Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Rex Dixit

Fresh from my PhD I starting working in Geneva at a large bank producing financial indices. They had a old legacy system they wanted to replace, and my PhD research was just the thing to do it. I met one of the senior managers there, and it was giddy times for the first few days where together we dug deep into the existing system and came up with all sorts of fresh strategies for address the problems within it.

Plans in hand, we went to visit the head of development – and there the problems began. The man was a genius – alas, he was also obsessed with pet projects such as devising his own programming language with which the new system should be built. Pointing out that this was a fun but irrelevant technical distraction from the actual issues of the index calculation engine soon put me in his bad books. The next few months involved me being forced to battle against the willpower of the head of development and his dreams of a personally designed programming language. I failed, and so did the project.

Ultimately, the head of development was moved sideways, and I was given higher authority to address the real problems. With a team of around half a dozen top notch developers, we learned all we could about index calculations and produced monthly releases to the bank for the next six months. They seemed quite pleased with the results, but by now the top level in the bank had already lost faith in the Geneva branch, and eliminated dozens of people and their projects – me included.

This was frustrating – since we had received quite some acclaim for the effectiveness of the indexing system we were producing. However, the very top level in the company decided they could manage quite well without it. This made me ponder just how real those business needs could have been. I was starting to learn lessons that even my four years of deep study at university had not taught me.

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