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Techie in the City

After a first degree in biochemistry followed by a year out, Li Qun Wong did a one-year MSc in computing and electronic engineering at University College London. That got her a job with software company Logica, where she stayed for nearly four years. Next came a spell in the City with Summit, a small firm specialising in financial systems, after which she went freelance in 1999, working for Deutsche Bank on short-term contracts. In July 2000 she went back to permanent employment, this time with merchant bank Barclays Capital. Today she is a highly-paid computer techie who has managed to avoid becoming a manager.

“During my biochemistry course I realised I didn’t want to do lab work. A final-year project on computer modelling of proteins gave me the idea of IT, and my sister, who already worked in IT, seemed to think it was a good route. After the course I took a year off — messing around, really — and then decided to do a Master’s. That was a bit of a shock! I found it hard work, and I wished I’d done a pure computing course.”

“I applied to Logica because I wanted to learn the basics of programming in a big company with a fairly formal structure. My second job, working on a trading system used by the big financial institutions, was much more pragmatic and business-led. Then I went freelance, which means really good money but not much responsibility. I wanted to get higher up the ladder, and that’s why I went back to a permanent job at Barclays Capital.

“At Barclays I’m the technical architect for a Web-based reporting system that helps the traders monitor their market positions. I have to deal with the users, and I have to understand the business background. Banks tend to have lots of different computer systems which need to be glued together, and you can’t afford to be too fussy about how you do something because they normally want it yesterday.”

“But I don’t want to lose my technical role. It’s more fun than the managerial stuff! I have a couple of people working with me and for me, so I’m working my way up without becoming a manager.”

“Despite what people say about the technology bubble bursting, e-commerce is going to carry on growing. Large systems have to be architected properly, otherwise they just fall over once you scale them up, and at the same time technologies are changing so quickly that it’s difficult to keep up. So there is a lot of scope out there for technical people.”

“I can’t see a change of career any time soon, because to be honest the money’s too good. I earn well over £70,000, with bonuses on top. It’s pressured, though. At the moment my working hours are around 9–6.30, but when the stress is on to deliver, you work as along as it takes.”

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