Software Developers at Banks Should Be Interested in This One Thing

Why would you become a developer at a bank or similar financial institution? After all, banks don’t use the most popular and novel programming languages such as Rust or Kotlin. Nor do they pay developers as well as at FAANG companies. If that wasn’t enough to potentially dissuade you, they have a lot of legacy technology and heavy regulatory constraints. By comparison, technology firms and start-ups are both more cool and less restricted.

If you’re going to spend your career as a software developer or engineer at a bank, you therefore need something else to motivate you. That thing is money. And not earning money, necessarily; you need to be interested in money’s dynamics.

“A lot of the time, the work in banking isn’t technically challenging,” says Peter Lawrey, a former developer for banks and hedge funds and CEO of Chronicle Software. “It’s about writing code that works and that makes money. You’ll see a lot of trading systems that seem very badly constructed, but they make money and because that’s the end product, that’s all that matters.”

For this reason, the developers who succeed in banking need to be “interested in the money,” Lawrey continues. “Making money is the driving force of any project. It’s not about how cool the technology is… and in many cases very cool technology is distrusted in banking, because it can often be a mess and disrupt functioning systems.” 

Banks like programming languages that are reliable rather than cool, says Lawrey. He himself codes trading algorithms in ‘low latency Java’: “A lot of the useful things from a business perspective are boring and necessary… Java is not generally seen as cool – its focus has never been on being cool, but on being minimalist in terms of features.” 

What the ‘cool languages’? Lawrey cites Rust, Go, and Kotlin, to name a few. “Kotlin is probably a really nice compromise language because it has a lot of features and supports functions at a low level,” he adds. “It appeals to [me], but none of our clients use it so it’s not practical.” 

Instead, banks and hedge funds tend to stick to practical and proven languages; this means Java, C++, and Python.

As a result, Lawrey says the financial services industry tends to weed out programmers who are interested in working in exciting new formats: “There are certain industries that attract developers who like things that are cool, and who want to be creative in new languages.” Finance is not one of them.

A modified version of this article originally appeared in eFinancialCareers.