Developing your own future in financial technology

Application developer Ben Farrall and trainee Ken Syme explain the important role played by technology graduates at asset management firm Baillie Gifford
Technology at an asset management firm

While it's common for asset management firms to have a long-term perspective in their approach to investments, Baillie Gifford stand out by extending this long-term approach to their employees. Understanding that stability is important for both their business and their clients, the Edinburgh-based firm invest heavily in their graduates as they are seen as the future leaders of the business.

"They're really focused on bringing you up to speed as quickly as possible on the Developer skill set." explains application developer Ben Farrall. "University taught me particular core skills and fundamentals but a lot of that has been reinforced by the training here and I expect that to continue throughout my career."

Although Ben studied computer science at university, he is far from a typical technology graduate at Baillie Gifford. The firm welcome applications from a diverse range of students, emphasising that having a passionate interest in technology is far more important than having studied for a particular degree.

For example, Ken Syme studied electrical and electronic engineering at university before joining the firm as a trainee. "One of the main things I found appealing about Baillie Gifford is that I didn't have to have studied computer science or be a developer," says Ken. "Instead, they start you from scratch and bring everyone in your intake up to the same level of understanding. At no point do they assume you know something, which is good as it means you're told everything you need to know."

At the centre of everything

In total, Baillie Gifford offer three graduate programmes: information systems, investment operations and investment management. Despite the clear differences between the three in terms of the job you're doing, graduates are encouraged to network and build connections outside of their own intake stream. This is especially useful for IT graduates who can use these contacts to learn what the end users of the projects they're working on actually require.

This spirit of interaction and collaboration is vital to ensuring the development process for projects is as agile as possible. Daily meetings are held throughout a project's lifecycle allowing the business to stay informed. "Business people are encouraged to meet the technology people who are designing their software," explains Ben.

As well as encouraging the sharing of information between areas of the firm, Baillie Gifford also rotates technology staff between projects in order to share their expertise around. Not only is this extremely helpful to graduates seeking to build a broad knowledge base, it also ensures no project or team becomes reliant on one particular person.

"Once you join a project, you start working on things straight away," says Ken. "On one of my first projects I did pair programming and picked up things from other team members who were always willing to help me get up to speed, as I worked alongside them.

Improving the business

Moving between projects and areas of work also allows technology graduates to learn more about how the business side of the firm operates. "If you're working on something fairly integral to the business - software for portfolio maintenance, for example - you'll need to know in some detail about the information your software needs to display," explains Ben.

One knowledge development initiative the whole department was involved in this year was a virtual trading game which helped you better understand the business. "To complement the game, different investors gave talks every quarter about their specialist investment strategies," says Ken. "We then have a website where we simulate investments. It's been quite interesting to learn the terminology investors use and how various things work together."

Insights into the world of business prove particularly useful given that the majority of technology projects at the firm are focused on improving business processes. Ben talked us through one of his first projects with the firm: task management software for the firm's legal department.

"Our aim was to transfer them from using existing cumbersome spreadsheets onto a more automated and friendly system. A couple of other graduates and I worked alongside senior technology staff on building a solution, a process that took between eight months and a year. We predominantly use .NET development here so we used Microsoft WinForms to make this application for them, which allowed them to input their daily workload and maintain it easily. Not only has it helped them be more productive, it's also reduced the level of risk in their jobs."

The next big thing

Unsurprisingly for a company where 20 per cent of employees work in technology roles, innovation and cutting-edge technologies are wholeheartedly embraced by everyone within the firm. "There's always a push towards looking for new ideas and trying to incorporate stuff that's newer and better," says Ben.

This desire to evolve its technology has led the firm to trial beta versions of software from a number of leading technology companies and feed back in to their overall product development. The firm also regularly sends employees to attend global technology events, with one head of department even travelling to Silicon Valley every year to pick up new ideas.

"It benefits everyone because they bring that extra knowledge back," explains Ben. "Employees come back from conferences with all these ideas and then it's a case of picking and choosing what will fit best into our business. It demonstrates how significant an investment Baillie Gifford has in technology."

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