Take It to the Bank

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For the past 80 years, Waterfield’s main mission has centered on showcasing dependability. The financial services company’s tagline is “legacy of trust,” because while it has seen the economy through decades of ups and downs and innovations, its commitment to quality service has remained a top priority.

With offices in Irvine, Calif., and Tulsa, Okla., Waterfield is an umbrella of companies made up of Waterfield Bank, Waterfield Financial Services and Waterfield Technologies.

“We run a very unique business,” said John Marino, chief operating officer. “We’ve got an online bank that’s effectively one of the drivers of our business, so a lot of the things that we’re doing across all of the organizations are really about facilitating and helping the customers of that online bank.”

Because the technologies portion of Waterfield’s business deals with providing multichannel business solutions to clients such as GE Capital, Citibank and CenterPoint Energy, it looks for a couple of different flavors in terms of IT hiring, Marino said.

“The IT folks we hire in the bank are very different than the IT folks we hire in the technology firm,” he said.

IT professionals at Waterfield fall into six different categories, or “buckets,” Marino said, which include systems and business analysts, IT network and infrastructure, application development, operations support, infrastructure support and project management.

“On the operations and IT infrastructure side, we’re focused on network maintenance, operating systems and the various systems that go into maintaining a bank infrastructure — so, all the firewalling [and] routing,” Marino said. “We’ve got a fairly extensive NBLS network that’s linking our office infrastructure, so being able to have solid telecommunications skills and combine that with the software we’re using, from an operations perspective, are the things we’re looking for from our IT and network support folks.”

In operation developers, Marino looks for strong integration understanding — how to tie systems together.

“We’re primarily a Microsoft shop, so we’re building solutions atop .NET and some not as broadly oriented development tools, and so that’s why I go back to the specific integration skill set,” Marino said. “We use some tools that are proprietary to our industries.

“On the Waterfield technologies side, we do a lot of work in the voice and call center space. It’s not like you build everything in just raw .NET or visual studio, so we are building solutions in those buckets where broad understanding of application development is critical.”

On top of that, Waterfield seeks professionals with solid comprehension of an agile system development life cycle (SDLC) and an understanding of how, from a development perspective, agile methodologies can be deployed in an enterprise in a responsible manner and can improve the underlying business.

“Operations support folks: Those guys have got to have a very broad understanding,” Marino said. “They’re masters of all things, but they don’t have a specific depth competency a lot of times because they’re troubleshooting a variety of systems. So, for those guys, they’ve got to have a good comprehension of networking, good solid comprehension of database, understanding how the database infrastructure ties into the applications. They also have to have general knowledge of application development because sometimes there’s troubleshooting and those kinds of things that are involved.”

When it comes to training new IT hires, Waterfield takes a role-model-driven, lead-by-example approach.

“We’re small enough that we don’t have a fully regimented training program, but what we do is work hard at pairing up those folks with the leads in the respective groups they’re going to be moving into,” Marino said. “So, when I hire a project manager, I’m attaching him to the hip of the other project managers for a period of time, bringing him up to speed — really not doing anything but observing, watching, listening, understanding.”

Still, Waterfield strives to provide an atmosphere that supports its IT professionals on whichever path they wish to take.

“We do sit down with them when they’re brought on to understand where they’re trying to head,” Marino said. “Some of our guys are very content developing and love the challenges that it brings day to day. Other guys want to be CTOs in five, 10 years, so we try to help them adopt career paths to move in that direction.”

In turn, to attract Marino’s attention, a prospective employee should demonstrate a rich education and background — although certification still matters from a regulatory perspective.

“We’ve got to have guys who obviously are trained and certified in what they’re doing,” Marino said. “We’ve got to prove to a number of folks — from our auditors to regulators to examiners — that we’ve got qualified individuals in their positions.”

In the non-bank portions of the business, Marino wants IT professionals who understand financial services and understand what application development means, especially with the approach Waterfield takes to development.

“I think a lot of that background is very relevant,” Marino said. “A lot of times the process and certified way of doing things isn’t the way we necessarily would like to do things, taking care of our customers.”

However, Marino was quick to reassure that a non-financial services background is “not a deal-breaker.”

“We’re bringing folks in from other industries on a regular basis,” he said. “I would prefer [financial services experience], but it’s not required.”

If one is seeking a project management role with Waterfield, then soft skills take the stage. Good communicators who are able to think both technically and nontechnically and constantly adjust between the two will likely win heavy consideration when vying for a project management position at Waterfield.

“In our company, the way project managers work, they’re really the liaison on specific engagements between the customers and the development team,” Marino said. “We practice in different technical development disciplines, and not all technical disciplines are the same.

“I want good thinking skills. I want patient, objective folks who are clearly not letting pride and ego get in the way of doing their job. They’re very willing to admit that they’re always learning. Those are the kinds of things that are important.” 

Interviewees may find themselves relating memories from their high school jobs.

“We love to ask about their very first employment options — where they took a job when they were 12 or 14 or 16,” Marino said. “For us, it gives insight into what kind of people they are. Are they self-driven, are they motivated? Are they putting themselves into a position to be accelerated, or do they need to be fed? Do we need to plan on having a very structured process for this person to be successful? We realize that not all of those personality types work in a small company.”

For instance, if someone needs a lot of structure at work, or a defined 12-step process to the next annual review, Waterfield may not be the best place for that person, Marino said.

“And, conversely, we’re able to find folks who started working early, know what it means to get the job done and are willing to seek out ways. We find those folks certainly add a lot of value to the company.”

Waterfield’s IT team seeks experienced professionals — and also those just out of school. In fact, the company embraces interns.

“We’re specifically looking for internships as a way to bring in young talent still in school — if they’re not in a full-time undergraduate [program], then they’re maybe going to junior college or vocational school,” Marino said. “We’re very open and willing to realize that not everybody has the same opportunities.

As for infrastructure support roles, Marino wants experienced professionals. Otherwise, there’s lots of room for younger professionals.

“On the application development front, our programmers, guys who are building code, frankly, I really like the young guys,” he said. “I really like folks who are just out of school, have new fresh ideas. Stuff turns over so frequently that we love getting motivated energy infused into the company through young new hires.”

Once they settle into their roles, new hires can embark on a variety of career paths.

“I’ve got intern positions that fit into some of my buckets; for instance, I’ve got interns in my application development group,” Marino said. “Certainly, for those kinds of individuals, they can move into a career where they become leaders in their respective fields. I think that we try and leave the door open. In a small company, though, I think it’s always a tough question.”

Ultimately, though, it’s about becoming invested in the business at Waterfield, Marino said. In keeping with the company tagline, Waterfield emphasizes its strategic mission when training all IT hires.

“Our IT guys don’t just understand how to write code, but they understand how it applies to the business, and I think that’s probably one of the differentiators for us,” Marino said. “We like the motto, ‘We’re big enough to serve and small enough to care,’ and I think for us, it means that it really ties into all of our technical positions being able to contribute to the business.”

Elizabeth Lisican is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She can be reached at editor (at) certmag (dot) com.

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