What Gets You Out of Bed: Money? Ego? Happiness? An Alarm Clock?

Do you want to be a big fish in a small pond, or the opposite?

Anthony Malakian, US editor, Waters & WatersTechnology.com

If you're lucky in life, and you've worked hard and have also found some luck, then you're hopefully in a position where you can pick your profession and find a job that makes you happy.

I love being a journalist. I've turned down larger salaries from PR companies because I enjoy being a reporter and think I would lose my mind pitching other reporters. (I almost feel bad for the flaks that have to deal with me...almost.) I don't have ambitions of making a ton of money and then one day retiring; I hope to work until I'm 80 ─ granted, by that point, it would probably be freelance ─ and then keel over and die while writing my 10th book about great Armenian boxers.

So I've found a profession that I love. But, there are still choices to be made. Is this the right publication for me? (I've been here for six years and have no desire to leave...but it's a question that always should be asked.) Is the topic right for me? (I'm a sports-reporter-turned-technology reporter, which is weird.) Am I getting paid enough? (Is it EVER enough?!) Do I enjoy what I'm doing, or would I find it more fulfilling to move into another role inside of Incisive? (I always think that I can do sales' job better than they can, but the reality is that the magazine would likely shutter within six months of me taking over.)

I write words. I'm happy with that. But I bring this think-piece to the fore because of two features that appeared in the January issue of Waters. First, the cover story. My colleague Dan DeFrancesco profiled Mike Madigan, chief technology officer at high-frequency-trading shop WH Trading.

Madigan has spent 15 years at the Chicago-based firm and has built the prop-trading shop's technology from the ground up. I'm sure he's been wooed by larger institutions, but he finds contentment in having complete control over the WH's IT. Big fish; small pond.

"I told the entire division when I first started, and I still say it, that if you want to be a software developer you need to go and work at Google." John Shea

From the piece:

Fast forward to the present day and the majority of WH Trading's technology, including the back office, is done in-house. Madigan admits that his desire to avoid vendors might come down to an attachment to the technology. This is, after all, his baby. He has developed all the firm's trading applications. When you've been tweaking and upgrading a system for over a decade, you tend not to want a third party to meddle with it.

But it's more than just an emotional attachment to models and platforms, according to Madigan. There is no way the firm could get the customization it has now by outsourcing the development.

"Our developers come out and sit here with the traders and talk about the features they want," he explains. "We have a meeting every month with the two main owners where we sit and talk about what we need and the problems the traders are having. There is a direct connection, a very open channel, between the developers and the traders. I think at the end of the day, we get a better product that really gives these guys the functionality that they want."

You Wanted Google, Not Wall Street

On the flipside, and also for the January issue, John Brazier wrote a feature looking at the challenges of sun-setting legacy systems.

For the piece he spoke with John Shea of Eaton Vance. Before we get into what he said, I'd like to first note that I've spoken with John on several occasions and he's an incredibly smart man. If it has to do with technology, he's going to be well informed. Hell, he's a former submarine officer and nuclear engineer.

Differing from WH Trading, Shea has overseen a consolidation program at Eaton Vance. This has included retiring 40-plus sales systems and refreshing them with new systems from SAP.

But what I found most interesting was what he said about the expectations he has for development inside the organization: "When I started in this job nine years ago, we had a lot of home-grown development that I focused on consolidating through off-the-shelf technologies. I told the entire division when I first started, and I still say it, that if you want to be a software developer you need to go and work at Google."

Show Me The Talent

The talent acquisition story is one that has been told many times in my six years here at Waters, and it will continue to be a topic of conversation for decades to come. It's a subject that CIOs and CTOs like to talk about. The physical world is becoming digitized; automation is the raison d'être for most capital markets institutions.

So I find it interesting for Shea to say that if you want to be a software developer, you should go work for Google. Again, there are few opinions that I respect more when it comes to technology than Shea's. And it should be noted that Eaton Vance ─ under Shea's oversight ─ builds a fair amount of proprietary technology; he just has to pick and choose his battles.

As the talent battle builds, though, young developers will have to ask themselves, "What kind of company do I want to work for?" These are the decisions we have to make in life. Would you rather work for a prop-trading shop or an asset manager with over $300 billion under management? Or a vendor that produces bleeding-edge technology? Or do you want to go to the Dark Side and work at a monolithic bank?

Or...does none of this really matter? Just get your money so that you can get rich and retire at 60? If we're lucky, we all have choices to make in life.

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