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11k Citi employees fired. Help get them hired in tech. (thinkful.com)
65 points by darrellsilver on Dec 5, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 40 comments

At the risk of sounding like a heartless bastard upholding tired old stereotypes, enterprise scale retail banking is probably the last place the majority of startups should consider a 'talent pool'. In places like Citi, change is something to be feared, silos are everywhere and 'lean' is probably unheard of (at least in IT circles).

Kudos for at least providing an opportunity for people to improve themselves though. And the sentiment of course.

I have kind of mixed feelings about this. I worked at Citi, and the average person there is actually pretty smart. They're just tied down by all the bureaucracy, which ends up killing their creativity and motivation.

This can turn into an advantage once you leave, though. Once you join a decent company you get very motivated to do your best, because you never want to go back.

Agreed. Finance trains you extremely well for many challenges. Sometimes it's bureaucracy and that has to be untrained :).

some of the best devs I know loved the challenge that banking software presented. However, the majority of them could only handle a few years of it before needing fresh air

But would the 11k laid off be average employees, or the bottom 5%?

The smartest people will often end up performing terribly at bad companies. Being unable to act is not a huge deal for an average person, but it can be devastating and demotivating for someone who's used to getting shit done.

And honestly? I don't believe Citi management knows enough to know who their bottom 5% are.

You nailed it outright. I award an Indignation for your this post. I will also award one to Thinkful for this brilliant marketing move. So it's a Joint Indignation I award today: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EtCiP8B2xpc#t=7s

If 100 is the typical productivity of a smart person when she's making the technical calls, picking the tools, and writing a new system, most corporate environments expect software engineers to function at 5-10-- maybe 20-30 when they get to senior dev roles. The problem is that if you're used to 100+, that feels like being at 0. It's demoralizing when your productivity is a rounding error for environmental reasons that aren't your fault.

With such comprehensive layoffs (4% of the company), I can't imagine they wiped out 80% of their bottom 5%.

Welch effect: people first to be laid off are junior members of macroscopically underperforming teams, who had the least to do with its underperformance because they were not influential on those teams.

(I named it for Jack Welch, father of rank-and-yank.)

Consequently, companies tend to lay off from the middle, not bottom.

Banks are a hard place to work in IT. But the pay is good. In New York, I've seen a lot of good engineers get sucked in. I worked as a consultant at Citi for a year.

I wouldn't quite write someone off because they worked at a bank. It can be hard to walk away from 33% of your salary to do something more fulfilling. Just because they exist in that environment doesn't mean their passion is dead.

EDIT: By the way, I work at a Silicon Valley engineering driven startup working to fix financial software. If you have passion and want to start solving the problem rather than contribute to it, we're hiring great engineers. I know there are some in the big banks. http://careers.addepar.com or R2@addepar.com

I totally agree, I consider myself in that category. Although to be fair I'm in IB, not retail.

Any exit plan yet? I'm in the same boat.

Thank you! We're offering this course as a way for talent to level up.

As to the potential in the talent pool, you're judging people on the wrong factors: Big banks may not have the slick interfaces of a Square or Simple, but they also have the most complex, least-error tolerant customers and regulators.

Banking functions without downtime, and the world in which does so is extraordinarily complex. Ignoring either of those when you discuss the potential of the people that make it work is silly.

Speaking as someone in a very similar (if not worse) kind of environment (feral employees, uncivil servants), I think you'd be surprised. Sure, most people at Citi (and where I work) are probably very risk averse, but that doesn't mean they don't have smarts. I've often felt that there is an enormous untapped talent pool at many of the national labs. A change to something fresher might be just the push some people need to go guerilla and try a startup. Heck, if I wasn't tied down by local personal interests, I'd have jumped ship long ago.

You don't see the contradiction in your post? Startups arent fresh air and flowers, the ones that succeed are the ones that power through the tough times for uncertain reward. You need to love the thrill of the risk in and of itself.

I work with a great dba who came from a bank.

One fun fact about working in banking: customarily you're required to take at least 10 consecutive days off every year.

As you may know, the mandatory consecutive days of vacation time isn't due to the kindness of their heart. Instead, it's an audit control. The idea is that if you are forced to stay away from work for some amount of time, it's harder to cover up fraud or other unscrupulous activity. Many companies have a similar policy, although it's typically a week of consecutive days off.

If the prognostications of a 2013 Flight to Substance following the implosion of social media are correct, enterprise startups will be increasingly popular. However, the enterprise is a notoriously hard place to sell. But someone needs to do it. Who better than someone who was in the enterprise for 5 years?

Also, don't stereotype. There are a lot of IT people in banks and stereotypically boring financial companies like Bloomberg and Reuters who think the way HNers do, who would love to torch their 1980s-era version control systems in favor of Git, and who spend half their time on Coursera boning up on machine learning.

Where's the indication that NYC tech talent was hit in any significant way? From the linked article:

About 35 percent of the fourth-quarter costs are tied to eliminating 6,200 jobs in consumer banking, with operations set to be sold or scaled back in Pakistan, Paraguay, Romania, Turkey and Uruguay, according to the statement. Branches will be reduced in five other nations, including 44 in the U.S.

It might be that no-one in NYC was fired. But I imagine that the people employed by Citi in the city (zing) are still a little nervous about their long-term prospects. When shareholders cheer people being fired, you have to wonder if you're next.

That said, it does make Thinkful's offer to "ex-Citi employees" a little less likely to be taken up.

I strongly doubt that anyone in Citi you'd want to hire for a startup is working under any kind of illusion that Citi is an employment project. If your unit isn't profitable (enough), it's shut. Of course the stock market likes that - or rather, dislikes the opposite.

I read the message as "Your industry sucks to work in now, doesn't it? Why not come to our website to study web programming online so you can come join the tech startup industry instead?"

That's a very charitable reading.

It's a PR play for the training outfit, and not a terribly good one, IMO.

The post is an advertisement to be sure. But they are being somewhat charitable themselves by giving their service away for free to ex-Citi employees.

Ah, but how many get the full service, and not just online course material? How do they scale their "one-on-one help" to 11k people?

Thinkful only get paid when a hiring manager employs somebody that they introduced. If I were to be an old curmudgeon, this is PR off the back of bad news, to try and scalp potential leads and resumes.

If that's the case then thinkful might want to consider rewording "Your new CEO just fired _you_ and..." on that landing page

Citi was one of the best places I have ever worked.

Sure it was tightly controlled with various security precautions, change control and the other banking regulator requirements which made it impossible to be a hacker and to get things done quickly.

But as a workplace it left me with fond memories.

What did you like about it?

Awesome. Were you recently laid off?

From my experience working at a large Investment Bank, the strong performers normally do keep up to date with new technology developments or have otherwise a strong base knowledge that allows them to pick up new things by themselves. The masses largely prefer to have a corporate job for as much pay as possible - this was the first workplace where I heard a number of people explicitly say they are only there for the money and in some cases actually want the redundancy packages.

In my view the good opportunity for other companies in these situations is that a number of stronger performers decide to leave by themselves when this happens, for multiple reasons - they are overworked because their teams are reduced, low morale, etc. These are the ones that are interesting to capture.

But would they be good matches for tech jobs? On what basis are you reaching that conclusion?

Excellent question.

Simply put: We follow where growing companies are looking for talent. That's our indicator.

Banks, hedge funds and other parts of the financial sector use a hell of a lot of fancy tech (they're the first "big data" after all), and there's a lot of expertise that's been locked up there for too long.

When I left finance (4.5 years, 4 years ago... hells yeah) I had all sorts of engineering skills, but knew nothing of the companies, how to evaluate employers, or what exact tools were most in demand or growing.

Helping people answer those questions more quickly than I could is our mission.

One thing I like about finance is that they are better than most corporations at respecting and evaluating intelligence. They don't reject the 140+ IQ set outright in the way that most corporate environments (even some startups) do. Financial companies may restrain and underemploy such people with bureaucratic nonsense, but they also pay for the pain.

The problem with the developer economy is that paid work has very low career efficiency. There's just a lot of glop work to go around, and most engineers don't have the political pull to get past it and on to the interesting stuff, which they're perceived as underqualified for because of their track record of crappy work (even if done well). Most engineers have about a 75% slack ratio in their careers, which prevents them from ever getting really good. But give a decently smart and motivated engineer 5 years of full autonomy and you'll have the guys and gals that people make Chuck Norris jokes about.

On another (un?)related note, Citibank ran a 'Cyber Monday' in India where

    "it would provide discounts of up to 60 per cent"

"MVC, Backbone, wireframing ... Django, Rails, Node, Hadoop ... Amazon Web Services & Heroku ... Git in a Nutshell Continuous deployment & TDD"

They should teach more than just the latest (popular) concepts/languages like node, ruby, python. There seems to be little mention of important concepts such as data types, pointers, and OOP.

Nothing wrong with learning Javascript and Ruby or Python off the bat instead of starting with something like Java or C/C++. But you might want to start the course with stuff like programming language basics, database basics, and SQL if they're coming from non-programming positions.

It's also a little overkill to cover Django, Rails, AND Node.js in one course, isn't it?

I guess I'm not sure if the ad is targeted at Citigroup's software/IT people (who already know a lot of this stuff and are probably not the folks getting laid off) or the other (finance/accounting/admin/sales/customer service/operations) people (who probably need to start from the square-one basics of web programming).

Fair question. We don't think you can learn from scratch any of these topics in three weeks, let alone all of them, to be employable at any of them. What we're talking about are people who are proficient in a given language or topic already, and who want to see a crash course, and get a taste, before deciding what to do next.

Our candidates are basically already very employable, but there's an extra risk we help employers avoid: that a new hire won't enjoy or become proficient in this new subject quickly (read: cheaply).

Thinkful is all about cost savings for employers, and candidates finding what they're really interested in.

Know java really, really well? Maybe you'll enjoy scala. But perhaps give it a trial run for a few weeks (along with some other cool stuff) before jumping in to a job for several years.

I would add regular expressions and anonymous functions to that list.

Am I the only one that read that as "Dear Citi employees, sucks you got fired. You're probably bad at what you do; let us help."?

This is brilliant marketing by Thinkful.

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