Way back when I first started,  I was extraordinarily lucky to get the opportunity to work on the trading floor at Merrill Lynch in London. It was an incredible environment and I was very lucky to convince them to take me on considering my relative lack of experience. At the time I had been doing support and development on personnel and payroll software for about 3 years. I had no banking experience at all. So how on earth did one of the premier financial institutions on the planet come to hire me?

The first piece of luck was my friend Lev. We had worked together in my first real job when I landed in London in a small IT Recruitment Company. I started as the office boy doing data entry, filing and answering phones. I quickly showed an aptitude for the technology and ended up rewriting their core candidate database and automating everything I could in the office. Lev and I got on like a house on fire and had a lot of fun in the office and in the pub after hours. We’re still friends. He is a good friend and was an awesome mentor for me on life, work and the IT industry.

So a few years after we worked together Lev had a junior recruiter working under him who had found the role at Merrill’s. They wanted a combined support and light development resource who could, as part of the support team, look after and fix whatever needed to be fixed on the trading floor but also help out with some development of the complex Access and Excel trading solutions that the more technical traders were using. The list of technical skills required to fill the role was a very long one and Lev was sceptical. So he got on the phone and talked to the hiring manager, Simon. Lev asked him “You have a list of desired skills that is ridiculously long. No-one doing support is going to have all of that stuff. What is it that you really want?” Simon’s reply is one that has resonated with me and guided my own hiring strategy my whole career. “We just want someone who is smart and keen.”

Luckily for me Lev finished that phone call and got on to me pretty much directly and persuaded me to take a small pay cut to get into the banking technology industry at Merrill Lynch. “Don’t worry. They look after good people. You’ll be making more money with them than you can doing HR systems by next year” he said. He was wrong. I was on more money than I had been before, within a few months. They really did reward hard work.

I had the pleasure of working for Simon for a couple of years at Merrill’s and to this day we are still good friends. It was great seeing our kids playing together at a barbeque at his place in London 20 years later when a bunch of us who worked together back then caught up. He taught me so many things about the industry and how to lead teams and how to hire people. He understood the reality of the situation. To do technology roles you need a certain quantity of raw brain power. Motivation mostly has to come from within. Everything else can be taught.

You can teach someone who is smart and has a base technical aptitude any technical skill. Experience comes with time and so long as people have their eyes and ears open they learn more technologies, methodologies, topologies and tautologies day by day. The technology industry changes so rapidly that without the ability to pick up a new skill, language, web development paradigm, deployment tool or technology stack you are history.

Enthusiasm and passion for the job however has to come from inside. Every person who has been great at something, sport, art, writing, writing software or whatever has been passionate about it. Keen to do it well and driven to find success. That’s not to say that it has to on display. There are some awesome developers who are very quiet and will struggle to tell the world how excited they are about getting the object model just right and the joy they feel when solving arcane programming problems. It can be tricky to spot but as a good hiring manager, spot it you must.

20 years on from being the smart and keen kid being hired I now apply those lessons downstream. When I hire, smart and keen is still the first thing I am trying to spot in a candidate. I’m getting pretty good at spotting it. So if you are fit the bill and want to work at a company that values that or if your organisation is in need of a world class process solution and you want it delivered by a smart and keen team, then give IQX a call.

by Jack Cornford

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