by Brian Nordli
December 19, 2018

DRW has long been at the intersection of technology and finance, so it’s no surprise they’re at the forefront of the latest financial revolution: cryptoassets.

The principal trading firm and its cryptoasset subsidiary, Cumberland, are working to bring predictability and clarity to a rapidly-evolving industry. To do so, developers are building off the tools and expertise that have previously helped them create agriculture and fixed income market models.

In a culture that emphasizes cross-collaboration and pair programming, three engineers speak on the future of cryptoassets and the tech they’re building to take it on. 

 

DRW Office
Photography By Chris Murphy
DRW Hallway
PHotography By CHris Murphy
DRW Pool Table
Photography by Chris Murphy

 

FOUNDED: 1992

EMPLOYEES: 900 (500 local)

WHAT THEY DO: DRW is a principal trading firm that uses technology and research to conduct trades across the globe and in a variety of assets, including cryptoassets like Bitcoin and Ethereum.

WHERE THEY DO IT: Chicago

KNOWLEDGE CAPITAL: DRW prioritizes knowledge sharing and, to that end, they offer tuition reimbursement and a company speaker series. Past speakers include Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and astronaut Susan Kilrain.

GEEKING OUT: Traders, researchers and software engineers can share their knowledge during DRW’s Geek Lunches, an internal tech talk series.  

 

Brian at work

Brian Portrait

 

Brian, Head of Trading Infrastructure

Brian manages the software engineering teams focused on building and maintaining the trade-enabling infrastructure.

BEYOND WORK: After a day of managing nine teams, Brian finds his inner-child coaching youth soccer teams.

 

What attracted you to the trading industry as a career?

My career path is a bit unusual: I studied theology in college, but always had an interest in technology. After graduating college, I attended seminary school but quickly realized it wasn’t for me. I then worked at a design firm doing web development and then at an investment firm writing code and modeling mortgage-backed securities. From there, I came to DRW as a junior engineer where I went from leading a project, to leading a team to now leading nine teams.   

There is excitement in being in an area where you can leverage technology so efficiently. Trading also moves really fast — you can go from something that didn’t exist to a new trade without a lot of lag.

 

What role do you see cryptoassets playing in the future of the trading industry?

With the high adoption rate we are seeing by traditional exchanges, I think cryptoassets have a place to stand. The sheer amount of daily volatility in the crypto markets provides a lot of excitement. Our developers are encouraged to deeply understand the ecosystem and the underlying assets so that we’re able to build systems that work even as the market evolves.

All those experiences building systems for fixed income or agriculture trading have prepared us to take the jagged areas of crypto and build technology that models it in clean, uniform ways.

 

We automate everything we can so our developers aren’t fighting with the computer — they’re just working on solving the interesting problems presented by the financial markets.”

 

How is the tech team positioning DRW in that field?  

There is very little uniformity across exchanges in cryptocurrency, so it’s not easy to get an accurate global picture. We are building systems that help us understand these differences and make all global crypto data digestible for our traders so they can make smart trades. This market has a need for zero downtime. Usually in the trading world you don't deploy unless you have to, but we consistently deploy throughout the never-ending trading day without interruptions.

 

What is your tech stack comprised of?

Whatever we need. My team builds and maintains about 300 services, in many languages. Java and Clojure are the big ones, but we’re in Python, C#, TypeScript, C or Ruby when we need to be. We care more about using the right tool for the job than having a particular tech stack.

As you add more languages, your footprint becomes bigger, so we then build systems to unify our technology making the common tasks standardized and transparent. We automate everything we can so our developers aren’t fighting with the computer — they’re just working on solving the interesting problems presented by the financial markets.

 

Ciara at work

Ciara portrait

 

Ciara, Software Engineer

Ciara works on the trading infrastructure core team, where she helps maintain and develop DRW’s trading management system. All trading desks then use that system to submit their trades and distribute the information to internal parties, like compliance and risk management.

BEYOND WORK: Ciara spends her day building software and finds another outlet for building in the woodshop, where she’s built tables, boxes and picture frames.

 

How does the engineering team collaborate on projects?

We pair program all day, every day with different team members. We’re always bouncing ideas off of each other, talking through problems and then writing code. When I started, I was able to jump in and start pairing. I gained a good understanding of all the applications that our team supports — over 150 — and started building along with my team members, who made it easy to ramp up.

 

We’re always bouncing ideas off of each other, talking through problems and then writing code.”

 

How does the tech you’re working on at DRW compare to previous experiences you’ve had with other trading firms?

My role at DRW is different than my experiences at other trading firms: At DRW, I’m on a shared services team and the stack is much more functional programming based. This has helped me think about problems in a different way. I’ve grown as an engineer in the short time I’ve been here.

 

What opportunities are there to work on different projects at DRW?

I recently worked on a cryptoasset-focused project, which required collaboration with teams across the organization to deliver.  We took applications built for the capital markets and expanded them for use in cryptoassets. The challenge was understanding how these applications connected to market data and adjusting them to work with cryptoasset’s fragmented market data.

We thought deeply about how these products work, how they might evolve and what our traders expect in terms of performance and functionality on a trading desk. Throughout the project, we exchanged a lot of knowledge with other teams.

 

Chris at work

Chris portrait

 

Chris, Head of Technology, Cumberland  

Chris leads the technology team for Cumberland — a DRW subsidiary specializing in cryptoasset trading. He guides the engineering teams in building cryptoasset trading technology from the ground up.  

BEYOND WORK: Along with taking on the duties of a family, Chris enjoys playing League of Legends, traveling and taking outdoor adventures with coworkers.   

 

What role are you playing in the cryptoassets field for DRW?

Before doing cryptoasset work, I jointly founded the firm’s first algorithmic trading operation. I learned how to build an ecosystem around a market and understand and adjust for regulation, as well as variables, that come with a new market and technology.

That experience has prepared me well for cryptoassets. It’s also an industry going through maturation and evolution, but it’s on a much more condensed timeline. We’re working to make a safe and reasonably-designed environment where people feel comfortable participating in the market.

 

How have you seen the cryptocurrency field evolve from when DRW first entered it in 2014?

The evolution of the space has gone from night to day in the last four years. The marketplace is more developed, more sophisticated participants have entered the market and the industry is still building at an incredible pace.

This market is so new, and every day new resources and tools are being shared throughout the ecosystem. Trading cryptoassets presents some of the most interesting technical problems in my career so far, and a lot of fellow technologists see that.

 

Trading cryptoassets presents some of the most interesting technical problems in my career so far, and a lot of fellow technologists see that.”

 

What are you looking for in new team members?

In an industry that is rapidly evolving, it’s important for each individual to have expertise in one discipline and have the capacity to understand what experts in other disciplines might be thinking. As the roles of trader, researcher and software engineer start to blend, collaboration becomes even more important.

Thinking about talent in this way has also forced me to become strategic in who we hire. I don’t just need people in here coding — we look for people with a specific expertise in an area that we’re missing. We want someone to bring a new perspective to help us build things in a new way.

 

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