– behind Saxo Bank's new trading application
Interview with David Jacoby, project manager at Saxo Bank
Of course it took the leading technology on the market to build a complex yet simple and beautiful application like Saxo Bank’s new SaxoTraderGO. But it also took exactly the right front-end developers with a passion for their work and the ability to help manage the process.
One of Saxo Bank’s major assets is online trading. And as SaxoBank A/S Project Manager David Jacoby explains, until recently, the company offered both its own clients and banks four different trading solutions: the internet-based SaxoWebTrader which runs on the user’s browser, a SaxoTrader app which is downloaded to a pc, and SaxoBank’s smartphone and tablet apps. Each of these solutions had basically the same functionality, only versioned to the specific user situation and device. This meant that the same client could have four different user experiences on four different platforms. Both in relation to design and function, this solution was confused, which is why Saxo Bank began designing a new multi-asset trading platform three years ago. The goal was to give users the same look and feel on all devices.
“Online trading is our core business, and our SaxoTrader platform is good– but very advanced. We wanted a new trading application that performs better, is more user-friendly and more intuitive than the solutions we already had,” he explains.
“In online trading, performance is crucial. This is a major challenge, because we have clients in places like Australia, Asia and South America. In light of this, one of the fundamental requirements for our new application, SaxoTraderGO, was that it had to perform better than the existing applications – not only in relation to start-up times and response times, but also in relation to functions like price updates on the many thousand financial instruments that can be traded.” Prices can fluctuate many times a second, and in many cases it’s only possible to trade based on the latest price. So that’s why it’s crucial for our solution to be able to update prices at lightning speed, because otherwise clients risk getting their trades rejected.”
The development process for SaxoTraderGO was complex and
resource-intensive, remembers David Jacoby.
“SaxoTraderGO was designed for a new generation of investors who expect to be able to choose what products they want to trade, and what markets they want to trade on, when it suits them. They’re also mobile and unwilling to compromise on performance, functionality and usability. So this is a tool that has to live up to some extremely high expectations,” he says.
“This is why we carried out a number of usability tests in London which gave us feedback from a lot of different traders. The tests confirmed our assumption that the solution needed to be intuitive and user-friendly, but also that the design was decisive in relation to the overall user experience. For example, there was one young guy who stated that it was crucial for him that the application looked good when people walked by and caught a glimpse of his screen. He didn’t want to work with a user interface that looked like something from the 90s. So design really does mean something, and I believe that it will come to mean even more in the future. Also for Saxo Bank.”
Dependence on key staff
David Jacoby explains that managing a design process over several years can be difficult, because the technologies involved in the project are constantly being developed and upgraded.
“After just one year of development, we actually discussed whether we should replace some of the frameworks we were using because new and possibly better alternatives had become available in the meantime.”
How do you steer a project through the technological jungle?
“That’s certainly difficult. But my simple answer is that it’s about having the right people on board with the project,” says David Jacoby, and explains that Saxo Bank – like all other companies – experiences recruiting these key staff as a major challenge. There is huge demand for qualified developers, and as a consequence, they’re in a position to more or less pick and choose among the many job offers.
Is a high salary the only perk a business can offer to attract key staff?
“I also think it helps if the product they’re to work on is exciting, looks good and is based on the latest technologies. I know that Saxo Bank is attractive where that’s concerned, because we have a product that’s beautiful, contemporary and absolutely best-in-class technologically speaking.”
Front-end has become a specialist discipline
In the space of just a few years, David Jacoby has witnessed a major shift in software development in general and front-end development specifically. Previously, a company would hire a generalist for a specific project who was responsible for both back-end and front-end development. Today, the trend is increasingly to hire specialists.
“We have front-end developers on our team who only do front end. This was a conscious strategic decision on our part. I’d rather hire a developer with specialized front-end skills than a developer who just considers front end one part of his job,” states David Jacoby.
“When it comes to current trends in the developer community, I’m increasingly seeing younger front-end developers who’ve never worked on a Windows pc, for example.” At a job interview, one guy needed to type an email address on a pc, but he couldn’t find ’@’ on the keyboard. He’d never worked on anything other than a Mac. It’s been something of an eye-opener for me, and it sparked a trend internally in the company towards using Macs and tools like Git.”
Tips on preparing for the job interview
It’s no secret that finding just the right front-ender for a project can be difficult. But as David Jacoby points out, it can also be difficult for front-enders to get hired for just the right project. He has a few pieces of advice for prospective front-end job applicants to consider before their next interview.
“First of all, it’s an advantage if an applicant has checked out the company’s products before the interview and shows some curiosity about the technologies they’re based on. For example, you might ask how the company has tacked different challenges. Second, it’s an advantage if an applicant is an active participant in the developer community – maybe even with his or her own projects on GitHub. That shows that the applicant is really passionate about their work and that they’re able to find and share inspiration in the community. And when push comes to shove, that’s what you as a company benefit from, because it reflects that the developers have what it takes to perform innovatively as employees of the company,” concludes David Jacoby.
What is SaxoTraderGO?
SaxoTraderGO is the world’s most intuitive multi-asset trading platform, providing access to the market prices of over 30,000 instruments across a variety of investment options. SaxoTraderGO is based on HTML 5. Two functionalities in particular were a priority for this solution. First, the ability to use charts to give users an overview of their portfolios, visualize their trading patterns graphically and derive information from them. And second, a powerful search function that lets traders find the information they need across the approximately 40 stock exchanges in Saxo Bank’s system. Third-party developers will gain access to Saxo Bank’s Open API in late 2015, so that local banks and private individuals will be able to incorporate new functionalities into the solution.