Welcome to the next feature of our Leaders in Tech editorial series. Speaking to leaders in the industry to capture their stories, career highs and lows, their trials and successes, their current company and their role, most recent projects, advice to others, and the individuals who they most look up to in the industry.
Today, we talked to Fabian Basciani, Software Engineering Manager & Developer at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, to find out more about why he joined the tech industry, what his role entails, what are the challenges he faces as a tech leader, and his advice to aspiring engineers and testers.
What is your current role and responsibilities?
I am an engineering manager and software developer in the Equity Trading Technology department at JP Morgan Asset Management. I am looking after a small team in London and I am the global lead of our in-house build, event sourcing based microservices platform.
What was your journey like?
My journey is a bit of an unusual one. I started with an apprenticeship at Credit Suisse in Switzerland when I was 15 and I did that until I was 18. I would work 3 days and spent 2 days in school. This included jobs like being a cashier or being an assistant to a private banker. Then, I decided to do a bachelor’s, so I did a degree in accounting and finance. As I had to finance myself, I kept on working during my studies. For example, I was working as a manual Tester for an e-banking system at VP Bank in Liechtenstein. This was my first job in technology. I was astounded by how much time and effort it takes to produce high-quality software. Surprisingly, I did not stay in technology after graduation, I joined EY as a financial auditor in Zurich, Switzerland. But it took me only a year to realize where my true passion lies so I decided to do a master’s degree in information systems. Again, I was financing myself and worked part-time for banks in Switzerland. I did jobs like Business Analyst and IT project manager. Once graduated I went to London to work on electronic trading systems for major banks.
What drew you to the tech industry?
I like that it is a fast pace environment, ever-changing and it is a new profession. I dislike it when people compare building software to building a house because when you build a house, people can rely on standards and have a fair amount of common knowledge to base their conversations on. We do not have those standards and common knowledge in software development yet. We are in the middle of creating those standards and this collective understanding of what it means to build well-designed, scalable, and high-quality software. This is extremely exciting. You are part of something new. You might be able to put a dent in the universe.
Who do you look up to for inspiration or mentorship?
Some inspiration and mentorship come directly from my managers. The global head of trading technology is an industry veteran. He built and led teams that created some of the most advanced electronic trading systems in the world. He is a very inspiring person, and you can learn a lot when working for such experienced people. Then, I also like to read biographies. Quite recently I read a biography about Leonardo Da Vinci. What I take away from him is that art and science are not two separate things but one.
What do you think are the most important qualities of successful tech leaders today?
I think curiosity is important. Things are constantly evolving and if you are naturally curious about things you see those changes as a constant input to feed your curiosity and thus you keep learning new things. Also, I believe that curious people really want to understand how things work – under the hood so to speak. The best technologists are not only able to tell you which framework is best for a given task but also how that framework works internally and how it is different from others. Another key quality is being able to actively listen to people and explain complex ideas in a simple manner.
How do you keep your team motivated despite conflicts and obstacles?
I think that people are motivated by feeling responsible for something. Thus, a manager should provide people with meaningful work where they are empowered to make decisions and build something that they genuinely care about. As a leader, I need to ensure that any impediment is removed so that an engineer has minimum distraction and can focus on what they are passionate about and build products that make a difference. Another key aspect is that developers should be involved in the full SDLC. From requirements gathering, building the software to testing and support – understanding the whole product.
What is expected of you? What are your expectations for your team?
That is a good question. The financial markets are ever-changing and evolving. We always need to be one step ahead of the game or someone else will take over. We need to be as agile as possible but at the same time, our tolerance for failure is extremely low. That is why we care so much about quality assurance when building trading systems. We need engineers who love to work in a fast-paced environment, are very agile but manage to stay focused and build top-quality software.
What are your current goals? What are you currently working on?
Currently, we focus on bringing our cutting-edge trading platform to the US market.
What are you the proudest of in your career so far?
There are quite a few big moments. What makes me proud is not just achieving big things but how you achieve them. If you delivered some amazing new piece of software and made friends along the way, then you did something right.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I think it is the trust of the business and from my management. They allow me to have a very big impact and I don’t take it for granted.
What has been your greatest challenge from working as a tech leader?
I think it is scaling things. From procedures like quality control to knowledge sharing to performance of applications etc. The main platform I am working on started relatively small in one region. Now we have ca 30 developers and are a global platform. So, things that might have worked for 3-4 developers sitting next to each other do not work as efficiently anymore once you scale up and go global. We needed to adjust and make things work on a larger scale. This process is still ongoing and we learn new things every day.
What’s the most important risk you took in your career and why?
I took a couple of risks so far in my career. One is going from being a financial auditor to work for a retail bank in tech so that I can work in tech again. The other one is being a mid-level IT project manager in a highly respected Swiss bank to go back to the bottom of the food chain to become a software developer in electronic trading in London. I think a modern career is and should not be a straight line.
How do you continue to grow and develop as a tech leader?
Staying curious and constantly learning new things. Also listening to other people. Not just in tech or in my industry. But from any industry and walk of life. If you listen, you might learn something.
What have you learned from your experience so far?
You need to be an active communicator. You should not rely on assumptions; you should always clarify. There is no common sense. At least, not in software development. Especially true if you have a diverse team. Different people might understand things very differently and by clarifying things you might discover completely new outcomes.
Do you have a memorable story or an anecdote from your experience you’d like to tell?
In the past, everyone would tell me that it is impossible to run a full-fledged trading floor by having traders, quants, and tech people working remotely. So, when the pandemic hit, we all wondered how we are going to operate. It was incredible to see what we can achieve when we have a “can-do” attitude. Today we are ca 7 months working from home and we had no serious issues.
Finally, do you have any advice for aspiring engineers and testers who want to grow in the tech industry?
I think they should not think of testing and software development as separate things. They should see them as one holistic thing. Also, I think that particularly good people can change their minds if new facts appear being able to adapt and change is crucial.