Meet the Team: Compliance Engineering

Bloomberg customers operate in one of the most tightly regulated environments in the world, and they require powerful tools to mitigate risk and maintain compliance. The Compliance Engineering group in the Market and Community Applications area of our Engineering department builds products that help Bloomberg Terminal customers maintain compliance with regulations covering the storage and retention of financial services professionals’ communications and trade data. These products include the Bloomberg Vault archival solution, and Surveillance, which applies policies to messages sent through the Terminal in order to help prevent employee misconduct, market abuse, and insider training.

Sara Stonner

Let’s meet the Head of Compliance Engineering, Sara Stonner. Compliance Engineering is currently hiring all kinds of engineers, and Sara shares what she’s looking for in potential hires.

What are some of the unique technical challenges your team needs to tackle?
Our real-time Surveillance engine is a blocking synchronous task. With the spikes in traffic that we experience either at market open or during volatile market situations like we’ve seen this year, we must have systems that can expand and contract on demand. That’s no small challenge! To satisfy spiky demand and low latency, we engineered our own internal private cloud, which is basically 12 racks of bare metal running Mesosphere and Marathon. We layer our application frameworks on top of that. These are largely based on the Apache open source stack (e.g., Solr, Storm, Spark, Kafka, Accumulo, Presto, and ZooKeeper). All of our pipelines and engines were built to run on that infrastructure. Beyond having a unique technical stack (to Bloomberg anyways), we are also one of the few areas at Bloomberg whose primary application interface is web-based, so establishing standards and being keyed into the other engineering teams internally who also manage web properties is key. 

Tell us about your career path.
I went straight from college into a training program, not unlike ours here at Bloomberg. I moved around a few times, from an actuarial firm to Oracle, where I worked on the database. That was when I started finding my passion for data and storage. I briefly went to a speech recognition firm which doesn’t exist anymore. This was back in the dot-com days, so I jumped to Akamai, where I spent a few years working on their clickstream analysis. I then moved to New York City and worked in finance for a dozen years or so in infrastructure and in technology risk, finally landing at Bloomberg four years ago. I have had a long and diverse career, but it really centers on data and storage combined with compliance.

What’s your strategy for choosing team members, particularly in terms of diversity?
I believe strongly in diversity across the board — in teams, classrooms, government, anywhere. I feel that the teams building products need to represent the users who are using them and that includes different experience levels, genders, races, backgrounds, etc. If you look at the early failings of facial recognition technology — the fact that error rates for the recognition of Black, Asian, Native American, and female faces were orders of magnitude higher than those of white, Eastern European men — you start to really understand that the teams developing products must be representative of the people using them or they will fail. The compliance officers and desk heads using the Bloomberg Compliance suite of products are not homogenous and neither should we be.

What skills do you look for when hiring engineers for your team?
It really depends on the role we are trying to fill. In some cases, raw technical skills and experience in specific technologies are a must. For example, we are looking for a Solr expert right now to help us with our Search strategy and implementation. For other roles, I look for generalized programming skills, along with a desire to collaborate, high energy, and passion. I like to make sure our teams are well-balanced, leaving opportunities for people who are interested in learning a new technology to join, even when they don’t necessarily possess the language skills on day one. If they can demonstrate that they can learn and are excited to do so, that is enough to earn a spot on the team.

What are some of the factors driving the rapid growth/expansion of your team?
We’ve spent more than a decade as a “check the box” solution to Terminal customers, but we have so much data in our system and so much power to do something really exciting with it. When I took over Compliance just over a year ago, a new Product counterpart also started. He came from outside the company and had worked for startups that handled communication and voice data. He brought a Product vision with him that sought to bring our data sets together into a new Integrated Compliance Platform, combining our communications and trade data archives with Surveillance and adding some more of the rich assets that Bloomberg owns, like News and Trade Violations. I was able to build a technical strategy to align to that and we presented it to the Management Committee, who agreed that this opportunity was worth investing in. So we’ve expanded the Compliance Engineering team by 20 heads and are working to fill those openings this year. We are looking for every type of engineer — SRE, DevOps, C++, Java, and Python Senior Engineers, Full Stack, and UI. This is a really exciting time to join our team!

“I like to make sure our teams are well-balanced, leaving opportunities for people who are interested in learning a new technology to join, even when they don’t necessarily possess the language skills on day one.”

– Sara Stonner

Steven Zabolotny

When Software Engineer Steven Zabolotny first visited Bloomberg’s office last year, he thought it resembled a space station. This, along with the company’s unique position at the intersection of finance and tech, won him over immediately. 

Tell us about your career path.
When I first discovered computer science in high school, I wanted to be a game developer. I studied computer science, applied mathematics, and statistics at Stony Brook University. I did a research project on natural terrain generation in computer graphics. In addition, my thesis project was focused on the accurate simulation of astrophysics in video games. I started out interning for a company that creates software for ecology education. There, I created a web application for projections of population size. I subsequently interned at a financial technology company, where I created a heat map representing usage analysis for their mobile application. 

During my studies, I discovered machine learning and became interested in applications of computer science in mathematics. This interest, along with my prior experience with financial technology, is what fueled my desire to join Bloomberg.

Tell us about what you’re working on now.
I’ve been a member of the Surveillance Apps & Reporting Team since August 2019, joining it immediately after completing my training. My recent work has primarily focused on re-architecting Bloomberg Vault Surveillance, a communications surveillance tool that enables compliance officers to manage their firm’s real-time surveillance on Bloomberg data and near real-time surveillance on various corporate data. 

You joined Bloomberg shortly after completing your CS degree last year. How did you find out about Bloomberg?
During a prior internship, a member of my team left to work for Bloomberg. Later, when I was applying for full-time positions, I remembered this and chose to apply to Bloomberg since I already had some experience working in financial technology. I didn’t know much about the company until my on-site interview. The first thing that stood out about Bloomberg was the office. When I got off the elevator on the sixth floor of the company’s global headquarters in NYC for the first time, the spacious “Link” overlooking the building’s courtyard, the wide variety of snacks, and its futuristic lighting and design made me feel like I was boarding a space station. While I was first sold on the office, I ended up choosing Bloomberg because it offers many opportunities for learning and career development, and the company really seems to be invested in the success of its engineers. 

What do you wish you knew about software engineering careers before you joined Bloomberg?
Looking back on my undergraduate years, I wish I had focused more on acquiring job experience. While focusing on classes and learning the material is important (I would definitely make sure I have the fundamentals of data structures and algorithms down), it isn’t as important or useful as real-world technical experience that you can obtain from internships or part-time jobs. Job experience can teach you much more important and relevant skills, such as communication and leadership. It can also help you learn about how to work on projects with the client’s needs in mind and how teams work together effectively.

I advise new employees to get to know the people in their training class. These people will become invaluable friends and connections. If nothing else, it will make your training a more fun experience.

“While I was first sold on the office, I ended up choosing Bloomberg because it offers many opportunities for learning and career development, and the company really seems to be invested in the success of its engineers.”

– Steven Zabolotny

Irfan Susilo

Irfan Susilo has spent his whole post-college career at Bloomberg, which has allowed him to develop a wide professional network he knows he can count on when he faces challenges. 

Briefly tell us about your career path.
I started in the R&D (the Engineering department’s name back then) training class back in 2003, right after finishing graduate school. My first team was Real-Time Market Applications, which is part of the Equities group. We were responsible for some of Bloomberg’s most heavily used market monitoring apps. I spent six years on the team, growing into a senior developer role and then its team leader, culminating in a complete tech re-architecture of our product. 

Over the next four years, I became interested in financial domains and moved to lead the Listed Derivatives Real-Time team focusing on options instruments, and then quantitative credit risk on the Fixed Income Infrastructure team. These presented me with a unique mix of challenges, where one has to know just enough about how the financial market works, the quantitative models to be able to work with our quants, as well as the engineering that goes into efficiently computing derivatives over large flows of market data

As open source technologies to process large volumes of data were taking off, I began looking for opportunities to gain knowledge and build real-world solutions using them. That led me to join Compliance. 

After 17 years at Bloomberg, how do you keep things interesting?
Throughout the years that I have been part of Bloomberg, things have never really stayed still, and I’ve honestly found it effortless to keep it interesting. Our Engineering department has constantly grown by attracting some of the most amazing talent. And we’ve kept pace with the industry’s leading technologies, especially in machine learning, AI, and cloud infrastructure. We are constantly redefining our products and finding ways to integrate new functionality that adds more business value. It’s gotten to the point where I no longer recognize some of the products I used to be responsible for.

I’ve challenged myself by expanding my knowledge of Quantitative Finance via self-paced learning opportunities and getting certification as a chartered financial analyst (CFA). In my current role, I regularly network with various teams in Software Infrastructure (SI) and Technology Infrastructure (TI) to devise strategies for evolving our group’s compute platform.

Tell us about what you’re working on now and what your biggest challenge is. What inspires you most about it?
Across our Compliance Engineering teams, we are constantly working on multiple complex projects with major impact. We spend half of our time improving the reliability and scalability of our systems, but we are also pushing the boundaries of how we can combine technology, finance, and digital communications to create compelling Compliance solutions.

One of the key projects in my group is an overhaul of Compliance’s Identity and Access Management systems. This multi-year project’s goal is to minimize data risks when it comes to user permissions and to lower our operational overhead. To do that, we need to first re-architect the foundation from multiple commercial RDBMSes and non-uniform access patterns to a new design on top of open source technologies and scalable microservice patterns. We will then build an integrated processing pipeline to handle multiple types of change events on enterprise services and user entities that must propagate exhaustively throughout Compliance systems.

While the challenge here is the magnitude of the effort and orchestrating the creation of new data models while renovating our existing ones simultaneously, this project is what I am most excited about, given the very broad impact on our business capability to handle a significantly larger number of clients, while controlling the risk factors.

What is it like moving to different teams within Bloomberg? How have you adapted?
Each team is unique. Before making a move decision, you need to understand both the opportunities and the challenges from different perspectives (e.g., stakeholders, other departments, etc.). I find it more critical to my decision-making to know who I will be working with, especially who has the product vision and what it is, than the pure technical stack or any learning opportunities.

When you are new to a team or organization, do not hesitate to ask questions and identify the right people who can explain things to you. Note everything you’ve come across and take the time to do your own research from source repositories, product docs, or team documentation, however outdated they might be. Structure your findings into coherent presentations that you can do informally with your manager and ask for feedback. The key is to be proactive in managing your learning curve and defining your own roles and responsibilities.

Sara Parelhoff

Software Engineer Sara Parelhoff joined Bloomberg after exploring some other career paths. She shares how Bloomberg’s culture of learning and philanthropy attracted her to work here.

Briefly tell us about your career path.
It’s been a long and winding one (Hello! Millennial here!). I was an English teacher in Japan for a year after leaving my undergraduate studies, then I worked in client services at a news aggregation company for several years before going back to school to study fashion. I worked in fashion for six years before deciding it was time for another career change, so I left to pursue a software development intensive in the Grace Hopper Program at Fullstack Academy. I stayed on for another cohort at Grace Hopper as a teaching fellow and then accepted an offer to come to Bloomberg shortly thereafter.

Fashion meets Finance. Let’s drill down on that more. What made you decide to learn software engineering, and why apply it to the finance sector after so many years in fashion?
I was in product development for most of my fashion career, and the mindset of taking an idea from inspiration all the way to a shippable product is also quite applicable in software engineering. There’s a cadence of actions that feels very familiar: understanding the customer’s needs, research, technical application, logistics of production. I do have a minor in Computer Science, so it wasn’t a completely out of left field switch. I like that I’m still able to be creative at work — it’s still “making” something, but the process is much more hands-on. 

I honestly never saw myself working in the finance sector. During my job search, I was looking for a place that felt like a supportive environment for new engineers, where I could learn and develop. I was so impressed by everyone I spoke with during my interview process at Bloomberg. The culture is what clinched it.

Is there an advantage to hiring more people with career experience outside of software engineering and financial analysis?
Oh absolutely. I encountered so many amazing women at Grace Hopper who had jobs in completely different fields before making the switch to coding, and they’re all crushing it now. One of my good friends had been a journalist before making the switch, and then turned around and started working as an engineer at a media company after graduating. There’s no telling what special skills someone will bring to the table that maybe aren’t in the job description, but will be an asset to the company.

Tell us about what you’re working on now and what your biggest challenge is. What inspires you most about it?
I’m currently working on adding some new features to our EDiscovery application related to enhancements that have been made to the Compliance Data Pipeline. The client-facing applications that my team is responsible for would not be possible without the hard work of the other teams in Vault, and the work I’m doing now is making features that have been added already in the back-end layers accessible to our clients.

I’m a visual person, I enjoy front-end work and making additions to our UI that will be used by our customers. I’ve learned a lot as part of the team. While JavaScript is my strongest language, I had to learn Ruby from scratch. Working on the application now compared to when I first started has been gratifying. I think there are always challenges working on a codebase that’s been around for a long time and predates you, especially if you’ve never done it before. Luckily, I have a great team who is always ready to jump in and help with any questions.

Bloomberg has a distinctive culture. What attracted you to it?
The company’s culture of service and giving was HUGE for me. As I said, I never saw myself anywhere near finance, but when I started to learn about Bloomberg and how philanthropic the company is, that was a total game-changer. When I left fashion, I was determined that my next job would be for a company that did more good than bad for the world, and Bloomberg puts a lot of effort into that, which really impressed me. During my interview process, I was also taken with how kind and humane everyone was. Everyone I spoke with was a real person, if that makes sense. It just felt like a good place.

“During my job search, I was looking for a place that felt like a supportive environment for new engineers, where I could learn and develop. I was so impressed by everyone I spoke with during my interview process at Bloomberg. The culture is what clinched it.

– Sara Parelhoff

Check out the open roles with the Compliance Engineering team here and here.