Witad Awards 2023: Above and beyond award (end-user)—Lisa Gagarina, Citadel

SWAT teams are elite police tactical response units, often tasked with braving the trickiest and most dangerous situations. So, when Lisa Gagarina describes her team at Citadel as being like a mobile SWAT team, moving between different business units to handle their trickiest technology issues and free up resources, you know she’s not messing around.

She began her career as a full-stack engineer at Victor, a London-based private jet charter company, before joining JP Morgan in 2016 in a similar role before progressing to lead a user interface (UI) team focusing on migrating a system from one language to another.

Now, as an engineering manager at Citadel, she runs a team of around 30 people—up from fewer than 10 when she joined the firm in 2020—focused on solving complex technology problems across the business and on laying a standardized infrastructure foundation so that useful developments can be reused elsewhere by other business lines with a few asset class-specific tweaks, but running on the same recognizable underlying components.

“We already have a really strong foundation at the firm, so our developers are focused on bigger problems now. Traditionally, each business function would have front-end engineers, and they’d have to figure out, for example, how to authenticate, which has nothing to do with that specific business area,” she says. “We hire really smart engineers, and we want that brain power to go toward solving commercial problems, not reinventing the wheel.”

But with a central repository of foundational code—and by converting infrastructure-level platforms from different units to the same code base—developers can more quickly spin up apps for specific functions based on the same building blocks being already used elsewhere in the company. “We’re trying to be efficient about how we do things: How can we improve and build upon what we’ve already done?” she says. “It’s more efficient, it’s less costly, and there’s less risk for the firm.”

The role is more than just technical; when implementing a firm-wide vision like this, there’s a degree of diplomacy involved.

“It takes time to build relationships with each business and help them understand the benefits of our model,” she says. “But the businesses get better results, and they get them faster. They’re also opting in to the long-term support of the system [whereby] all other businesses chip in to maintain the underlying platform, and they see new features being rolled out that have been asked for by other business areas.”

That’s when diplomacy can be replaced by demonstrable results, and when other businesses come to Gagarina’s team, asking if she can build them something similar to what they’ve seen being used in another business unit. “It’s very empowering when we hear that,” she says.

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