Why Susquehanna in Sydney feels more like a tech company than a finance firm
Guy, a network architect in the technology team at Susquehanna International Group (SIG), actually enjoys his commute to work.
“I drive over the Sydney Harbour Bridge every morning – that certainly beats taking a crowded train to work in the cold in London,” says Guy, who joined the quantitative trading firm earlier this year.
But it’s not only his stunning daily journey and “amazing new lifestyle” in Sydney that appeal to the Englishman – he’s finding the company culture at Susquehanna to be refreshingly technology focused.
“I came on board because I wanted to work in an ‘agile’ environment in the true sense of that word – a culture where technology is at the heart of the business and where it’s possible to meet the needs of the business as quickly and effectively as possible.”
Guy, who has more than 20 years’ experience in IT, says many technologists feel frustrated working in banks and other large companies. “They’re driven from the top, so you don’t have much power to influence decisions because you have to convince so many managers above you,” he explains.
In fintech start-ups, by contrast, techies are “closer to the senior people” and their ideas are implemented quicker. “But there’s not so much at stake – their businesses are small and so are their IT budgets.”
Susquehanna in Sydney – which is set to ramp up its technology headcount and wants to hear from candidates in London and other overseas markets – gave Guy the “best of both worlds”.
“We’re an established firm and what we do is very important to our customers, but compared with a bank there’s a lot less managerial fat restricting innovation and what you can achieve – so it’s a unique culture for techies to succeed in.”
Guy is far from the only SIG employee in Sydney to be thriving within the firm’s tech-driven workplace. “SIG gets its competitive advantage using superior technology, so the working environment reflects a typical tech firm rather than a financial firm,” explains software developer Max, who recently worked for a large global bank.
“Big banks have a lot of bureaucracy within their IT departments. SIG is a much more nimble organisation that employs a high level of quality control while still being adaptive and flexible in the management of IT projects.” he adds.
A lack of unnecessary bureaucracy at Susquehanna in Sydney means Max and his teammates are given more freedom when it comes to coding, including deciding on the technologies and methodologies to use.
“And unlike at many financial firms, there’s a lot of collaboration between technology and the rest of the business,” says Max. “Some of the developers, including me, sit next to the traders and work closely to align business goals.”
Max’s Sydney colleague Rebecca, a market data analyst, also stresses the “collaborative” nature of the company.
“It’s more like a smaller tech firm – you get great exposure to the whole operation,” she says. “When I want to chat to the head of legal, for example, I just walk into their office – I don’t book an appointment. It’s an open-door policy from new grads to head traders.”
Rebecca, who joined in 2013 and is now leading her own team, says Susquehanna also gives techies potential promotion and career development opportunities that they might not get at a large bank.
“Our culture isn’t hierarchical like a bank’s. There are no seniority titles here – no associates, VPs etc – so you don’t move up on a strict rank-by-rank basis. If you do well it’s recognised, and our growth plans in Australia mean there will be plenty of exciting new opportunities for techies at Susquehanna,” says Rebecca.
The firm attracts technology professionals who are “innovative self-starters and want to implement new things, not just collect a pay cheque”, she adds. “Compared with a more bureaucratic organisation, we offer a lot of autonomy in terms of goal setting, and roles often evolve quickly over time – but there’s also plenty of responsibility that comes with that.”
Guy agrees: “When I started, nobody told me how to achieve my goals. At SIG you’re given more freedom to say ‘I think this is what we need to do’ within the firm’s broader objectives. If you want a highly structured environment, like most banks are, this isn’t the place for you.”
Rebecca, Guy and Max all describe Susquehanna culture as “friendly”. “That may sound like a cliché, but it’s important because it allows us to admit our mistakes and learn from them,” says Guy.
“We don’t have that macho London dealing-room environment where people scream when something goes wrong and spend too much time blaming each other rather than fixing the problem,” he says. “If you behaved like that here, you’d really stand out – it would be a big culture clash.”
You’d also look out of place if you turned up to Susquehanna in Sydney sporting a pinstripe suit – Max says the dress code is that of a tech firm, “casual every day”.
The SIG office also comes equipped with its share of fintech-style accessories. “We have a fully stocked kitchen, fridge, Nintendo console, and a poker table. There’s a catered lunch every day, a gym, and plenty of social events to enjoy,” says Max.
For Rebecca, an American who previously worked in New York and Chicago, being based in Sydney itself is another big advantage of her job.
“The views from our office across Sydney are great, and compared to financial centres in the US or Europe, the pace of life here is slower. The access to the outdoors is also fantastic – you can get up in the morning and go for a surf.”
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