Case study: Inside JP Morgan's Glasgow developer centre

JP Morgan chief development officer Stephen Flaherty heads a team of developers in Glasgow, one of the bank's strategic hubs

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The predominantly technology-led business of banking has been on the leading edge of tech adoption in the past. But the industry is now falling behind as startups and web companies pioneer innovative technology-driven business processes.

“We find non-financial services domains are having an impact on financial services, such as Netflix and Amazon with microservices and elastic platforms,” says JP Morgan managing director, location leader and chief development officer Stephen Flaherty.

This is something financial services have been behind the curve on, but these are front and centre of almost every business unit strategy.”

JP Morgan began in Glasgow 16 years ago and houses the bank's mobile centre of excellence for the development of iOS and Android apps.

“There are over 1300 people in Glasgow, of which approximately two-thirds develop software,” says Flaherty. It is one of 13 strategic hubs for the bank. There are a myriad of projects being done in Glasgow from low-latency trading, execution optimisers for the front office, to European website development.”

Flaherty reckons the overall technology direction of the bank is reflected in the work that is being done in Glasgow. “There is a real push towards cloud technologies,” he says.

Former BP CIO Dana Deasy joined the bank as its new technology CIO in 2013, and has tried to concentrate deep technical talent in development centres around the world.

Working with academia

From a computer language perspective, the most prevalent language in Glasgow is Java development, according to Flaherty. While many people have back-end relational database expertise, he says that as the bank looks at front and middle-tier applications, there is real push for Java – and it has been the prevalent technology skill recruited at JP Morgan. This has led the bank to forge close ties with the local universities. 

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“We teach an 11-week course as part of the computer science curriculum,” explains Flaherty. This came about following an intake of interns at JP Morgan three years ago. The university wanted to find out what aspects of computer science it could be teaching differently.

“The fact that you get Java developers who don’t know anything about Maven [the build automation tool] is an issue,” adds Flaherty. “So we could get these kids ready to work in a large organisation by honing their skills and showing the students how we make use of continuous delivery, continuous integration and test-driven development practices.”

This means that JP Morgan in Glasgow is able to take on up to 100 graduate developers in 2016.

IT trends

When asked about some of the new technologies now being used at JP Morgan, Flaherty says a lot of the NoSQL technologies have started to take a real foothold in the firm. In fact, JP Morgan offers Cassandra internally as an elastic service.

Flatherty explains that the company is also working very closely with US west coast companies as JP Morgan develops its Hadoop infrastructure. “We have a good engagement on learning from Silicon Valley and taking it to Silicon Glen in Scotland,” he says.

The bank is also looking at pushing the limits of Hadoop, to power risk applications, enabling it to achieve near real-time risk analysis of a trade. Among the areas it is investigating is the concept of offsite backup and recovery in a Hadoop cluster, which is required by the financial regulators.

JP Morgan is a large user of  OpenStack and uses Pivotal CloudFoundry as its platform service layer working closely to CloudFoundry, and contributing back to the project. Its Amazon-like cloud is API-driven, enabling developers to programmatically access IT assets on demand.

Contributing open source

A few years back JP Morgan was the largest consumer of open source in the world. Flaherty says it was a huge user, but the Apache Qpid message broker was one of the projects it contributed back to the open source community.

When asked about the shift from creating proprietary code for internal use, to contributing to open source projects, Flaherty says: “JP Morgan has found a nice balance of making fundamental contributions back to the open source community, as well as understanding what we need to do internally.

“We do need a symbiotic relationship. There are a lot of challenges with the tools and we have done a lot of work to make sure everything is very robust from a cyber perspective.”

The senior management understood the amount of open source JP Morgan was using internally. Contributing back lessens the workload on bug fixes. And Flaherty says it is now increasingly common not only to look at a general CV, but for prospective candidates to be asked to show what they have produced on the open source github repository.

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