things tend to be a bit more relaxed than front office, and you’ll be more likely to use industry standard tools and languages.

What's it like working in a technology infrastructure job in an investment bank?

I'd say infrastructure is actually a pretty good area to be in right now, as banks are going full steam ahead on cloud adoption. Often there will be a mix of external and internally hosted clouds, and therefore a significant amount of tooling needs to be built out. As with the core technology teams your clients here are other developers. There will be highly skilled specialists hired in this area - with ‘fellows’ or ‘distinguished engineers’ often occupying positions in infrastructure or core technology. Cybersecurity is another infrastructure area that has seen a lot of growth and expertise built up in recent years.

What's it like working in business analysis in an investment bank?

This brings us to business analysis. Any area of the bank - front, middle or back office can have business analysts. Business analysts are the people who intermediate between the business and developers.

Business analysis might sound interesting, but beware. I’ve seen memos sent by CTOs of Technology at multiple banks that claim that there is no longer need for business analyst. Instead, they say they want 'T-Shaped’ developers. What they mean by this is that they want to cut costs and have developers talk to the business directly - pretending that complexity and interaction over multiple silos doesn’t exist. What's certain is that there are less people in the business analysis function than there were - graduate tracks for business analysis no longer being exist at some of the banks I’ve been at. However, business analysts are now being used as a cheaper form of ‘Business Management’ so they may be around for a while longer.

What's it like working in project management at an investment bank?

Lastly, there's project management. Project managers are frankly the most infuriating people for the average developer to deal with - they put meetings into developers calendars to talk about project timelines, why things are late, and delivery milestones. Project managers are often used to arbitrate between different teams for complex projects. To a large degree they are little more than secretaries, but the senior ones are paid like technical architects, which is always annoying.

Liam Brown is the pseudonym of a senior technologist at a bank in London 

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