Monday, July 6, 2015

TT: The Next Generation...of Interns

TT interns grab some snacks from the kitchen and socialize at the Chicago headquarters.  

I’m just now starting my second month as a summer intern at TT, and to be honest, my experience was not what I originally anticipated.

To my surprise, I walked into a corporate playground—an oxymoron filled with unlimited snacks, any and every beverage you could ever dream of, an extensive game room, and—get this—a bar. I then got to my desk, which was adorned with yet more snacks and a picture of Eric Estrada (I, as a college student, admittedly had to ask who he was) awaiting my arrival. To say I was taken aback by everything was an understatement. And I was a little uncomfortable as I was the only one in the building wearing a blazer.

This all made me a little apprehensive as I was acclimated to a more corporate environment in past internships and experiences. I honestly questioned how people got work done with so many distractions—let alone how they stayed healthy with bagels every morning and Doritos at arms reach. That is until I actually started working and met the people I would be working with.

I soon realized that every employee was intently working all day, and that the unusual environment actually instilled this innovation and efficiency. At TT, we are working in a rapidly evolving industry and making radical changes on a weekly basis. Therefore, it is important that we work in an atmosphere that facilitates creativity and keeps employee satisfaction high. The expression “work hard, play hard” had never made so much sense.

Ladies and Gents, Please Join Me in Welcoming…

Now let's talk about the interns considering that, well, I am one of them. Excluding myself, there are eight other interns at TT this summer working in a variety of departments in Chicago.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Talking Trading and FinTech @TechweekCHI

Last week TT had the opportunity to speak at the 5th annual Techweek Chicago conference at the Merchandise Mart. Every year, Techweek brings the hottest startups, VCs, developers and tech companies in the area to showcase their stories, ideas and best practices, as well as tout themselves to recruiting talent. This year, one of the most anticipated (and subsequently one of the best-attended) sessions was that on FinTech.

FinTech has gained a lot of traction lately in the consumer space with companies like Betterment, Ameritrade’s Think or Swim and one of the Techweek presenters, Dough. Technically, much innovation has gone into the user experience to help generate consumers’ acceptance and adoption of “do-it-yourself” investing and banking.

TT's CTO Drew Shields, EVP Human Resources Katie Burgoon, CEO Rick Lane
and CMO Brian Mehta on stage at Techweek Chicago 2015.
Of course, with us focusing on the professional trader, TT’s take was very different. Fortunately we had the audience’s attention with the topic "Out of the Pits, into the Future."

Back when TT was founded 21 years ago, the pits were alive and well, bustling with activity and looking like what some of us recall from movies such as Ferris Bueller’s Day Off or Trading Places. Katie Burgoon, our EVP of HR, recalled her first experiences in the pits as loud, raucous, and probably where everything that you were taught in school was thrown out the window.

But things got done—markets were made and liquidy was driven effectively through the pits. Our CEO, Rick Lane, talked of how he was introduced to the futures pits nearly 10 years ago. He also found the experience both intimidating and exciting. Enough so, he jumped into the industry and started working on what ultimately would be ADL®—a plug-and-play automated trading tool for traders who don’t code but want to employ algo trading strategies.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Great Talent Knows No Bounds

One of the greatest challenges of running a technology company—particularly when you’re not located on a coast and your name isn’t Google, Microsoft, Amazon or Facebook—is talent acquisition. Sure, TT faces plenty of other challenges as a technology provider in capital markets: our industry has had a tumultuous few years which have seen contraction, corruption and regulatory uncertainty; the only recently abating race toward zero latency was a story of significant capital expenditure as much as it was engineering ingenuity; the benefits that technology has brought to the trading world have often been overshadowed by its high-profile failures.

TT employees gather at the Chicago headquarters.
But the challenges we face running a technology business in this space are no match for the difficulty of building and maintaining a recruiting pipeline of the brightest minds. And when your people are more important than your product—after all, without the former, you'll never have the latter—this is a challenge that requires the utmost attention from the highest levels of an organization.

Finding success at this is as much a function of TT being an amazing place to work as it is finding the right people in the first place. Which is why I recently made several organizational changes to better focus the business, including appointing Katie Burgoon as EVP of HR, Drew Shields as CTO and Mike Mayhew as CIO. Together with them, I will be doubling down our focus on recruiting efforts, ensuring that we’re leaving no stone unturned in finding the best people and that TT is sought after by the best as a great place to work

Expanding Our Search

In the better part of the last decade, Chicago has seen a real ascent toward becoming a city where technology isn’t an afterthought. In addition to many of the familiar Silicon Valley names setting up shop here, we’ve had a booming—and well documented—startup culture emerge, with the help of 1871 and the like. As one of Chicago’s more mature tech companies, we at TT are thrilled to see the influx of talent seeking out our home as a destination for exciting technology work. But while the talent pool in Chicago is growing, naturally so too is the competition. It's recently become clear that in order to continue finding the best and the brightest, we'd have to expand our search beyond the Midwest.

We've had longstanding relationships with the country's best schools by virtue of our TT CampusConnect™ program. And while this has been an incredibly successful program by all measures, it was not originally intended to be an arm of our recruiting efforts. Within the last two years, however, we've made it a point to specifically recruit from schools across the country that are part of this program, both for internships as well as full-time hires. In the computer science and finance departments, we're already a household name at many of these institutions, so it made sense to tap into these relationships to find students who have already shown an interest in the markets.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Speaking In Code Part 1: The Female Perspective on Life in Technology

As head of HR at TT, I like to think we make a concerted effort to stay on top of important workforce issues in the news, whether those topics have surfaced at TT or in the greater tech industry. And one of the biggest topics of debate right now, at least in our industry, is that of women in tech. Or more specifically, the lack of women in the technology industry, particularly in engineering and leadership roles.

Much of the news is negative, unfortunately. In the past few months alone, you haven’t had to look hard to find discouraging headlines, whether on a national scale (Why are women leaving the tech industry in droves?) or specific to Chicago (1871 won't launch delayed women-in-tech vertical as an incubator). Of course, most working in tech probably don’t need a headline to tell them that—just by doing the “eye test” at industry events, it’s easy to see that women are vastly outnumbered.

But it’s not just about numbers, either—it’s about whether if we, as an industry, see women as equal to men. With Techweek Chicago approaching, we’re reminded of last year’s controversy, when the conference sent out invitations deemed to be sexist and emblematic of the problem by many in the community. It could be a chicken-or-egg question, determining whether a sexist culture has developed because of a lack of women, or if that culture has in fact led to the lack of women. It may be a bit of both, but either way it’s an issue.

That said, there is good news too. Last month, Crain’s highlighted ThoughtWorks, a Chicago-based company that has found a great deal of success with women in technical jobs. I recently had a great time at the ITA Women in Tech Poker Night, where I met many women making a difference in Chicago tech, and I read this inspiring piece on Sonja Khan, who is interning at Facebook this summer and loving computer science.