Saturday, May 02, 2009

A Day in the Life of a Chief Architect

Three people won last night's $225M MegaMillions drawing, and none of the three was me. So, I guess that I have to go back to my day job on Monday!

As I mentioned in my last blog posting, I have become so screaming busy that I have not had as much of a chance to blog as I would like. The increased workload has been mainly due to my new title of Chief Architect of Equities, and the fact that I now manage a few other teams besides the Complex Event Processing team. I "back into" this position after the last reorganization at my company. When I first joined my company in August 2006, I was hired to work for the Chief Architect of Equities. He "left" the company in January 2008 (I was already out of his group by then), and another person took over the position, albeit in a less "pompous" capacity. This person only lasted one year, and in January of 2009, I was asked if I would like the position. Unfortunately, I am never one to say no, and here I sit as Chief Architect, waiting for a similar fate to befall me.

In a nutshell, the Chief Architect position is 1/3 paperwork, 1/3 visionary, and 1/3 committees. What I do is most likely done by all of the Chief Architects at all of the various investment banks. There is no secret sauce in what I am about to write. We all have the same kinds of paperwork, we all sit on the same kinds of technical committees, we all meet with the same vendors, and we all read the same magazines and blogs.

The Process

In a company as big as mine, there is an incredible amount of process. Everything has to be approved in triplicate. Every request for a "restricted" piece of software has to be overridden by me. Every request for a server has to be approved by me. I have to eyeball every new purchase, and I have to track which projects have end-of-life components. I also have a dotted line into the CTO of Capital Markets, so Equities has to make sure that they align themselves with whatever roadmap the CTO is working on.

I wake up at 5:30 in the morning, turn on my computer, log in to my work email, and I spend the next half-hour doing approvals. First comes the server approvals, which are easy. Then come the requests for restricted software. Most companies have a Buy/Sell/Hold rating on every piece of software, and we are no different. We have Approved/Restricted/Prohibited. For some reason, the people who rate the software have decided that some essential pieces of software that people need to do their jobs are in the Restricted category, which means that I need to approve their usage. So, everyone who needs this software has to write a rationale for why they need it, which I need to read, and then either approve or ask questions about.

I also need to conduct Architectural Reviews on the major Equities projects. When you take TARP money, your company is under increased scrutiny. You are audited internally by the Audit team, who like to pick projects and start asking tough questions, mostly around security and high-availability. This is supposed to prepare you for audits by the government, who want to make sure that their TARP investments are well safeguarded. As part of the audit process, you have to show them that the projects have undergone extensive architectural reviews. So, this is another effort that I head up.

As part of the review process, I am constantly looking for duplication of effort, and if I find duplication, I try to push for consolidation. Not surprisingly, there are lots and lots of silos in our division. These silos arise because of the competitive nature between groups, because of acquisitions that we make where the acquired company has their own technology stack, and because of people who we hire from other companies who bring their own ideas as to how things should be done. So, part of the Architect's job is to have a broad vision over both the technology stack and the business flow, and push for consolidation.

The Committees

There are a couple of tech councils that I sit on, some which meet every week and some which meet every month. Most of these tech councils are comprised of the senior technologists and the senior management across the Capital Markets division. What we do is try to tackle a certain topic for a few weeks, like Messaging and Caching. We try to see what is being done now in the firm, what needs we will have, and we try to come up with the ideal future state. From time to time, we also bring in certain vendors to give us a level-setting in our knowledge of a certain technology stack. Committees often involve creating written reports and nice Powerpoints, and yours truly has his share of that kind of work to do.

When the committees make a decision, there is usually some degree of backlash. There are groups who have been invested in certain technologies, and those technologies have just been declared as non-strategic. There are groups who need to support users who are still running Windows 2000, and certain technologies just won't work on older machines and ten year old operating systems. And, there are people who just will not listen to any decision that is made by committee (with good reason). So, part of the committees' jobs are to go out and try to sell the decisions to the populace at large. Which involves more meetings and more Powerpoints.

The Visionary Stuff

This is the fun part of the job. We have to drive the company forward with our technology stack. So, I get to read a lot of blogs, read a lot of magazines like Wall Street and Technology, Waters Magazine, Automated Trader, and the A-Team reports, and I get to see what new technology is out there and what other companies are doing. If something looks interesting, I try to invite the vendors in for a talk. Sometimes these talks result in a POC with the vendor, and I have to coordinate the POC and make sure that other interested people in Equities can take advantage of the POCs. We are interested in all of the usual stuff .... Complex Event Processing, Messaging, Caching, Hardware Acceleration, better and faster ways to create models, faster ways to compute prices, ways of monitoring and improving latency and throughput, etc.

I also get asked for a lot of advice from newly-formed companies. There are a number of start-up companies (and very big companies) who are targetting products towards Capital Markets, and from time to time, I receive requests from these companies for a meeting in order to help validate their ideas. Some people might say that we are spending our valuable time giving free consulting to a small company, but if we really like something, and we are the first ones on the block to see their technology, then we might decide to make a principal investment in the company.

So, please bear with the sparseness of my blogging activities while I try to do things that will make my company a bit more competitive in the market .....

©2009 Marc Adler - All Rights Reserved.
All opinions here are personal, and have no relation to my employer.

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