A computer science degree may give you all the technical skills required for a technology career. But when it comes to succeeding in financial IT, you need to be more than just a savvy programmer.
"Being a technical provider is just one little part of working in financial services IT," says Natalie Kaminski, CEO of FinCode Solutions, which develops software for financial firms. "In order to provide a quality product and be respected on the job, you have to understand how trading is done."
Here are five skills you need - but may have missed - to make it:
"Educate yourself on both financial terminology and IT best practices," says Mark Bramley, CEO of StatPro North America, a provider of data and analytics software to asset managers. "This will allow you to truly understand your internal and external customers and provide a much higher level of service than someone who just has IT experience."
Consider a degree or certification in finance or accounting. While a CPA or MBA may not be a good investment of time or money for most IT professionals, a Certificate in Investment Performance Measurement, or certifications in Series 7 or Series 63, can advance an otherwise run-of-the-mill IT career, says Bramley says. "Powerful mixed skill sets have more earning potential than a specialist in just one area," he notes.
Know How to Finesse a Client
While your job may include creating and managing trading platforms, that's not your real job. Your real job is to serve the clients, whether they're internal or external. You must know to communicate with people who are very different than you, who are under extreme pressure, and probably not very nice, says Eric Goldberg, CEO of Portware, a provider of electronic trading software for equities, futures, options and FX.
Adds Kaminski: "You might have to run around the trading floor to ask a trader questions since they don't have time to talk to you. If you e-mail them a question, they may not answer right away. But once they ask you a question, you'd better answer immediately because their time costs a lot of money."
Follow Current Events
Stay abreast of regulatory changes that affect clients. Read industry newsletters, journals, as well as the popular business media. Kaminski recommends The Wall Street Journal, the SEC's newsletter, Hedgetracker.com, Riskcenter.com, and SecuritiesTechnologyMonitor.com.
Bramley suggests maintaining a global focus, including regulations issued by the Global Investment Performance Standards (GIPS) and Collective Investment in Transferable Securities (Ucits IV). Why? For one reason, anyone working for a Wall Street firm will certainly have operations in Switzerland, where they have very stringent security rules.
Be a Good Listener
Ilya Talman, president Roy Talman & Associates, a Chicago based recruiter specializing in IT and capital markets, says technology wizards tend to have a superiority complex that makes it tough to communicate with clients - not to mention impress employers. "It helps a great deal to listen aggressively to what is really being discussed and why it's being discussed," he says. "Then you can ask smart questions."
Be a Good Teacher
Often, clients have an idea of what they want - but not the technical sophistication to understand what's possible, affordable, or the risks and benefits involved in various scenarios. A successful tech professional can explain the back-end reason why the front-end fantasy is difficult or impossible - and suggest a reasonable alternative. "Sometimes tech people have trouble translating technology language into plain English," Kaminski says. "But if you don't do a good job educating the client, the client won't think you're doing a good job developing the technology."