How tech jobs in banks got exciting while those at tech firms went the other way

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legacy technology in banks

The big argument against getting a technology job in an investment bank is usually 'the work'. - Do you really want to be spending your life updating tired legacy systems for a highly-regulated investment bank when you could be designing exciting new moonshotty products for a Big Four technology company? Err, no. But what if you got it all wrong? What if banks are where the exciting stuff is going down and technology companies are getting tangled up in their own ageing systems? What if that?

Clearly it's not entirely this simple, but there's certainly something to be said for the fact that banks' technology jobs aren't as boring as some people make out. The following chart, from research firm Greenwich Associates shows big banks' ('bulge bracket') and small banks' ('middle market') technology priorities for 2018. Regulatory-driven technology is far less important than it used to be. Today, technology in banking is all about improving client tools and automating trading.

technology banking

This shows in the kinds of people banks want to hire for their most exciting jobs on the trading floor. As the second chart (also from Greenwich), below, shows, banks are all about hiring data management people for their trading floors nowadays.

Skills for trading

Both trends are reflected in the goings-on at Goldman Sachs. Marty Chavez, the firm's CFO-turned-co-head of the securities business is a big exponent of Marquee - Goldman's product that allows clients to access its SecDB pricing and risk system directly. During the bank's second quarter call, Chavez said Goldman is busy investing in, "digital access, digital formats of many kinds, digital user experiences...giving clients the abilities to plug in directly into our platform through APIs."  The firm is also busy building out its "FAST Team" (Franchise Analytics Strategy and Technology) which is a group of data scientists and engineers whose sole purpose is to turn data into takeaways for traders - using visualizations where necessary.

Suddenly banks' tech jobs don't look so tedious after all.

Meanwhile, there's an increasing body of evidence to suggest that jobs in big technology companies aren't as fancy as you might think. Why is it that so many people only stay at Google only two years? - That so many big names keep leaving Facebook? - That Silicon Valley firms are hiring armies of contractors to try keeping costs down?

More importantly, the more established the big tech firms become, the more that they too have their own legacy systems which you might find yourself staffed upon. Take Michael Lynch, who wrote a blog about quitting Google earlier this year.  The way Lynch told it, his whole time at Google was spent working on a cruddy legacy data pipeline which had been in "maintenance mode" for years and wasn't going to earn him a promotion any time soon.

Equally, big tech firms are now big bureaucracies replete with their own political power players (as per last week's Tweetstorm from former Google designer Morgan Knutson). Sound familiar? Suddenly banks and tech firms are less distinct than you think.

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