Applying your technical knowledge in a role in finance

How what you're learning is useful to employers and how to make the most of it
Applications and interviews

If you want to carve out a career in technology at some of the world's biggest investment banks and professional services firms you'll need a good academic background and a technology-related degree such as computer science, maths, engineering or physics.

Although there aren't necessarily any mandatory technical skills, you'll be expected to be fluent with the fundamentals of IT such as programming, databases and system architecture. On top of this, there are a number of other steps you can take while you're still at university to make sure you're developing into an excellent potential employee in a technology in finance role.

The knowledge you need

When you first start out in technology in finance, most of what you'll be expected to do will be coding, data modelling and database work. This means you need to have a strong foundational knowledge of data modelling methodologies and database management, as well as a solid understanding of one or more of the mainstream programming languages like Java, C#, C++ and SQL.

When it comes to coding, "you should have a view on the pros and cons of the languages you use, as well as an understanding of what is good programming practice and what isn't," says Alex Stepney, Lead Architect at RBC Capital Markets. It's also a good idea to try and find out what programming languages are being used where you're applying, as it'll help you understand what level of knowledge employers are looking for and whether you might fit in.

Don't worry too much if an employer you want to work for is using languages you're not familiar with - having a good knowledge of one language often means you can learn others relatively quickly, and many employers will provide support to help you do so.

The experience you need

The best way to really stand out from the crowd and develop a strong understanding of what you'll need to work in finance is to apply your knowledge and gain experience.

"While we want you to be able to talk technical, we also want you to talk about your experiences with technology and how you've used it," says Antony Eggington, Managing Director at BlackRock. "It's the people who have more than theoretical knowledge that tend to float to the top of our interview rankings."

That means you should really be testing your knowledge of algorithms by building programmes and software, or even designing databases, in order to put some practical meat on your theoretical bones.

Getting experience now will also improve the standard of your work once you start your role. Says Jason Bell, Associate at KPMG: "When you go into the workplace, you have to put all that theoretical knowledge into practice - you can no longer hide things and your work has to be resilient."

What you can do now to get ahead?

Do an internship

An internship is the best way by far to get some practical experience and build your knowledge about the kind of technology you'll be working with in finance. That technical experience you gain can also be put to good use in your degree. In addition, many former interns are hired onto the following year's graduate scheme.

Choose your modules wisely

Whether you're studying computer science, engineering or mathematics, it's important to think strategically about the modules you study in order to strengthen your application.

For example, algorithm-related modules are particularly useful as they'll prepare you for problem-solving activities in a technology in finance role, helping you plan out solutions that will address the task efficiently. In addition, any mathematics part of your degree in general will be particularly useful, especially when working in pricing.

Jason, who studied computer science at the University of Birmingham, suggests taking a module in business or economics: "I think a module like that would have given me some different perspectives on the problems we tackle."