"Banks want developers who are loyal, not talented"

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If you’re a computing student who’s thinking of applying for a banking job, I’d like to share my experience with you. I spent all of my university years interning with one of the big banks you’ve probably heard of. And then I was dropped for no reason.

To get a technology job with a bank today, you need to start applying for internships as soon as you start at university. I applied to the bank in the first year and got an internship. They invited me back in the second year and again in the third year. I interned there three years running.

These kinds of repeat internships are becoming standard if you want a banking job when you graduate. Banks want students to show loyalty. Therefore, you have to accept when they keep inviting you back - even if you’d rather see what it’s like elsewhere. The problem is that if it doesn’t work out, you have no back-up options. After three years at the bank’s beck and call, almost everyone on my internship programme got an offer, except for me.

Obviously I did something wrong. Months later I’m still trying to figure out what that was. I think there were two things: I arrived late in the morning and I had a mind of my own. Big black marks.

I didn’t arrive that late. The rest of my class were there at 9am and I arrived at 9.30am. I did this for medical reasons and I explained them to my line manager. I also stayed late in the office to make up for it – everyone else was gone at 5pm but I was almost always there to 9pm. I gave up my social life all summer. For nothing. - I got no recognition.

The people who got the technology jobs with the bank I interned with were mostly looking for an easy ride. Working in tech in banking isn’t hard. It’s not about innovating: it’s about getting on with what you’ve been told to do. There are so many restrictions and so much bureaucracy that the pace of work is very slow. To use a technical example, the npm artefactory that contains Javascript packages and which is usually publicly available, was completely internal at the bank I worked for – we couldn’t use the publicly accessible one for security reasons and this made it much harder to innovate. The process of getting a release done was also incredibly hierarchical, with sign-off needed by senior people. Because of this we only achieved around one release a day.

I know that it’s not like this elsewhere. I’ve since spent some time working in big tech and they do tons of releases each day. Banks are a totally different environment. Of course, they’ll tell they’re tech firms. The bank I worked for had hot desks, nice chairs and casual dress codes – anything they could copy from tech companies they had.

Ultimately, though, banks are banks. And they want loyal and good but not great coders. You can’t be too innovative, but they’ll reward you – and if they like you they’ll give you a job for life. That’s not for me and I’m glad that I now appreciate that.  

James Dyllick is a pseudonym

Photo by Bianka Csenki on Unsplash

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