Building software and developing a career | Technology on The Gateway

Building software and developing a career

Application developer Ben Farrall and trainee Ken Syme explain the exciting opportunities available to graduates at innovative asset management firm Baillie Gifford

Asset management firm Baillie Gifford describes itself as "information-led", relying on state-of-the-art technology to be a competitive force in the financial sector. At the heart of this focus on technology are the developers responsible for designing and building applications for the rest of the business, enabling them to make the best possible investments with their clients' money.

"We're in charge of the whole lifecycle of software development," explains application developer Ben Farrall, a process which begins by researching the needs of users and ends by providing support to them once the software is ready to use.

Once a project is completed, Ben and the other application developers move on to tackling their next challenge and the responsibility for technical support passes on to the firm's support desk.

"The idea is you start a project, build or maintain it, and then move onto the next one. You're always kept in the loop though, just in case a problem develops in the future. Your contribution is never forgotten."

Experience not required

Ben joined Baillie Gifford's technology team after studying computer science at university for four years. However, he's quick to point out that such a background isn't necessary to work in this area of the firm.

"I was able to transfer some of the core skills and fundamentals I learnt at university, but starting at Baillie Gifford has very much been a clean slate," says Ben. "It's a case of adapting what you know to fit a new skillset. For instance, at university I was mostly using Java but here we predominantly use C#. The transfer between the two is quite straightforward but it's given me a new skill."

Trainee developer Ken Syme joined Baillie Gifford with no experience in computer science but found the firm's internal training system did a fantastic job of bringing him up to speed. "They get everyone to the same level which was really appealing," says Ken. "At no point was it assumed I would know something already, which was good as it meant I was told everything I needed to know."

In the thick of it

After his initial training, Ken found himself placed onto a project straight away, as he became partly responsible for an application to be used by the firm's settlement team. "I had no idea about the settlement process when I joined that project so had to learn about it," says Ken. "We were building a dashboard that would display all their trades and the settlement process. It's probably the most technical financial application I've worked on so far."

Since then, Ken has worked on web projects, writing tutorials for the department on web development, and on a relationship management system to be used internally to ensure clients are given the best possible customer service. This range of projects demonstrates the variety trainees at Baillie Gifford get to experience, from small-scale improvements to large-scale overhauls.

Ben tells us about a project he worked on for the firm's legal department. "They needed an application that would allow them to better maintain their daily workloads," he says. "We had to transfer them from using huge, cumbersome spreadsheets to a more automated, user-friendly system."

"In total, the process took somewhere between eight months and a year. We predominantly use .NET development so we used Microsoft WinForms to make it. By the end we had a system that made their jobs more streamlined and helped them become more productive."

Understanding finance

Although neither Ben nor Ken arrived at Baillie Gifford with a great deal of financial knowledge, they both feel the firm has done a good job of educating them on the essential information required for them to do their jobs.

"If you work on a project which is very based in finance, you do need to know some background knowledge as it helps you develop quicker and better," says Ben. "There's less confusion when you understand the background behind what you're working on."

As well as running various training courses throughout the year, the graduate programme at the firm includes the Investment Operations Certificate (IOC), a three-module qualification covering some of the background fundamentals in finance. Although it's not compulsory, both Ken and Ben recommend it highly.

Baillie Gifford also encourages frequent interaction between the technology and finance sides of the business, with investment managers encouraged to meet the developers behind the software they use. "We have routine meetings in the morning as part of the development lifecycle," says Ben, "and they're an opportunity for people within the firm to come and ask questions about the project."

To help trainees build their financial knowledge, the firm also runs a dummy investment game within the technology department. "Investment managers come and talk to us every quarter about their investment strategies and then we have a website where we simulate investments," explains Ken. "It's interesting to learn about the terminology investors use and how various things work together. It brings us up to speed on the investment side of the business."

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