Interview with Martin Chu: An Investment Bank Software Engineer

Welcome to the fifth feature on The Entrance Series, where you get to take an inside look into different industries and professions. In case you are a first-time reader, we have covered areas including sales, finance, solutions development, and data science so far. In the past few years, software engineering and the IT sector as a whole has been gaining consistent popularity due to the increasing demand of talents, and businesses ramping up on their execution to innovate and automate.

This week, join us together with Martin Chu who takes us through his journey so far working as a Software Engineer after graduating from the University of Waterloo with a degree in Computer Science and Finance.


OpenDoors: We often see people who work in software engineering/ development at startups and technology companies share their experience, but not so much for those at investment banks. Tell us more about it! Martin: I work on the asset management side at my company, which sells funds to institution clients or retail customers. For my role specifically, the team that I’m part of oversees the whole equity trading platform for our traders, helping them execute trades at the prices raised by Portfolio Managers (PM), as well as other software that traders use, such as Bloomberg. We are a global team of around 20 software engineers that supports the three biggest trading desks across the globe — Hong Kong, London, and New York, and our software has tailored features for each desk.

One of our main goals is to to make it as simple as possible for traders to do their jobs and to automate some parts of the process - financial institutions and software engineers have been building systems that requires less and less manual driving, which is why we’ve also seen a quite significant drop in traders’ headcount over the past 10 years. Apart from that, there is also a performance-enhancing aspect, where we make sure that the technology that we are using is up-to-date and meet certain standards/ metrics, as well as a cost-saving aspect where we find solutions to make sure that we don’t pay technical debt (the result of prioritizing speedy delivery over perfect code in software development) by turning off things we don’t need and consolidate and simplify the whole stack of tech, because when you stop buying licenses or turn off servers, that’s a lot of costs saved.


OpenDoors: How important is financial literacy or knowledge of financial markets to job performance as a software engineer? Martin: For my current job, not much knowledge on finance is required in general. Your software engineering skill is the most important skill to perform well at the job, and usually no finance-related questions are asked at all during job interviews. I think it is important, though, to consider your own career path in the long run and then decide whether you should be committing some time to learn about finance. Personally, I’m working towards my goal of becoming a quantitative developer or a high-frequency trader, which is why I’m studying for CFA level 2 in my own time to better prepare myself for that.


OpenDoors: What’s one misconception people usually have about software developers? Martin: I think a lot of people have the false impression that coding skills is the only thing that matters. They also tend to underestimate the amount of communication that needs to be done, and the overall importance of communication for software engineers. Especially in a corporate environment, where projects are executed by a team and there are many interdependencies between software engineers and also alignment to be done with tech/ project leads on the tasks to be completed, and project timelines etc.

To be a great software engineer, you will also need to be able to absorb information well, and transfer your knowledge to the team effectively.


OpenDoors: Expanding on your point about communication — what’s one suggestion that could help in this regard?

Martin: I always go into meetings and call with a game plan in the form of a simple mind map of all the points I want to talk about. Especially now with communications being done mostly through digital channels, it is crucial for everyone for get their point across so the whole team can be on the same page.


OpenDoors: We can see that you’re very passionate about your role and the industry that you’re in, but very few people find work that they actually enjoy. How did you manage to do that?

Martin: I would say the process of elimination has definitely helped narrow my options, and allowed me to learn more about the kind of work that I enjoy by first understanding what I don’t particularly like. At Waterloo, where I did my undergraduate degree, there is a co-op system which required us to do internships for credits in order to graduate. There, I’ve done 7 internships in total — involving investment operations, mutual funds, project management etc. It was a challenging experience, but it definitely gave myself a pretty good sense of what I wanted to do based on those experiences, at least for immediate next steps right after I graduate.


Get in touch with Martin: LinkedIn| Instagram

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