Q&A with Darren Kane, Director of Software Engineering at CME Group

  • Darren shares what over two decades in software has taught him and how to get into the industry.

    Q. CME Group has a number of opportunities for undergraduates and graduates wishing to work in Fintech. Can you tell us a bit about these programs?

    Absolutely.  CME Group has three programs that fall into the domain of early talent.  There’s the apprenticeship program, an intern program, and a graduate program.

    Through the apprenticeship program, students who have completed their A-levels can combine studying for a degree in computing systems with working at CME Group.  The apprentices attend university one day per week and work with us four days-per-week building real-world experience and applying what they are learning. 

    The degree is paid for by the company, and apprentices also earn a salary.  They get the opportunity to rotate through different departments.  Often, they start with desktop support, ensuring our engineers have access to all the foundational services that our teams need, and then rotate through our cyber security, operations, and engineering teams as well. After their first 18 months, they are encouraged to drive their own rotation based on their personal ambitions.  We have eight apprentices in place in 2023.

    The internship program provides participants with an invaluable opportunity to gain professional experience working with the brightest engineers around and to develop the skills they have learned at college.  The goal is to provide them with the skills needed to give them autonomy and confidence to execute independently.  We know we’re doing a good job when we are empowering them to do that.   At the end of the internship, interns can stay with us one day-per-week while they complete their final year at college if they choose. 

    With our graduate program, we rotate the graduates across teams in their first year. This provides the opportunity to build networks and to learn about different technology areas and why they’re important to our business.  They get to see different processes that teams use and start to form their own thoughts on what good execution looks like. 

    They also get to work on different tech stacks and can cross from back-end microservice or performance-oriented architectures to a team where they try out some front-end coding.  For each rotation, we ensure a substantial body of work. We understand our graduates want to feel that sense of ownership, and that they are working on something that’s important. 

    Across all the programs, we place a lot of emphasis on creating social opportunities.  All the participants are going through similar experiences and can learn from each other, so building that network is really important.  We also invest heavily in training and development for our early talent.  We offer a mix of training, with external trainers covering key technical training and our internal tech leaders relating that training to our internal organisation.  The opportunity to develop soft skills is also important and we provide access to relevant courses like communication skills and effective time management.

    Q. With over 2 decades of experience developing software for global financial institutions what’s changed most since you first started off as a young graduate?

    There is so much that has changed, but there are two key areas that I would say have changed significantly. 

    The first is the operating model of engineering teams.  When I started over two decades ago, I remember printing out a 50-page requirements document and working through that for up to six months.  Unsurprisingly at the end of that period, I had some difficult conversations when nothing worked as expected at integration. 

    Thankfully, teams have moved on a lot from this practice.  The transition of organisations to agile practices with quicker feedback loops and focus on finding issues quickly has been great. Relatedly, the transformation and adoption of automated testing techniques has been fantastic.  The confidence that engineering teams get from knowing they can make changes quickly and safely is a massive improvement. 

    The second area that has changed significantly is the breadth of technologies that engineers know today.  I remember a time that I would write some ASP or Java, make some database changes to a relational database schema and deploy manually onto an application server or write a shell-script to do that.  Back in those early days, I could have just logged onto the production server myself and updated code without any issue - a definite no-no today! 

    Today, there are so many languages, frameworks, and testing tools that cover functional accuracy, resiliency, and performance testing. There are CI/CD pipelines, scripting languages to automate environment buildouts and deployments, different database types for different use-cases (RDMS, NoSQL etc), cloud offerings, tools for operational monitoring and support, etc. The list is endless and there is so much to learn.  Thankfully, the talent is better than ever and we are lucky to have some of the best engineers around to ensure we choose the right tools for the job.

    At the core though, the bedrock of what we do is the same.  We solve complex technical problems and that’s rewarding. 

    Q. What does the typical day look like for an intern at CME Group?

    They will check emails in the morning, respond to anything pressing, attend team stand-ups, and after that, jump into whatever they need to do for their deliverables.  That could be analysis or design work initially, where they will get to lean on their teams and utilise their experience, or could be straight into coding and testing. 

    We are seeing more and more of our teams adopt pair-programming practices, particularly with our early talent who get the opportunity to learn from the experience our more senior engineers have gathered over the years. 

    Q. Do interns need to have a background in financial services to be successful in the business?

    Absolutely not.  Of course, understanding the business is beneficial.  It helps our best engineers feed into conversations and empowers them to influence solutions and approaches.  What’s important is having the right foundational technical skills coupled with the right mindset.  Business problems can often be broken down into looking at messaging and data-points - concepts that are familiar to engineers.  We have business product owners and analysts in our teams to help our engineers understand business requirements. 

    Q. What qualities do you look for when interviewing interns/graduates?

    First and foremost, I am always looking for people with the right mindset.  I love seeing highly motivated candidates who are hungry to learn and progress; and who also show a strong sense of teamwork with personal accountability and ownership.

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