Long time no see, I got behind on all of my London blog posts a bit! I’m currently back in Seattle and adjusting back to the U.S. lifestyle. I’m already nostalgic for London, and writing about my time there is definitely hitting the spot. In a lot of ways, I feel like it was time for me to go home and be satisfied with what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen, but at the same time, I’ll always feel like there’s an endless list of things to do in London.
Today is all about my third week of company visits though! I’ve been learning quite a lot about a number of things through these company visits – I hope my detailed posts have taught you a thing or two. During this past week, we visited Barclays, ARM, F5, Pitchbook, and Vix Technology.
The Barclays building was quite fancy, which I really enjoyed. We were seated in a lecture-style room (with complimentary tea, coffee, and cookies, mind you!). We first had their CTO, Brad Novak, come in and speak with us. I was amazed at how our program managed to get their CTO to come speak to a group of university students – that was insane! Barclays was so generous in doing so.
Novak started off by introducing himself: graduated from Cornell with a degree in CS and Barclays was his third bank in his career. Future changes in the coming years at Barclays include increased regulation and jurisdiction, a changing legal structure, and overall everything becoming more complicated. He summarized Barclays as being a diversified global equity firm. I thought it was really interesting when he started breaking down exactly all the components of Barclays. I didn’t realize how big it is! I was particularly fascinated when he broke down the wholesale and international sector. The wealth business includes individual (private wealth), corporate, and investment banking (large customers). The investment banking sector includes large hedge and pension funds, banking services, and providing research and advice.
Barriers to entry are high because it’s so expensive to obtain the FINtech. Barclays is, in fact, moving toward Cloud (AWS and Azure), which is always an interesting conversation starter. Novak stated that they anticipate using machine learning for algorithmic trading. FINtech is actually how Barclays stays innovated: there are startups that help Barclays and they decide to invest in tech that they think will be huge in the future and get rid of the old tech. For the upcoming Cloud use, Novak coined Barclays as a “tech company with a balance sheet”, which I thought was a fantastic way to describe Barclays and help me understand what they are really after. He mentioned how it was because of the change in leadership at Barclays that the Cloud was able to happen.
One thing I learned about was blockchain – I hadn’t known anything about what that was. It’s new technology that allows for anonymity, permissioned ledgers, and an overall inexpensive way to solve problems. I’m definitely going to keep my eyes peeled for that term in the tech and business industry from now on.
I was excited to ask my question regarding if Barclays purchases their FINtech more or produces their own. Novak replied saying that Barclays more often develops their own FINtech because purchasing is for smaller financial institutions. With vendors, if it’s too customized, it’s hard to upgrade. Barclays is large enough to have their own tech team to produce their own FINtech.
The next speaker to come in was a man named John Evans, who is the Associate Director of Escrow. This guy was young – I was amazed at his experience and knowledge of credit risk and time at Barclays overall. He focused his part of the presentation on the technicalities of FINtech, which is where I got a little lost, but I still learned a lot. He started off by explaining how the rumor of FINtech and startups are “replacing” banks, which isn’t true. It’s more about the startups being ambitious, but Barclays will likely collaborate with startups and legacy instead of being swept under. There’s always the possibility that Barclays will start acquiring startups to expand their FINtech.
I was grateful when he explained what Escrow is: it’s transactional banking, where a neutral third party holds assets between two parties during the interim period. The funds are visibly there for both parties, and it levels the playing field. From the rest of the presentation, it seems like there is going to be a lot of uncertainty. With Brexit – uncertain negotiations. The M&A market being slow – uncertain, decrease in collaboration.
Evans ended his presentation talking about how millennials want change, and how Barclays is preparing for the integration of millennial employees. I really enjoyed hearing about how there is a junior leadership team that corresponds between top management in order to stay connected as a whole company and to start investigating potential change.
Our last speaker for Barclays was David Scola, head of financial institutions. He was probably the most engaging speaker, just because he wasn’t as formal and was a great storyteller in terms of his unique background. He has experience working at the Bank of New York and Deutsche Bank, but currently at Barclays, he is a relationship manager and works with other banks, who are his clients. He sells transaction services and trade finance.
With Scola, we delved deeper into the FINtech discussion. He explained how old systems are expensive since coding is complicated and less well-known as the tech team is now well-versed in updated tech. Supporting legacy systems is better then investing in new tech. I liked that he went back to discussing innovation at Barclays, just because I think it’s interesting to see how banking firms remain creative. He mentioned how they utilize labs and accelerators – sort of like incubators – to provide space for startups to develop the FINtech; it’s an opportunity for intellectual property growth.
We asked him about how Brexit will affect Barclays, and he stated “assume the worst, hope for the best”, which I think is honestly the best approach that all businesses in the UK should strive for. Barclays will lose access to the European continent obviously and their capital will have to move, but they are a global bank. They do have many locations they can move to. Overall, more isolation for the UK is looking bad since it’ll drive costs up and increases trade barriers. However, Brexit is an opportunity to update things – they’re forced to make changes.
I really enjoyed Scola as a speaker, and I was happy to ask him about if he felt that his expectations of personal growth have been met or exceeded since coming to Barclays from such a prestigious bank such as Deutsche. He answered saying that he’s become very open-minded and able to adapt to opportunities, so yes. I am overall satisfied with the company visit to Barclays because they were extremely thorough in explaining and answering our questions. While the visit was a little long, it was informative and definitely enjoyable.
The next company visit was at ARM in Cambridge, London. ARM has to be the most unexpected and interesting company visit for me. We were first presented about what ARM does as a company. They are a chip business with a focus in intellectual property. They design processors, technologies, and software. It is all licensed and they don’t fabricate. We learned about the history of ARM and how it started off as Acorn in the 1980s, and broke through when Nokia and Texas Instruments used ARM processors. ARM processors are found in phones to all digital technologies. My main takeaway from ARM is probably the fact that what they do is in our daily items that we all use. I love knowing and being aware of what’s at the root of what we utilize on a daily basis. I hate taking things for granted, so I think visiting ARM was a good way to remind myself of the people hard at work producing these processors to make our lives easier.
Things got really interesting when one of the professionals showed us a video about singularity. Basically, the internet of things + artificial intelligence = singularity. Everything will be reshaped by AI, and it’s going to be the “next big thing”. The “Cambrian Explosion” of the human race will improve mankind by being able to predict the future, eliminate car accidents, and increase life expectancy to more than 100 years old. It was freaky – we got into a huge existential discussion about if we think technology will become smarter than humanity. I asked a clarifying question about how exactly it will be able to “predict the future”, are we talking clairvoyance?? Thankfully, predicting the future just consists of using an accumulation of past data to predict the future.
ARM presented a bit on bridging the education gap between schooling and the workforce, which I thought was interesting. I think they spent a little too long on explaining all the education programs they have, but I thought the discussion on the implications was great. I didn’t even think about the socioeconomic consequences of failure to mitigating lack of tech knowledge. Overall, the visit to ARM was really intriguing because of the unexpected turn into a philosophical and existential discussion, and it also made me appreciate these companies who create and build things that are in our everyday products, but just aren’t as visible from the outside.
The next company we visited was F5 Technologies. Their office itself was fascinating: at the reception desk, there was a glass encasement of all their functioning products on display. We eventually moved into their conference room, which was so cool. It was like a lecture-style classroom, but every two people had their own screens – it’s actually called a Polycomm room, which cost them about half a million dollars.
The presentation started off with Alastair sharing about his experience of 21 years in IT and his experience at Threecom. I thought it was great that he emphasized how culture fit was important at F5. When I hear “tech firm”, I never think of culture fit, just because it always seems like technical skill is more important. Especially with their new CEO starting in April 2017 though, culture fit seems more crucial than ever. I wish I had asked how their new CEO has brought about cultural changes or improvements since joining, but it seems like the biggest change so far has been his knowledge of a Cloud background and being able to bring that into F5.
We furthered the discussion about culture by asking Alastair what the defining qualities are that he looks for when hiring someone onto the team, and he mentioned looking for someone who has skillsets that would make a difference to the team, someone who can sit in front of any role in an organization and relate. Being flexible and credible, and being a “bank of goodwill”. This had me thinking: would I be able to sit in front of any role in an organization and be comfortable? I think it’s a skill I’m still developing, to not be intimidated by top management, but I’m more conscious of it now.
Then we met Andy from Seattle! I was expecting to hear from a remote speaker at F5 on Skype call on a laptop screen or something, but when Andy’s face appeared on the entire wall in front of us, I was amazed. It was so clear and apparently, the sound picks up impeccably. The conference room he was sitting in was identical to ours, so it was like he was literally in the room with us. He is alumni from my university so it was great speaking to him. He was very funny, even recommending us a few places to hit up in London before starting his portion of the discussion. Andy specializes in DDOS (distributed denial of services), which protects users from malicious attacks that deny use to your site or service. DDOS attacks are particularly harmful to e-commerce sites because they lose revenue quickly and sometimes even reputation.
F5 applies intelligence in between servers and the internet and look at the traffic to apply mitigations. DDOS is very easy to amplify for big servers, and the proxy sits in between the user and the server. When Andy started talking about encryption, my ears perked up because I remember learning about data encryption and security in my informatics class last year. Andy told us about the Silverline technology that they acquired. When organizations go under attack spontaneously, they can provide that service within a few hours to mitigate the attack. He also told us about Honeypot, which are intentionally vulnerable machines that attract attacks so they can analyze and observe new attacks. This was super fascinating to me, but even more so when they did a demonstration on the screens of a malware attack. It definitely freaked us all out, because of things like how attackers are now targeting CRM and LinkedIn because of similar passwords, where and what you plug your phone charger matters because you could physically infect your phone with malware.
I highly enjoyed the visit to F5 – they gave us free notebooks and pens and the people were just overall very knowledgeable and easy to talk to. One thing I realized and found hard to accomplish at all company visits is figuring out when a good time to ask my question is. I wasn’t anticipating for this to be a problem, but it has rung true at almost all company visits. For example, when I have a management/personal question, it seems awkward asking it after someone just asked about a technical question. It’s hard to maintain a flow of questions among everyone, and to be able to read if jumping from one subject to the next is awkward for the presenter.
Next up is Pitchbook. We had 4-5 speakers, all of which were men. Up to this point, we’ve mostly had only men speak to us, which makes me a little sad because that just goes to show that we need more women in tech. It’s almost always the women at reception who take us to the male presenters. Anyway – the speakers at Pitchbook were great though. They all came from different parts of the world: Hungary, Germany, UK, US… Pitchbook is basically a platform that aggregates companies’ data. Anything you need to know about a company, from their C-suite contact info to M&A news. I quickly learned that this company’s product would be extremely beneficial for business students partaking in business case competitions. It’s a treasure chest of information!
The Pitchbook employees spent some time explaining the customer success process, and how they retain and upsell clients, etc. One question I wish I had asked was what kind of factors contribute to a client declining a renewal, and how Pitchbook executes a successful negotiation in order to retain their clients year to year.
I thought it was particularly intriguing when they talked about their locations around the world and how each city serves a different purpose. For example, their India location does most of their research, and the Ukraine office is for developing the platform. Pitchbook provides an abundant amount of information; they told us that there are 600k + web crawlers and they use the natural language process as well as specialized data teams to get the primary research done. That’s huge!
Particularly relevant to me was seeing the application within the accounting realm. Accounting and law firms use Pitchbook in order to source new clients, better advise clients on industry standards, and to help identify potential sponsors.
Looking ahead with Pitchbook, I’m amazed by what this startup has become. I think my biggest takeaway was being able to see what a successful startup looks like. They were just acquired by Morningstar, but they aren’t looking to see any drastic changes for another 3-5 years. They’re on their 3rd or 4th iteration of the product, but they’re constantly developing and improving the user interface. In relation to Brexit, there wouldn’t be a huge effect on the business side of Pitchbook. People don’t want to commit because of the currency exchange rate, but it shouldn’t be too detrimental to Pitchbook.
I really enjoyed how they went into some personal advice at the end, more specifically, one of the professionals said to “be less demanding, and more inspiring” in the workforce. When you enter a new role, do things outside of your role and show that you’re ambitious. I thought the Pitchbook visit was great, and even getting to speak to the receptionist about her role and transition from Germany to London was pleasant.
The last company visit of the week was at Vix Technology. I was really excited to visit this company because I learned a little about them during this program’s interviews. Their technology plays a huge role in Seattle’s public transportation technology, so I was looking forward to visit a company that is so relevant to the Pacific Northwest. Upon arrival, it appeared that their company is a bit smaller because they shared a space with other firms at a wework space.
We started off hearing from Aaron Ross, the managing director of Europe and Africa. He started off by giving a quick run-down of Vix itself: it’s privately held so it has a complex structure, but it provides them with flexibility because they don’t have to announce publicly every quarter. Then Ross chose to take the anecdotal route of practically giving us his life and career history; it was interesting listening to him explain how he got to Vix after so many twists and turns with his startups, but I thought he spent perhaps a little too long talking about himself rather than the company. One interesting thing I thought he talked about was how Vix is incredibly dependent on what’s being updated by other companies. For example, when Apple updated, Visa had to update their mobility as well, which meant that Vix had to update their technology to be compatible with people who used Apple & Visa. Vix is constantly updating, and I think their one of their challenges includes developing a technology that would be versatile for at least a few years so they wouldn’t have to spend so much money updating it every time there is a big tech change.
After Ross, we had Robert Holton come in to speak with us, who is a key account manager. To be completely candid, I got a little lost with the intense overload of products he shared with us. There were a lot of different types, and Holton sped through the products. However, I do think the implementation portion of his presentation was engaging.
I had travelled to the Greek Islands earlier this summer and noticed that their public transportation technology was incredibly weak. The process to collect bus fares from passengers basically consists of passengers just getting on the bus, and as the bus was moving, there would be a man physically collecting coins and ripping off a ticket for the passengers. My question was regarding the process of integrating/implementing Vix into a new city or country, because the Greek Islands desperately needs technology from Vix, in my opinion. Holton responded saying that Vix technology fits in mid-tier cities at the moment, and they want to expand to bigger cities for the future, but not underdeveloped ones. This is because they have to wait for the technology to catch up with the city, and there might not be enough demand for public transportation technology. The negotiation process consists of Vix approaching cities and vice versa. It does take years for the tech to get implemented though.
My takeaway from Vix? Not what I expected – I thought it was going to be a lot more interesting to hear from a company that’s so applicable in Seattle, but both speakers didn’t quite live up to what I hoped to hear about.
That’s all I have for week three’s company visits!! What a long post – if you’re still reading, I applaud you. Stay tuned for my cultural visits for the third week!
Thanks for reading,