Meet Josh Panknin, a banker in his mid 30's who took time off from Deutsche Bank in order to study at Byte Academy, the first ever FinTech coding bootcamp and perhaps still the only in the world. Here, Josh explains why he took a break from Wall Street, the effects of technology and big data on finance, and, what learning to code is like when you don't want to be a programmer. He also gives advice to those who may want to follow in his footsteps.
What was your role at Deutsche Bank?
I worked at the secondary CMBS (Commercial Mortgage Backed Security) bond trading desk. My role was to analyze the commercial real estate loans underlying the bonds and build a better analytical valuation system for the real estate properties.
Why did you decide to learn code?
Having the ability to automate analysis and data gathering is imperative to competing in finance or any other sector today. The amount of data that’s being produced can no longer be effectively managed manually. Some firms have been more progressive in adopting technology and more detailed analysis. Those that are slower to adopt these capabilities often find themselves at a disadvantage.
For those who are not technically literate, please give a short overview of the program at your coding school, Byte Academy.
The bootcamp style coding course is definitely not easy. It'll take 60-80 hours per week depending on your level of experience coming into the course and how quickly you can grasp the concepts. The material isn't just about typing code into the computer, it's about thinking logically and solving problems using code. So sometimes a single problem can take an entire day (or two days in my case), but each time the process gets quicker and you get better. Spending time prior to the course understanding the basics (Python for Kids was very useful for me) is essential to keeping up and learning the more advanced concepts needed to build functional programs.
What was the “pre-bootcamp” work like? How much time/what was the level of dedication need?
It depends on your level of programming experience. I had zero programming knowledge coming in, so the amount of prep work needed was more than others with previous experience. My advice would be at least 4 weeks at 20-40 hours per week to first understand the basics of programming and then to get familiar with coding at a fundamental level. The class ramps up quickly. Learning the basics as you try to keep up with the pace of the class is a difficult thing to accomplish
What was the general reaction when your social circle/colleagues found out about your decision?
Most were intrigued and supportive. A big hole in the industry is having people with cross-functional experience. Those on the business side have a ton of ideas on how to do their job better using technology, but very few have the ability to develop programs on the same level of their business knowledge. The result is often hiring pure “tech” people to build out the technology for the business ideas. The problem with this is that the tech support often knows very little about the business strategy they’re attempting to build the program for and the business side knows very little about the technology creation process. This often leads to systems that aren’t fully functional in the way that was desired.
Please elaborate on the divide between the "tech" and the "business" people that you mention above and how to address this.
The best way I can explain the divide between tech people and business people is like trying to have a conversation between two people who speak completely different languages. Both people come out of the conversation not really understanding exactly what was said by the other side. So imagine this two language conversation occurring when one is trying to teach the other a complex topic such as math or science.
You were in the real estate finance sector - please comment on the effect of technology geared toward this area. Do you think it is geared more towards certain sectors?
The real estate sector has long been a “relationship” business. Data was very difficult to obtain, if not non-existent, and the sector was not traditionally part of the mainstream finance establishment. However, over the last 10 or 20 years the role of mortgage backed securities has pushed real estate closer to Wall St. and the amount of data that’s now provided is allowing more sophisticated global, national, and micro-level analysis of both commercial and residential real estate. This has produced a need for data management and data analysis capabilities that haven’t traditionally existed in the sector.
Have you noticed/does big data have an effect on finance? If so, please describe.
Definitely. My experience is in the real estate sector, so that’s where I’ve seen the effect. More sophisticated financial products lead to the need for more sophisticated analysis. Today we have mortgage-backed securities, real estate investment trusts, home-builders, lenders, direct investors in real estate, etc. The need to correlate movements among each of these products, and with the macro economy in general, is growing extremely rapidly.
What are your plans after graduation?
The choices after graduation are to go to the tech side of finance or go back into finance and use the programming skills to be more efficient at making investment decisions.
What's the recipe for your mom, Trish Panknin's baked goods (below) that you bring to class (and have a reputation for bringing to the bank)?
Would be happy to share for $1,000,000 (us: do you accept bitcoin?)