COMMENT: Graduate technologists should join banks instead of big tech firms

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Back when I did my internship in London as a computer science student in the mid naughties, banks and larger hedge funds were the clear and obvious choice if you wanted to make decent money with career progression as a software engineer. That is no longer the case. Many software houses like Google, Amazon and Facebook match or offer more than banks do, and even established start-ups offer competitive rates. However, money aside, I think that banks still offer a very good and well-rounded first job experience to would-be programmers.

Banking technology jobs will give you exposure to end users

One of the key differentiators is the exposure you get to users in a bank or fund. If you’re in a line of business role, chances are you will have the opportunity to interact and build relationships with your users. 

Dealing with traders who may lose money due to bad software does wonders for your communication skills. You will get immediate feedback on your work and see the impact technology has on the business. Of course, you may be placed in a Core team where this may not happen, but those teams have their own advantages.

Banking technology jobs will teach you to work with legacy code

In your career as a developer you will have to work with code that is deemed legacy due to the original contributors no longer being around, a lack of quality, or the technology itself becoming unsupported. Understanding, maintaining and uplifting legacy code is a valuable skill in of itself and banks provide plenty of work in this area. This is not something you get exposure to at university or at early stage start-ups.

Banking technology jobs will give you exposure to a broad range of roles and colleagues

The industry-wide gender imbalance aside, technologists at banks are a diverse bunch. You will work with people from all over the world, with different backgrounds and ways of doing things. Learning to get along and work with all sorts of different people is an important skill, and that extends to the business where things like the gender imbalance aren’t so pronounced.

The roles available are also diverse with banks hiring in many different areas of technology. Whatever area of technology you’re interested in chances are there is a team that is doing it. You’ll be able to move around internally with relative ease – and many programmes still offer some sort of role rotation for their graduates.

Banking technology jobs offer an opportunity to work on exciting modernisation projects

Whilst banks are continually held back by functional complexity, they are trying to go full steam ahead on digitisation and automation. This is leading to some interesting opportunities and different ways of working you wouldn’t typically associate with a corporate entity.

Tech stacks are in a much better place now than they were when I started out. Teams usually have a good continuous integration and deployment workflows, and many develop in to date technologies like React and Kotlin. Rich client applications built in .NET are generally being uplifted to the Web, and banks are even doing things like creating their own design language with specialist UX teams.

Banks have structured training programs with networking opportunities 

Technology internship and graduate schemes at banks are highly structured with training programmes in both technical and soft skills. When I did my year-long internship, we had to do a group presentation per month to senior leaders on a topic assigned to us by HR. This meant that by the end of the year we were very comfortable in putting together slick presentations with not much effort or rehearsal. 

The technology intern and graduate classes are usually tight knit groups. You make lifelong friends and I’ve even seen a few marriages result as well. These are people that will be a lifeline for future job opportunities when the class start to move out and around the industry.

So, there are plenty of reasons to still consider banks and larger funds. I would still choose to start my career in a bank due to the wealth of skills (particularly non-technical) I picked up. It’s true that once you hit associate you’re underpaid so at that point it may be time to move on, but banks seem to be doing something about that as well.

John Ball is the pseudonym of a senior technologist at a U.S. investment bank

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