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I've spent 20 years in finance tech. I only get contract jobs now

I started working in banking technology 20 years ago this year. My career started around the time the internet got going, when Python was still just a snake and Cobol and Unix were commonplace. I've designed and implemented systems from scratch and I've worked across fixed income and equities. My career spans four major international banks and I have proven achievements at each. But no one will give me a permanent job.

I'm fairly sure it's my age. Until I hit 51, I worked full time in a permanent role at senior vice president level. Since then, nothing. I've applied and I've applied, but it's been impossible to find a permanent role at a comparable level. Permanent jobs for senior banking technologists don't seem to exist any more.

It's a different matter in the contract market. I can get contract work no problem at all. But I don't want to be a contractor: I want to be invested in the business I'm working for; I want to make an impact strategically and I can't do that when I'm not on the payroll. Contractors are also being squeezed as banks try saving money. Rates are being compressed and contractors are increasingly asked to take involuntary holidays - in my case, my contract is up at the end of November and I'm being asked to take the entirety of December off and to start again in January. The rest will be welcome. The lack of pay will not.

Of course, this is why banks are hiring me as a contractor. Because I'm not a permanent employee they don't need to give me holiday pay. Nor do they need to give me sick pay, nor pension benefits. They benefit from my experience, with none of the cost commitment that comes from actually giving me a job. The advantages, as far as I'm concerned are all on their side.

Even so, I can't help but feel banks are losing out. I have a huge amount to offer in terms of both passion and knowledge. Banks are overlooking my past experience and are focusing instead on young people who claim to be experts in "data" but who have no understanding of its broader context. Without people like me, these data teams have no strategic guidance. The same applies to so-called "tech firms," which are even more locked into the cult of youth.

I'm 51. My career in technology should not be over. Unfortunately, banks' recruiters don't agree. There's a lot of talk about sexism in technology, but from my perspective ageism is the bigger problem. When you have a technology team full of permanent employees aged under 28, you're doing something badly wrong.

David Smith is the pseudonym of a senior banking technologist in London

AUTHORDavid Smith Insider Comment
  • PM
    1 April 2019

    I am in the exact same boat. It's the "cut costs at any costs" syndrome. I hate this industry after the 20 years I've put into it. When you see things like multi-day outages across ATM systems, airline booking systems and others, you can be sure lack of experience is at the core of the problem. The way I look at the world right now as someone viewed as old in his industry is like this:
    a) Want to take that hill, get an infantryman (avg age 19).
    b) Want to work on a clandestine project, use a Navy seal (avg age 30).
    c) Want to conduct an extraterritorial extraction of an internationally wanted terrorist, use a Navy Team-6 member (avg age 40).

    Everyone wants the cheapest possible labour cost possible, which means you're willing to give up experience for cost. That is until your plane is heading for the Hudson. If Sully were in IT or banking, he would have been booted from the force a long time ago.

  • Ed
    7 March 2019

    I'm also 51 and have been working in the City since 1993. Similar background I expect. I've lost count of the number of programming languages/technologies I've worked in. Unlike David I am in a permanent role but I know if this ends for whatever reason then it's over. But that's OK, the work's relatively well-paid and I too would be able to get contracts.

    @Jason Executive boards would be far more likely to appoint an astrologer or Feng Shui practitioner than people like David (or me). The disconnect between management and tech is almost total.

  • Ja
    20 November 2017

    If you made it to the SVP level (,particularly if it was at a blue chip firm) have you considered also seeking non executive board roles? I am sure there are boards who are looking for people like yourself to help advise on and monitor strategy.

  • Ma
    7 November 2017

    I like your advice about the brokerage wondering how to approach it. Will companies accept you have split and maybe conflict of interests? Like some agreements prevent you working with the competition. So Iim wondering if this will fly?

  • To
    7 November 2017

    Same in the US. Different location exact same experience.

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