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IBKR’s Interns – Building on a Legacy of Innovation

Episode 21

IBKR’s Interns – Building on a Legacy of Innovation

Posted November 8, 2023 at 11:57 am
Steven Levine
Interactive Brokers

Steven Levine

Hello, and welcome to IBKR Podcasts. I’m Steven Levine, senior market analyst at Interactive Brokers, and your host for today’s program. We’ll be speaking with IBKR’s Human Resources Director Michael Kerrigan, as well as our Chief Data Officer Ilya Degter, about their insights into our highly competitive internship program, how it continues to achieve its success, and the critical role our interns play when it comes to IBKR’s ongoing advancements in technology.

So, how are you, Michael? Ilya? Welcome. Thank you for coming. Thank you for taking the time.

Michael Kerrigan

Thank you, Steve. Very happy to be here.

Ilya Degter

Great to be here, Steven. Thank you so much for inviting me.

Steven Levine

We last spoke, the three of us, about last year’s internship program – the one for 2022 – in our previous two-part podcast series – that was called ‘Keys to a Successful Career’ [Part 1, Part 2], and I do urge our listeners to check that out. There’s a lot of terrific insights in there. So, firstly, what stands out to you this year as being what you might view as progress or evolution or development since the program started?

Michael Kerrigan

So, what I was mostly impressed with this year is the variety of different staff, and the variety of different groups that joined us. We definitely had a huge amount of growth from our internship program over the previous years; and this year, the quality of the staff that joined … and the quality of interns was very impressive. I think every single one of them was probably at the top of their class, heavily involved with other activities, just not doing programming and work. And just, in general, they had a good amount of experience outside of just going to school. What I also liked is the program itself grew. We had a lot more IBKR staff involved with this, a lot more input from other staff, people enjoyed it from last year and wanted to get more involved. We had a laundry list of people who unfortunately couldn’t be involved because we had so many people involved. So, this year we had a more of a unique challenge of trimming down those who did one-on-ones, or did lunch-and-learns, or wanted to speak, or wanted to kind of talk to interns. While previous years, we had a challenge to get those people, because they had their normal day jobs, but they saw the success out of it, you know, and that’s what impressed me mostly about this year’s group. And I think it went very smoothly. We ironed out challenges we’ve had in the past. The hybrid world was definitely one. The COVID was another. This year, it went very smooth because we had less challenges.

Steven Levine

How big was this year’s group? Was It bigger than 2022?

Michael Kerrigan

So, we had over 50 this year. I think it was bigger than it was in previous years. We had a good split between non-tech and tech. While previous years, we’ve had more tech interns than we had [non-tech], this year, it was pretty even.

Steven Levine

Yes. We talked to some of the non-tech interns in a podcast that we did, as well as a tech intern, and everyone had such amazing feedback from the whole experience. And when did the formal program start? It started in 2019?

Michael Kerrigan

So, Interactive Brokers has always had interns, but it was interns that were more of like, ‘Hey, I have this someone who wants to get some work experience. Do you mind if they join?’ And it was very informal. We didn’t really generate a formal internship till 2019. It started off very small. It was mostly focused on programmers, and then it grew – the success of it. And what we were able to do partnering with HR Recruiting and other IBKR leaders, we were able to grow it, make it more formal, broadened where we do our searches in schools, the number of applicants – and I know you’ve had conversations with Gee [Gee Vats, IBKR’s Team Lead in Technical Recruitment] in a previous podcast, and, you know, the amount of applicants we get …. it’s probably staggering. So, it just continues to grow.

Steven Levine

Especially on the software development side. And she’s our technical recruiter lead – Gee Vats. We did a podcast with her, and she gave us these numbers. I mean, it was staggering. I mean, the amount of applicants was just amazing.

Michael Kerrigan

And what’s good about the positive impact that we’ve gotten from staff is all this is word of mouth – it’s all through career fairs. It’s all through good relationships that we’ve had with previous interns. We’ve hired a bunch of our interns that have joined us. We get them to advocate for us, and there have been many people who have applied and said, ‘Hey, I’ve talked to a friend of mine who interned with you the last year, he said how great of experience he’s had. I’d like to join this year.’ It’s the word of mouth, and I think that’s probably part of … and Ilya could speak to this more than I … part of IB culture. Word of mouth is our best marketing tool.

Ilya Degter

Michael, some of the interns who were here last summer actually chose to return this summer.

Michael Kerrigan

Yes, quite a few have returned – interns. They had such a good experience, and some went back to the same department they had because of that experience. Others wanted to try something different, and we basically gave them the opportunity to do it, because they proved their worth, and we want to obviously keep an eye on them for future roles when they leave school….

Steven Levine

Yes, it’s really amazing. I’d like to ask both of you – what stands out to you this year as being, say, a highlight for you in this particular year’s class?

Ilya Degter

I’m usually invited on the first day of the internship, when the HR Recruiting department gathers them in one or two conference rooms, and usually I come in and I speak about the company. I’ve been here for over 25 years, so I have a lot of stories to share. And what impressed me this year – so, first of all, this was probably the most diverse group that I’ve seen … both in terms of the composition of tech and non-tech employees, and other elements, and usually when I’m done with my presentation, I say, ‘Well, are there any questions’, right? And, you know, occasionally it’s just, you know, one or two hands, and people are kind of either shy or just don’t know what to ask. And this year, I was surprised – positively surprised – that somebody immediately asked the question about the new version of our flagship desktop Trader Workstation. And I’m like, ‘Ohh, people definitely read up. Read up on the tools. Read up on the company.’

So, this is different, because I think that even a few years back, we were not a household name, right. You ask your friends and neighbors, ’Have you heard of Interactive Brokers?’ Unless you’re a financial professional, people wouldn’t know the name. But now these kids that are coming in, and, of course, they obviously did the research, but they know more than just the name. They know the products that we make, they know what the company stands for. They know that we’re always innovating. And I think this is what attracts people to become an intern. And I think, to me, that kind of scoping out that room on the first day was definitely the highlight, because I see that progression here to here.

Steven Levine

It’s amazing. I mean, that that level of engagement, that interest that people have in the company is just so great to be able to experience as opposed to a blank stare, or we’ll fill you in from the ground up. They’re already coming in with some knowledge.

Ilya Degter

Right, right. Yes, you can tell that people haven’t just come in with thinking, ‘Well, I’m here to do the internship. I have no idea what this is about. I’m going to go and find out.’ They’ve already come in with a lot of information about the company. They researched the company; they researched the job. They kind of know what they’re in for. They really want to be here.

Michael Kerrigan

Yeah. So, I would say the same thing. And a lot of the guest speakers that we had come in and speak to these individuals and interns, they asked a lot more questions. They’re a lot more engaging. You know, I think as we get the speakers come in, they are more engaging. They’ve gotten used to it. And we like the ones who did really well, come back. So, they’re getting more comfortable kind of expressing what they did. But these interns asked a lot more questions than what typically has happened in the past. Not only did we get them focused on doing work and things like that, that we get, we were able to get them opportunities to experience things that we hadn’t been able to do before. I think that we were able to get a group of them to do a tour of Wall Street, go onto the floor … the trading floor. They got to experience that. A lot of them liked that. We partnered with another company, and they had a sit-down with the intern exchange, where basically they went to their office, their interns came to our office and went to a sit-down.

Steven Levine

That was KraneShares, wasn’t it?

Michael Kerrigan Yes. And that experience went really well, because it got them to share and meet new people. So, there was a lot of experiences that we kind of focused on, and, you know, the funny thing is, how we were able to make this work is we had interns helping us run the internship program.

You know, we have our day jobs, we have other stuff…. We had interns, which we hadn’t done that previously. But, you know, they know each other. They build relationships with each other. So, you know what they like – that they are able to kind of come up with ideas to help us, and we just put an action plan and say, ‘Okay, that sounds like a great idea. Let’s do it.’ You know, it was much easier to connect with this generation by using the same interns to come up with those programs. And it worked out very, very well. And we’ll probably continue with it. And it was a good experience for those individuals to kind of show their future leadership for running those programs and leading them and stuff. So, it was a unique opportunity across the board.

Steven Levine

I recall Kelly Clark, I believe, was one. Dahlia Pepe, I believe, was another. And they were really, really terrific, really incredible. Switching gears a bit to – I know you mentioned our new TWS design…. I would love to talk to you about advancements in our technology space since we last talked last year. What can you tell us about how we’ve evolved in technology since last year?

Ilya Degter

Yes. So, first-off, let me just say that our technology innovation is our story, right? We really never stop. This is how we run the business. We want to run a stable and professional platform, but also look at: What are the new technologies out there? What are the new platforms out there? Are there any new tools that we should be introducing our clients to? So, that sort of research, it always continues in the background, and that’s how we’re able to bring the best-of-breed products to our clients at the lower cost. So, speaking of the Trader Workstation – so, there is a what is called what we call the ‘next gen’ – next generation of the desktop flagship product for our main trading tool, the professional trading tool. And, so, this is a significantly better and improved user experience in terms of both visuals and the functionality.

This is now available on our website as a product available for a preview. We hope to have this online in the near future, but this is just a tiny example of things that are constantly ongoing here at Interactive Brokers. As I said, the technology innovation doesn’t stop. We’ll look for better ways to do the things that we’ve done previously. We always look for ways to automate. We also look to implement new technologies, so that’s kind of the way we operate.

Steven Levine

So, any stories you can share with us about where an intern was successfully able to help us with our goals in that innovative space in terms of technology?

Ilya Degter Of course. So, my department had a few interns on the software development side, and one thing that we do, I think, really well, which is what people like, is we come up with very practical and real projects for our interns. It’s not just the theoretical exercise in something. The managers spend a good amount of time identifying the projects, which are not too big, not too small, introducing certain technologies, introducing the software development lifecycle that we employ at Interactive Brokers. Because even though interns that join us are, let’s call them temporary workers, and unless they’re hired after the internship, of course, they all must follow the same exact coding standards, and other standards, that we employ for everybody else. So, we find just the right size of the project, where we can introduce the intern to our software development lifecycle, explain the project objectives, then let them do the coding, testing, and bring them all the way to the rollout.

And, so, one example I can give you: there was a young man, very impressive young man, I should say, who was interning for one of the software development teams. He actually stopped by and introduced himself after the first day, and then we had a conversation almost at the tail-end of the internship, where he and his manager gave me a demo of what they did, and there was a very practical piece of automation that reduced the interactions between the customer service and some of the technology staff in our company. Almost next to nothing, there was a specific problem when it came up, it required either a phone call or an e-mail, and through a combination of identifying how this works, what is a better workflow, and how we can help the customer service personnel to essentially self-service that sort of a question. They came up with a piece of programming that was put online and implemented all throughout the internship of that young man.

Steven Levine

Oh, that’s amazing. And, so, the intern also did the process improvement … the process efficiency … and developed the code around that?

Ilya Degter

Yes, that’s exactly right. And another interesting thing to add is that part of the system was written in a language that this intern didn’t know until he joined. And, you know, this obviously speaks both about his abilities, and the way that we’re able to present the material that he was able to learn that part, that specific language – code in that language – and deliver the results.

Steven Levine

This intern learned this language, as the project was unfolding?

Ilya Degter

That’s right. What he mentioned to me is that this part was very impressive to him because he said at school, you know, you get a specific class, you learn something – a lot of these tasks are sometimes very theoretical. You write this piece of code, that algorithm, et cetera. Here, there was a very defined goal. And there was also specification of how to get from where we are to that goal, and he was just thrilled to learn the language, to learn the systems, implement it, and most importantly, see the results of his work, right, because that sort of satisfaction of being able to say to himself, and to anybody he knows, ‘Hey, I did that. This is my work. This is real thing. Yes, I finished the internship. But the piece of code I wrote there is now live at Interactive Brokers.’

Steven Levine

Yes, but this I think, also speaks to the caliber of interns that we are accepting.

Ilya Degter So, I had a software development intern, on one of my teams – this was last summer. And now, this young woman is a full-time employee of Interactive Brokers, because when she finished the internship, and again, it was the same story, it was a very real and practical project that was completed. We were so impressed with her that at the end of the internship, we basically offered her a position as a full-time software developer, and she’s now right above us on the second-floor coding away. So, I think this is another angle that the candidates consider, which is what makes it real and competitive for them, because not only you get to test drive what’s going on here, and they see how much attention we pay to getting the interns to be the best version of themselves in terms of the software development lifecycle and teaching them new skills, but also this could be their next job.

Michael Kerrigan

And I can add one more point: You do get an opportunity to work with the smartest people around that do what they do. And I think that also gives the interns some behavioral changes that …  like, ‘Oh my God, I’m sitting next to this guy. He’s brilliant. Let me talk to him and let me learn from him. Now, let me prove my worth.’ So, I think there is a driving mechanism. We don’t just throw that out nilly-willy –saying they’re working with the smartest people in this industry. We do have the smartest people in this industry. That’s a tribute to our success, and now they get to see it. So, basically, it’s more like, ‘Oh, I can’t, you know, sit back,’ and, ‘Do I have to prove my worth. This person knows everything. Let me just learn from this person,’ and they want to prove themselves. So, I think that helps a lot as well.

Steven Levine

Am I right in saying this – that the entire electronic trading system, as we know it – the global electronic trading environment – would not have existed, if it was not for the algorithms that our founder and now chair Thomas Peterffy created, or innovated? Am I right in saying that?

Ilya Degter

I think it’s a fair statement. I think that, in many circles, Thomas [Peterffy] is considered to be the pioneer of the electronic trading. I mean, he was clearly way ahead of his time. He was thinking about fully electronic exchanges when the traders in the pits were still yelling orders at each other, and nobody thought that the electronic trading would be (a) necessary … (b) efficient. Look at us now, right.

Steven Levine

Yes. So, when Michael says that we have the smartest of the industry, they really are ahead of the curve, would you say, or innovators within this space? And they continue to do that – you continue to do that.

Ilya Degter Yes. This is very true. There are a lot of people in the company, who were here when the electronic trading just started, or when the next wave of innovation, whether it’s a different options exchange, or faster markets, or anything in between – it’s a fabric of how this company came about. The software is what runs our business. I like to say that we were a fintech before the word ‘fintech’ was invented. Nobody knew what that means, but yes, we are a technology company, and so the technology is at the core – the algorithms, the automation, the way we think about how to take advantage of a new opportunity – is all about: Can we write software that will allow us to do that? And that’s the same mentality that Thomas [Peterffy] brought with him when he founded the company. Of course, there is a large team in place now that goes forward with new ideas every day, right? But the founding, the foundation of the company is very important. It’s almost like comparing, you know, like people sometimes say that Thomas is the Steve Jobs of the financial industry, right? Because the ideas and the

approach was so revolutionary in what was envisioned, and what was implemented. It’s not just coming up with an idea, it’s actually making it work.

Steven Levine

That backbone is cemented within the core of our operations, so everything that we do is off of that vision. It continues to be….

Ilya Degter

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Michael Kerrigan

And that’s part of our marketing tool. I’ll tell you, because, you know, I’ve heard Ilya say that many times about the fintech. So, when people talk to me and mention the word ‘fintech’, I always have a snicker on my face, because I hear him say it. And it’s like, ‘You guys aren’t fintech. We know what fintech is.’ But that is a selling point to interns, right? I think interns, once they get to learn and listen to the stories that Ilya says … listen to the stories that other leaders tell them during this intern process, they get it. By the time they leave, they’re like, ‘Wow, IB is great.’ And we have a lot of interns who want to come back. We have a lot of interns that apply later, or they take their experience and take it to the next place and have come back after, because they wanted to see what was else was out there. And they’re like, ‘Oh, no, IB is definitely much better,’ you know, ‘Can I come back?’ and stuff like that. I’ve many times over … this podcast … I’ve had several interns come, who heard the podcast and that’s what got them interested in the internship program. Again, these word of mouth …. I know this is not word of mouth by doing the podcast, but it to me it is … it’s talking about it … it’s sharing through social networks … it’s working, and it’s going to continue to work, and we’re going to continue to get good interns, and it’s…. I’m loving the direction we’re going.

Steven Levine

So, apart from how we’re evolving, what would you say to someone interested in joining next year’s internship program? How should they prepare themselves? Is there anything on the horizon that you envision as being the next step for the program, ways that might change, and should they align themselves somehow with that change in their preparation?

Michael Kerrigan

I would say, to give advice for people who are looking to get through the door, it’s more than just having a good resume. It’s more than having it coming from a good school. It’s more than why we look at those things – and they definitely are something we review – you need to have more. You need to be a more well-rounded individual, right? You need to have other things that stand out. We’ll probably have close to 6,000 to 7,000 applications this year. They’re reaching out to new schools that we haven’t reached out to before. They’re broadening their career fairs and things like that. So, I fully expect it to easily top the 4,000 applicants before, so you really have to stand out. And I’m not against students or people who are interested reaching out to leaders, I think it’s something that easily can get your name out there. And if you can get a leader to respond – I don’t want to inundate leaders with messages like that – but I do know that that does help. But you need to be more well-rounded. We have the smartest technical

and business sense people combined. Those are the people we look for. Just don’t look in your field. Having a kind of a well-rounded experience and having … even HR people…. When I look for HR staff, I look for that, you know: ‘Are they tech savvy? Do they understand stuff we want everybody to have?’ Because as our founder has said, and as many said, we like to automate everything we possibly touch. The more automation we do, the better, and the technology is there to do it. So, having that type of experience and abilities is definitely something.

[Also,] You need to have good grades. We have a very high threshold for GPA just because of the amount of applicants that come in. The testing – they need to do well. Every intern goes through a test, but as far as getting the work to that level – even the format of your resume needs to be perfect. Don’t willy-nilly just throw out mass applications – you’re not going to get in the door.

Steven Levine

That’s great advice. Programming languages?

Ilya Degter

Java is always good. Python. But, also, understanding of the modern technologies … web technologies … understanding how the cloud works, how the containers work. I would say be curious, right? Just look outside of your school curriculum. Every school gives a [course on] Java. [A] few still give C++ courses. Make an effort to find out what technologies are out there – look at Interactive Brokers’ website. There are a lot of APIs that we offer, for example, just from that you can kind of deduce what is available. What are we working on? Download Trader Workstation. You don’t have to open an account if you don’t want to. There is a free trial. Download. See how it works. See what the real product looks like, right? It’s almost like, we’re buying everything online now, right? But it’s hard to buy a car online because there is nothing like a test-driving the car. So, download the Trader Workstation, look at the Interactive Brokers’ tools offered on the website. And there’s documentation, there is everything else available. There is a wealth of information on our website. Get familiarized with it. It gives you a really good perspective of what we do.

And I would say read the company history, because as we just discussed, I think it’s really important to understand what are the roots of the company. How did we get to be the company we are today? A lot of people don’t know that the company was founded back in 1977. Because, this is when Thomas [Peterffy] originally purchased the seat on the AMEX stock exchange to test some of his ideas about how the algorithms should work, and how the option pricing strategy would work that he essentially invented.

So, reading through that company history, and … you know, we don’t make it boring. We go with very big milestones. Just reading through this gives you a little bit of a perspective. This is not just another shop to learn how to write software. This is a company that’s been here for a while. It’s a very, very interesting place to work at. As Michael said, you’re going to be working with some of the smartest people, who understand both software development and the financial industry really, really well. So, learning here is the best experience you’re going to have. There is something called the ‘Student [Trading] Lab’ — this is another very interesting thing. We designed this as a vehicle to be offered to professors — at both tech and financial, basically, institutions where they can very easily demonstrate the basics of trading on an almost live-like, system. And, so, I

would say, go talk to your professor, because we’re offering the tools that are very, very close to the professional tools that exist out there – all of this is free, and it gives you kind of a sense of what we’re into, gives you a sense of technology.

Steven Levine

The Student Trading Lab is a way to invite a good lot of our resources into the classroom to complement classroom curricula. So, whether you’re doing fundamental analysis or technical analysis or computational finance, you can really use our platforms, our tools, our services in order to complement your studies. In fact, on Traders’ Academy, you can find a course on this called ‘Companion Tools for College Finance Courses’, and it gives first-hand accounts from three professors in diverse geographic locations – from West Virginia University, from University College London, from Stevens and Columbia University, and each one of them are talking about how they use it in different ways – hedge fund strategies, for example, and they love it. And we have a wealth of participants in the Student Trading Lab, and you’ll find that in the show notes – I’ll put a link in there, and….

And when I look at when I look at the history of the company, and I see how you scale it to such an extent, where it can go global. And now you’ve got the same operations in different geographies, operating under different regulations, but you can pretty much plug and play the code no matter where you put it. I just find that incredible.

Ilya Degter

Well, that’s the secret sauce, right? This is another thing that a lot of people do not realize. We are a  multinational company. We are present in Europe. We are present in Asia. We have had offices in both of these continents for decades, and if anything, we’re just ramping up our activity. And you’re right, Steven. The software that we make available to our clients in the United States – that same software is available in every other region, right? Obviously, we’re complying with the regulatory requirements in terms of certain product restrictions, et cetera, et cetera, but by and large, your user interface, your tools, everything we offer is the same – and there is one huge differentiator there: we’re the only broker that allows somebody to have just one account and trade every one of these products anywhere in the world from a single screen with a single account. Super easy.

So, what’s important to take away is that whether you’re a software developer, whether you work in marketing, human resources, or anything else – every single employee knows what their contribution is. You could be a marketing intern. You could be an intern helping out Michael with the next year’s internship program. We always look for the same qualities: the desire to succeed, the strive to make things better, and this translates universally across every single department, because these are the universal qualities we look for. The technology is just a field where you have to know other stuff, right? And that’s basically what it is.

Steven Levine

That was really great. Ilya. Michael, thank you so much for taking the time.

Ilya Degter

Thank you. Thank you for having us.

Steven Levine

For our listeners, you can hear more of IBKR Podcasts at our IBKR Campus. They’re also available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, anywhere you listen to your favorite shows. And wherever you might tune-in, please rate and review us.

We’ve also recently launched our new podcast series (and this will be a part of it) Cents of Security –  that’s ‘Cents’, as in the kind of cents that you might have in your pocket. It’s a whole series focused on financial literacy and career development. And for those of you interested in learning more about our internship program, check out our other podcasts [listed in the ‘Learn More’ section below].

And for a full list of financial education offerings, visit the IBKR Campus at ibkrcampus.com, where, as always, all of our educational material is provided to the public at no cost.

And until next time, I’m Steven Levine for Interactive Brokers.

Learn More

About IBKR – History and More!

IBKR Campus

IBKR’s Cents of Security Podcasts

o   Ep 01: IBKR’s Interns – Liberal Arts Majors Thrive in the FinTech Sector

o   Ep 09: IBKR’s Interns – Career Development for a Full-Stack Future

o   Ep 20: Golden Tips for IBKR’s Technical Internship Applicants

Careers at Interactive Brokers

o   IBKR Podcasts Ep. 37 – Keys to a Successful Career – Part 1

o   IBKR Podcasts Ep. 38 – Keys to a Successful Career – Part 2

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The analysis in this material is provided for information only and is not and should not be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any security. To the extent that this material discusses general market activity, industry or sector trends or other broad-based economic or political conditions, it should not be construed as research or investment advice. To the extent that it includes references to specific securities, commodities, currencies, or other instruments, those references do not constitute a recommendation by IBKR to buy, sell or hold such investments. This material does not and is not intended to take into account the particular financial conditions, investment objectives or requirements of individual customers. Before acting on this material, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, as necessary, seek professional advice.

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