How to get into finance as a software engineer

Finance pays well - it is no secret.

I have been in the industry for most of my career. I like it because the projects are interesting, my colleagues are very smart and the money is good.

When you plan to join you need to make sure that your values are aligned with the industry. I am not talking politics. There are all sorts of people in finance, all sorts of political orientations and all sorts of views on life.

What I mean by values is that you have to pick the area of the industry that suits you best.

Inside the bank

Banks make their profit from being better at handling risk. Everything is about risk. That means, the closer you are to the core business of a bank, the risk department, the more beucracy and concern there is. A bank will always reduce its risk as much as possible.

From a software engineering point of view, it means you will not find the latest and greatest framework used in a banks internal systems. You will find mature and proven technology and very thorough testing. You will work on carefully monitored networks, operating systems and hardware.

A Bank is a place where your analytical and mathematical skills can really make a difference. If you can help implement better risk prediction models, and execute them quicker on massive grids, then you will save the bank millions. Every bank has to prove to the government that they can calculate how bad tomorrow can get, and keep enough collateral to tough it out. If your models can be calculated in time and are historically precise, then you will not have to use the government issued models which are a lot more pessimistic, so the bank can invest more and keep less cash for collateral.

Most of the systems you will be working on, will already have been build and sold to the bank. Your main task is to configure it to suit the bank and implement the parts that give it an edge over its competitors.

In 2013 I left a major Asian investment bank. I learned a lot that have proven invaluable later in my career, I worked with brilliant people in an environment that valued ingenuity, integrity but above all preditability. I left because I was excited about new technologies, and I wanted to work somewhere I could use them.

Outside the bank

Most of the IT staff inside a bank works on maintaining systems that have already been bought or developed. When you work outside the bank your time will be spent on developing new software. This is where you will find the new frameworks, the latest technologies that sets your product apart from the competition.

The product has to be delivered on time, with exceptional quality. A bug in finance will cost millions. The products are different but they are always designed to give the bank an edge and can be everything from a complete new trading platform, distributed databases or a global system for offsetting risk betweent banks. What ever the product, it will make a big difference to your clients profit, so there is plenty of financial incentive and disgression is an absolute most. Maybe later in my career I can tell more about the things I helped build, if more clients choose to disclose their projects.

When you work on projects outside a bank, you chose the right architecture, technologies and teams. The projects can span weeks or years and involve small or global teams.

Consultancies value people who are experts in their field, but who can also understand the system end to end, and who are quick to learn how banking works. If you do not already have practical experience with financial products such as Swaps, Forwards and Fixed income, then joining a consultancy is great oppertunity. You can learn about the industry on training courses and from colleagues, and you will join exciting projects where you can prove your technical skills. Projects can be on-site at a bank or in the consultancies own office.

Joining the financial industry

Right now there is a demand for technologists from all around the field. Designers, Frontend and Backend Developers.

A big difference between working inside or outside a bank, is the core business. A banks core business comes from traders, sales people and risk managers. The IT department is yet to be the primary focus. Outside the bank, in a consultancy, the developers are the core business. Being the main focus of your company makes a difference.

In 2014 I joined Lab49. Lab49 is a financial consultancy with offices around the world. They are at the top of their game and only take on challenging and high profile projects from key players in the financial sector. I work with the latest technologies and push them to the limit to solve real world problems. If you are interested in joining the industry then send an e-mail to my colleagues in HR, and they will help you find out if this industry is for you.

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Written by Vincens Riber Mink on 22 February 2015