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Working at OptiverEventsSCOTT MCKENZIE

I: HOW DID YOU FIRST COME TO OPTIVER? I STARTED AS A GRAD. TO BE HONEST I DIDN’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT OPTIVER WHEN I INTERVIEWED HERE. I THINK I HAD TO ASK GOOGLE TO TELL ME WHAT THEY WERE ALL ABOUT! I WAS VERY INTERESTED BY THE IDEA OF CHALLENGING TECHNICAL WORK IN A FIELD I DIDN’T REALLY KNOW MUCH ABOUT THEN. AND THE IDEA OF WORKING WITH BRIGHT, ENTHUSIASTIC PEOPLE IN A PRETTY RELAXED ENVIRONMENT ALSO APPEALED TO ME. THERE WAS A VERY DECISIVE, INTELLIGENT FEEL ABOUT THE PLACE THAT I REALLY ENJOYED. I: WHAT ARE SOME OF THE HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER HERE? AFTER 15 MONTHS IN SYDNEY, AN OPPORTUNITY CAME UP FOR ME TO GO TO AMSTERDAM. I WAS 25 THEN AND TOOK WHAT WAS INITIALLY A TWO-YEAR OPPORTUNITY TO JOIN THE MARKET LINKS TEAM. IT WAS INTERESTING STUFF – PARTICULARLY BEING IN AMSTERDAM WHERE THE COMPANY WAS FOUNDED. THEN I HAD AN OPPORTUNITY TO SHIFT INTO AN OPTIONS AUTOTRADING ROLE, WHICH I REALLY ENJOYED. IT TAUGHT ME A LOT ABOUT WHAT WE DO, AND HOW TECH WORKS TO EMPOWER TRADING. WHAT I REALLY LIKED ABOUT THAT WAS THAT IT WAS NIMBLE – YOU HAD GOOD IDEAS AND COULD DEPLOY THEM WITHIN A WEEK. THERE WASN’T THIS LENGTHY, BLOATED DEVELOPMENT CYCLE – WE JUST HAD IDEAS ABOUT STRATEGIES OR IMPROVEMENTS, AND WE IMPLEMENTED THEM. I ALSO LEARNED A LOT ABOUT TRADING, WHICH I THINK IS A BONUS FOR ANYONE WHO WORKS HERE TO KNOW ABOUT. TRADING IS A DEEP PROBLEM – THERE’S A LOT TO UNDERSTAND, AND YOU NEVER REALLY ‘SOLVE’ IT, BECAUSE THE MARKET’S ALWAYS THERE THE NEXT DAY. THAT’S INTERESTING TO ME. AFTER AMSTERDAM I MOVED BACK TO SYDNEY AND TOOK ON A COUPLE OF LOCAL ROLES DESIGNED TO IMPROVE OUR TRADING IN ASIAN MARKETS. WHICH EVENTUALLY LED TO ME TAKING ON A ROLE IN CHINA FOR 18 MONTHS. AFTER THAT, I STARTED MY CURRENT ROLE AS SOLUTION ARCHITECT. IT’S A GOOD ROLE FOR ME – I STILL LIKE THE TECHNICAL STUFF, PARTICULARLY FROM A HOLISTIC PERSPECTIVE. I LIKE THINKING ABOUT THE PROBLEM, NOT JUST PLAYING WITH NEW TOYS. I: WHAT SORT OF PEOPLE DO YOU THINK DO WELL HERE (BESIDES YOURSELF, OBVIOUSLY) YOU HAVE TO LIKE SOLVING PROBLEMS. AND I MEAN PRACTICALLY, NOT JUST IN A THEORETICAL WAY. OUR PROBLEMS ARE GROUNDED IN THE REALITY OF THE MARKETS WE TRADE IN, SO THE SOLUTION HAS TO BE TANGIBLE, ACTIONABLE. THE PEOPLE WHO DO WELL HERE ARE ALMOST ALWAYS VERY INTERESTED IN THE PROBLEM, AND UNDERSTAND TRADING WELL ENOUGH TO HAVE PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS. THEY’RE ALSO PEOPLE WHO ARE GOOD AT GIVING FEEDBACK AND CHALLENGING IDEAS, AND LEAVING EGO AT THE FRONT DOOR. WE’RE A FAST-MOVING ENVIRONMENT, SO BEING ABLE TO THINK OF YOUR FEET, BACK YOURSELF AND WORK WELL WITH OTHERS IS KEY. WORKING SO CLOSELY WITH THE TRADERS, YOU DEVELOP GOOD RELATIONSHIPS THAT HELP YOU GET TO GRIPS WITH THE PROBLEM MORE EFFECTIVELY. I: WHAT KEEPS YOU COMING BACK IN THE FRONT DOOR? THERE’S A FEW THINGS THAT I REALLY ENJOY. I WORK WITH A LOT OF VERY SWITCHED-ON PEOPLE, WHO CARE A LOT ABOUT WHAT THEY DO. THAT’S IMPORTANT TO ME. I’VE BEEN HERE A LONG TIME, SO I’VE GOT SOME REALLY STRONG RELATIONSHIPS – ALTHOUGH OPTIVER PEOPLE ARE PRETTY EASY TO GET ALONG WITH. THERE’S QUITE A LOT OF IMPACT THAT YOU CAN HAVE AS ONE PERSON, WHICH IS RARE WHEN IT COMES TO TECH TEAMS. WE HAVE A PRETTY RAPID FEEDBACK LOOP, BECAUSE THAT’S HOW THE MARKETS WORK. TO BE HONEST, IT CAN GET A BIT ADDICTIVE BECAUSE YOU’RE ABLE TO SEE THE RESULTS OF YOUR IDEAS SO FAST. THAT’S RARE FOR DEVELOPERS, WHO OFTEN SPEND AGES WORKING ON ONE THING. THERE’S ALSO A LOT OF RESPECT FOR YOUR TIME, BOTH BECAUSE OF THE WORK ITSELF AND THE WAY OPTIVER DOES THINGS. IF YOU WANT TO HANG OUT AND SOCIALISE AFTER WORK, YOU CAN – BUT THERE’S NO EXPECTATION THAT YOU’LL LIVE AT THE OFFICE. PLUS, THERE’S A LOT OF OPPORTUNITY FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF WORK. I’VE BEEN ABLE TO CHANGE JOBS PRETTY REGULARLY, AND THERE’S A LOT OF MOVEMENT BETWEEN OFFICES THAT GOES ON. I: WHAT DO YOU THINK PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND ABOUT WORKING AT OPTIVER? I THINK A LOT OF PEOPLE DON’T UNDERSTAND JUST HOW REMARKABLE THE OPTIVER STORY IS. WE’VE ACHIEVED LONGEVITY IN AN INDUSTRY THAT DOESN’T OFTEN SEE BUSINESSES LAST THIS LONG. AND WE’RE STILL A SMALL COMPANY – JUST OVER A THOUSAND PEOPLE – THAT IS VERY SUCCESSFUL AND HAS A LOT OF ROOM FOR GROWTH. WE’VE COME THROUGH OUR ADOLESCENCE AS A BUSINESS AND HAVE ADOPTED SOME MATURITY ALONG THE WAY THAT HELPS US FOCUS ON DOING WHAT WE’RE BEST AT. I THINK THERE’S ALSO A MISUNDERSTANDING ABOUT OUR CULTURE. WE WORK IN A BUSINESS THAT IS IN FINANCE, BUT WE’RE NOT LIKE THE BANKS OR BIG INVESTMENT HOUSES. WE’RE NOT A SUIT-AND-TIE KIND OF COMPANY, AND WHAT WE DO DOESN’T FEEL LIKE FINANCE OR TRADITIONAL TRADING. AND SO PEOPLE DON’T TREAT IT LIKE THAT – IT’S LESS ABOUT BIG EGOS AND BRAG, AND MORE ABOUT HAVING AN IMPACT. IT’S A MERITOCRACY WITH A REALLY FLAT STRUCTURE, THAT HELPS GOOD IDEAS SURFACE FASTER. OPTIVER WANTS ITS PEOPLE TO FOCUS ON THE WORK, SO WE’RE FAR MORE ABOUT CASUAL, COMFORTABLE CLOTHES AND MAKING SURE PEOPLE HAVE WHAT THEY NEED TO SUCCEED.

I: How did you first come to Optiver?
I started as a grad. To be honest I didn’t know much about Optiver when I interviewed here. I think I had to ask Google to tell me what they were all about! I was very interested by the idea of challenging technical work in a field I didn’t really know much about then. And the idea of working with bright, enthusiastic people in a pretty relaxed environment also appealed to me. There was a very decisive, intelligent feel about the place that I really enjoyed. 

I: What are some of the highlights of your career here?
After 15 months in Sydney, an opportunity came up for me to go to Amsterdam. I was 25 then, and took what was initially a two-year opportunity to join the Market Links team.  It was interesting stuff – particularly being in Amsterdam where the company was founded. Then I had an opportunity to shift into an Options Autotrading role, which I really enjoyed. It taught me a lot about what we do, and how tech works to empower trading. What I really liked about that was that it was nimble – you had good ideas and could deploy them within a week. There wasn’t this lengthy, bloated development cycle – we just had ideas about strategies or improvements, and we implemented them. I also learned a lot about trading, which I think is a bonus for anyone who works here to know about. Trading is a deep problem – there’s a lot to understand, and you never  really ‘solve’ it, because the market’s always there the next day. That’s interesting to me. 


After Amsterdam I moved back to Sydney, and took on a couple of local roles designed to improve our trading in Asian markets. Which eventually led to me taking on a role overseeing our China operation for 18 months – 6 months in China, and 12 months from Sydney. After that, I started my current role as Solution Architect. It’s a good role for me – I still like the technical stuff, particularly from a holistic perspective. I like thinking about the problem, not just playing with new toys. 

I: What sort of people do you think do well here (besides yourself, obviously)?
You have to like solving problems. And I mean practically, not just in a theoretical way. Our problems are grounded in the reality of the markets we trade in, so the solution has to be tangible, actionable. The people who do well here are almost always very interested in the problem, and understand trading well enough to have practical solutions. They’re also people who are good at giving feedback and challenging ideas, and leaving ego at the front door. We’re a fast-moving environment, so being able to think of your feet, back yourself and work well with others is key. Working so closely with the traders, you develop good relationships that help you get to grips with the problem more effectively. 

I: What keeps you coming back in the front door?
There’s a few things that I really enjoy. I work with a lot of very switched-on people, who care a lot about what they do. That’s important to me. I’ve been here a long time, so I’ve got some really strong relationships – although Optiver people are pretty easy to get along with. There’s quite a lot of impact that you can have as one person, which is rare when it comes to tech teams. We have a pretty rapid feedback loop, because that’s how the markets work. To be honest, it can get a bit addictive because you’re able to see the results of your ideas so fast. That’s rare for developers, who often spend ages working on one thing. 

There’s also a lot of respect for your time, both because of the work itself and the way Optiver does things. If you want to hang out and socialise after work, you can – but there’s no expectation that you’ll live at the office. Plus there’s a lot of opportunity for different types of work. I’ve been able to change jobs pretty regularly, and there’s a lot of movement between offices that goes on. 

I: What is the most remarkable thing about this place?
It’s how people get on with it. There’s always plenty to do, but that suits someone like me because that means there’s something new to learn. And having plenty to do means there’s opportunities to move around, and often to move up within the company. I guess my story shows a bit of that – going from a grad to the highest level developer in six years. There’s not a lot of other companies that encourage people to rise that fast. And I’m not the only one – a lot of people here have been given more challenging roles off the back of the wins they’ve delivered. It’s not unusual for people to join and find that the flat structure works in their favour – less bureaucracy, more opportunity to implement real change. There’s no sense of ‘paying your dues’ here. You’re trusted by default, and if you’re passionate about what we do, there’s plenty of opportunity. And ultimately, that leads to a lot of positives, like new people to work with, travel, amazing problems to tackle, and more opportunity to build a network of great peers. 

I: what do you think people don’t understand about working at Optiver?
I think a lot of people don’t understand just  how remarkable the Optiver story is. We’ve achieved longevity in an industry that doesn’t often see businesses last this long. And we’re still a small company – just over a thousand people – that is very successful and has a lot of room for growth. We’ve come through our adolescence as a business, and have adopted some maturity along the way that helps us focus on doing what we’re best at. 

I think there’s also a misunderstanding about our culture. We work in a business that is in finance, but we’re not like the banks or big investment houses. We’re not a suit-and-tie kind of company, and what we do doesn’t feel like finance or traditional trading. And so people don’t treat it like that – it’s less about big egos and brag, and more about having an impact. It’s a meritocracy with a really flat structure, that helps good ideas surface faster. Optiver wants its people to focus on the work, so we’re far more about casual, comfortable clothes and making sure people have what they need to succeed.