At This Fintech Company, Engineers Don’t Need to Know Finance to Thrive
When Bryan O’Connor joined fintech company MarketAxess in 2018, he feared he was in over his head since he only had a cursory understanding of finance.
“Early on, I felt really inexperienced: I didn’t think I was smart enough to pick up all the knowledge that was required," says O’Connor, who is a senior software engineer at the firm, which is digitally transforming the way the $120-plus trillion credit market trades bonds, enabling the shift from analog, phone-based trading to a fully electronic marketplace.
Indeed, fintech can seem like an intimidating field to break into, but people without experience in finance shouldn’t count themselves out. At MarketAxess, leadership is very open to hiring people from non-traditional backgrounds because of their diverse skill sets, says Christine Nolan, Head of Trading Technology and a hiring manager.
“We are at the intersection of technology and finance, but we don’t expect new hires to have a deep knowledge of finance,” she says. “We are looking for people who can get to the root of the problem and think outside the box. That’s what allows us to make trading more efficient.”
Here’s a closer look at how MarketAxess hires employees with varied backgrounds and then sets them up for success.
Recognizing the importance of diverse skill sets
O’Connor started his career developing flight control software for helicopters at an aerospace company. When he was ready for a change, he looked at opportunities in different industries, which led him to MarketAxess.
At first, he wasn’t sure he’d fit in at an electronic trading company, but then he realized that his prior technical programming experience was highly valued. “When you’re starting out at MarketAxess, what they care about is your hard skills,” he says.
Angel Zhang, another senior software engineer, was hired right out of school thanks in part to her technical skills. While most of her classmates went off to tech companies in Silicon Valley, Zhang set her sights on MarketAxess because she wanted the opportunity to build a career at an innovative business within the finance industry.
“I knew I was missing skills like understanding the ins and outs of trading systems,” she says. “However, during the interview process, I felt confident that this would be a place where I could thrive, and I could see myself overcoming these learning gaps.”
In addition to looking at hard skills, hiring managers like Nolan also want to see a candidate's soft skills, like problem-solving, collaboration, curiosity, and adaptability.
In her two decades at the company, Nolan has seen firsthand how hiring employees with diverse backgrounds makes for a better, more well-rounded team. That’s why she likes for her teams to include a mix of people coming from small and large companies, with finance and non-finance experience.
“It’s proven that the more diverse your team, the more creative solutions you arrive at,” she says. “We want people who think differently.”
Providing employees a foundation in finance
New hires at MarketAxess receive financial markets training as part of their onboarding, from learning the basics of trading to the way the company’s tech is built—all the essentials needed to thrive in a new job within a complex industry.
“You learn things like how a bond yield is calculated and why bond prices are inversely correlated to bond yields,” O’Connor says. “And you’re encouraged to ask as many questions as you can. Everyone is receptive.”
Beyond initial training, there are regular knowledge sessions in which team members and outside experts give in-depth talks about trading systems and new coding programs, Nolan says.
“We are big on investing in our people,” she says. “If I hire somebody, I want to make sure they succeed.”
And there’s ongoing, hands-on development work. For example, on Zhang’s team, senior members lead code reviews where they give feedback, teach best practices, and explain the business motivations behind the tech they’re building.
“All these things helped me become more capable,” says Zhang, who is now a mentor herself. “I love to transfer my knowledge. My specialty is special domain knowledge, and I share it with all the incoming hires.”
Creating a stimulating, supportive culture
As O’Connor has found his stride at MarketAxess, he’s been able to enjoy a healthy work-life balance—something the company prides itself on. “MarketAxess offers a great combo of being properly challenged while also living your life and having time for yourself,” he says.
Zhang agrees, and credits the strong focus on work-life balance for allowing her to pursue a number of hobbies and interests outside of work.
Another important aspect of MarketAxess’ culture is the fact that it has never lost the energy and spirit of collaboration from its early startup days. “That sense of teamwork is still in our DNA,” Nolan says. “That’s why I’ve been here so long, and that’s why we have so many ‘boomerang’ employees who’ve left and come back.”
O’Connor admits he was surprised by how supportive the work environment was at MarketAxess, which not only helped him overcome his initial fears, but also thrive in his job. He is just one example of how the company’s openness to hiring talent without finance experience—and then providing them with tools and guidance to grow—can lead to a successful career.
“I started getting a lot of praise and recognition every time I developed a new feature, which helped me become more confident here,” he says. “You don’t have to be a master at finance. Be good at the technology side of fintech, and you can learn finance along the way.”