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Breaking into Financial S/W

Sherban Drulea
Greenhorn

Joined: Jun 05, 2002
Posts: 8
Hi Guys,
I want to get a s/w engineering job in the financial sector. There's a Catch-22 about this field that�s difficult to overcome. Financial companies are adamant about having previous financial experience. Obtaining financial experience without previous financial experience, however, remains an elusive endeavor. How do I solve this Catch-22?
I'm a mid-level engineer with four years of Java experience. I have diverse experience in healthcare, education, and music industry sectors. What skill sets distinguish "financial" s/w engineering from �regular� s/w engineering? Any advice would be helpful.
cheers,
Sherban
Joy Jade
Ranch Hand

Joined: Dec 30, 2003
Posts: 81
Originally posted by Sherban D:
Hi Guys,
I want to get a s/w engineering job in the financial sector. There's a Catch-22 about this field that�s difficult to overcome. Financial companies are adamant about having previous financial experience. Obtaining financial experience without previous financial experience, however, remains an elusive endeavor. How do I solve this Catch-22?
I'm a mid-level engineer with four years of Java experience. I have diverse experience in healthcare, education, and music industry sectors. What skill sets distinguish "financial" s/w engineering from �regular� s/w engineering? Any advice would be helpful.
cheers,
Sherban

hi,
I started my career as a Systems Analyst / programmer at a financial institution and lasted for 4 yrs. You could probably try to look for Systems analyst/ Systems support jobs in a banking institution first.
If it's really tough to get an SA job, maybe try tellering / accounting jobs for a few months then you would know if there's an internal hiring at the IT group in that bank. This way, you have gained even a bit of financial exposure and already knew by then about business flow/process in a financial environment.
Send me a private message when things work out if you try this approach. Good luck!
[ March 23, 2004: Message edited by: Joy Jade ]
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
"Sherban D",
Please look carefully at official naming policy at javaranch & reregister yourself with a proper first & last name (you can use an initial for a first name, but not a last name), with a space between them. Please adhere to official naming policy & help maintain the decorum of the forum. The naming policy can be found at http://www.javaranch.com/name.jsp
--Mark
Jeroen Wenting
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 12, 2000
Posts: 5093
There is no Catch-22.
ANY company these days wants employees who can be up to speed in no time which means they ask for previous experience.
There's differences between the types of applications created, algorithms, security and QA standards, procedures, etc. etc. which take some getting used to.
I worked for financials from 1999 to 2002, the corporate culture typically tended towards paranoia about security combined with extreme corporate politics and an attitude that placed IT at the far bottom of the pecking order in all regards (we had a project manager responsible for almost 100 people who could not even sign a purchase order to replace a damaged chair because he didn't have authority for the �300 it would cost...), decisions about even the most trivial things have to be deferred to board of directors level (including choice of IDE and application servers, things people outside IT should not bother themselves with).
Inside the projects I worked things were relaxed, but that was mainly because the project managers shielded us techies from most of the company politics.


42
Richard Scothern
Ranch Hand

Joined: May 25, 2001
Posts: 83
A lot of financial applications tend to be in high-transaction environments, so previous experience with real-time, distributed systems can help.
Also, I recommend you diversify your skill set, as a lot of financial institutions use C, C++ and perl a lot. Also, *nix is extensivly used, still.
Apart from that, a bit of luck always helps, or a friend/ex-coworker who could recommend you. Not all financial jobs require previous experience (just practically all), I think as the job market improves, they may reduce their requirements somewhat.
Where are you looking, BTW?
Richard
Jeroen Wenting
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 12, 2000
Posts: 5093
not to forget huge mainframes running PL/1 and CoBOL applications often numbering millions of lines of code.
Didn't see any perl during my time with financials, but indeed a lot of C++.
Expect non-standard environments. Highly customised operating systems for desktop machines are common, often with all kinds of security features to prevent unauthorised software and people from using them.
Tim Baker
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 04, 2003
Posts: 541
Getting into an actual bank will require experience, but there are other companies who produce financial/accounting style software and often these companies don't require financial experience, so they are good for gaining experience which the banks will probably think is relevent. I have only very limited financial experience, but I was recently interviewed for a position at a Building Society, so there are some out there
good luck


Kim Jong II (North Korea's Dear Leader) said:Nuclear weapons don't kill people, people kill people.
Vishwa Kumba
Ranch Hand

Joined: Aug 27, 2003
Posts: 1066
Originally posted by Jeroen Wenting:
Expect non-standard environments. Highly customised operating systems for desktop machines are common, often with all kinds of security features to prevent unauthorised software and people from using them.

How restricted is the working env for banking/financial projects?
How about internet access?.....Can we download any new open source tools to play around with (when we get some time ) or participate in discussion forums like these...In the name of security, are these restricted as well?
Hope, they compensate with a good salary for all these restrictions...
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Some thing to keep in mind...
Yes, all industries like prior experience. Finance, however, is known for paying well. College grads beg to get into I-Banking and other Wall St firms, so HR is used to being selected.
IT at financial institutions rates just above janitorial staff. I'm not joking. Software companies are about software and the people who make software are key. Financial companies are about investments, and the people who make investment decisions are key. Everyone else--janitorial, IT, secretarial pool, etc.-- is just support. if the trash isn't empties and the smell is distracting the analysts, that's a problem and someone will scream. If the software has a bug or slows down the traders, that's a problem and someone will scream. The secretaries at least are people the finance guys talk to on a daily basis. The IT folks are nameless geeks. OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but the point is, you are support staff. It's important to understand your place at those companies.

As for getting in, I used the back door. I found a finance project at HBS developing some simulation software. Any bank will see the name HBS and see finance and I've got instant credibility. I recommend finding a local b-school and hitting up prof's for projects. That will get you experience and connections. (Of course, this is a path very few people can actually take, just due to the limited opportunity.)
--Mark
Matt Cao
Ranch Hand

Joined: Apr 03, 2003
Posts: 715
Originally posted by Mark Herschberg:
Some thing to keep in mind...
IT at financial institutions rates just above janitorial staff. I'm not joking. Software companies are about software and the people who make software are key. Financial companies are about investments, and the people who make investment decisions are key. Everyone else--janitorial, IT, secretarial pool, etc.-- is just support. if the trash isn't empties and the smell is distracting the analysts, that's a problem and someone will scream. If the software has a bug or slows down the traders, that's a problem and someone will scream. The secretaries at least are people the finance guys talk to on a daily basis. The IT folks are nameless geeks. OK, that's a slight exaggeration, but the point is, you are support staff. It's important to understand your place at those companies.
--Mark

Hi,
Yes, this is what I keep trying to tell folks knowing the user side in- depth. It occupies 80% of the capitalist society.
Regards,
MCao
Tim Holloway
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Jun 25, 2001
Posts: 16228
    
  21

Personally, I'd not want to be planning a career in financial IT. Some of the biggest names in offshoring are financial firms, and they're not done yet.
It's true about the relatively low payscales, BTW. I'm working in a financial IT department myself. I think historically speaking, about the only lower-paying shops have been governments.
I have the freedom to play with open-source software here, and my Internet connections are fairly unrestricted. However in my former job, I dealt a lot with different financial organizations and some of them locked down virtually everything. Except, alas, the security holes in Microsoft Outlook. So it varies.
Our IT department is pretty small. We don't have a mainframe. Our banking DP is outsourced to a system halfway across the country. Our mortgage DP is outsourced to my former employer, which is about 10 miles down the road, but they're about the biggest provider of mortgage processing services in the world and the reason we use them has less to do with geography than who has whom for relatives.
Aside from the corporate website, most of what our IT staff is for is to provide the glue between the different outsourced systems. Which is more fun than it sounds, but not as glamorous as some things I've done.


Customer surveys are for companies who didn't pay proper attention to begin with.
Sherban Drulea
Greenhorn

Joined: Jun 05, 2002
Posts: 8
Hi Guys,
Thanks for all the useful info about SW development in the financial sector! I have a better idea of what it would be like to work in financial SW.
The main reason I'm considering pursuing this area was because I'm thinking about moving to New York. It seems like most NYC SW gigs are financial gigs. Of course, they also seem to pay the best .
The software engineer's view of financial environment, however, doesn't sound very inviting. In terms of respect, professional growth, and interesting assignments, a pure software company sounds like a better bet.
At the time being, however, most NYC SW job openings tend to be financial.
Some questions for SW Engineers who've worked in the financial industry:
Were you eager to leave the financial sector because of the stifling environment?
Were there any perks besides high compensation?
Would you consider working in this industry again?
How did you get your first experience with industry?
cheers,
Sherban
Phil Chuang
Ranch Hand

Joined: Feb 15, 2003
Posts: 251
Hah, after reading the topic title, it sounded like you wanted to hack into the Merill-lynch and adjust your portfolio
Mark Herschberg
Sheriff

Joined: Dec 04, 2000
Posts: 6037
Originally posted by Sherban Drulea:

The software engineer's view of financial environment, however, doesn't sound very inviting. In terms of respect, professional growth, and interesting assignments, a pure software company sounds like a better bet.

Well, I spelled out the negatives just because many people miss them. There are plenty of positives (based on information from friends at big name firms).
The compensations is very high.
Huge IT budgets. You want the latest enterprise verison of the software? No problem. You want to get gold customer support? No problem. (At least most years. A few years of a down market, I'm sure there are cutbacks.)
You need training for this technology? No problem.
Working late? Dinner and the company car service.
Lots of very smart co-workers.
Company/industry perks, e.g the trading houses are always giving dinners and tickets to the firms in exchange for their business (read: kickbacks). Although you don't get these directly in IT, you can get to know the people who do get them.
Projects are demanding, but exciting. (Although that's a matter of personal opinion, I'm sure.)
--Mark
Tim Holloway
Saloon Keeper

Joined: Jun 25, 2001
Posts: 16228
    
  21

Unfortunately, NY has one other downside, that it saddens me to mention.
One of the greatest contributors to my EJBWizard project was a fellow named John Ueltzhoeffer. He worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. On the 98th floor of the World Trade Center.
Jeroen Wenting
Ranch Hand

Joined: Oct 12, 2000
Posts: 5093
Originally posted by Vish Kumar:

How restricted is the working env for banking/financial projects?
How about internet access?.....Can we download any new open source tools to play around with (when we get some time ) or participate in discussion forums like these...In the name of security, are these restricted as well?
Hope, they compensate with a good salary for all these restrictions...

Internet access:
When I worked at ING Barings we had no internet access, not even for email.
There was email but it was internal to the company only through Lotus Notes.
For the entire 50 (or so) strong department there were 2 internet-email accounts, one for the department head and one for an engineer who was our contact with some major suppliers.
Those accounts also had browsing access to look up information from external sources.
As a development shop we had CD ROM drives and unencrypted floppy drives, noone else in the company had that luxury.
That job was at HQ level creating software for the bank offices and headquarters.
A year or so later at ABN Amro we had complete access to everything, but we had no access at all to the company LAN (we were effectively a separate network with our own pipe to the internet).
That job was a web-development team, so rules were different.
All information exchange to the corporate LAN were via 2 workstations that were not on our own network.
Those machines had no floppy drives or CD ROM drives installed.
It doesn't end there though.
At ING we used OS/2 for an operating system, which is another hurdle towards using external software as there is little that will run on it.
Firewalls are extremely tight. If you get internet access expect only HTTP to be allowed over port 80 and possibly only a fixed set of sites allowed to be visited.
We found that it was often easier to download stuff at home and burn it on CD to take it into the office. Officially this was against company policy which allowed nothing that was not approved to be used on the computers but for projects with short deadlines that was simply impossible as the approval process would take longer than the running time of the project.
Joy Jade
Ranch Hand

Joined: Dec 30, 2003
Posts: 81
At the bank I worked with, was also using OS/2. Internet access was prohibited.
 
 
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