code-for-a-living August 15, 2017

Developer Interview: Vlad Kliatchko, Global Head of Engineering at Bloomberg

We sit down for a chat with Vlad Kliatchko, Bloomberg's Global Head of Engineering, to discuss what motivates engineers, how to build great teams, and where software is headed in the next few years.
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Vlad Kliatchko spends his time leading a diverse team of programmers and networking experts, finding ways to solve technical problems and build advanced systems that fuel the spread of information on financial markets. In this interview, we discuss how technology and finance have changed during the more decade and half Kliatchko has spent Bloomberg LP. We also get a taste of where he sees the world of technology heading in the near future. 

When and how did you get started programming?

From the time I was very little, I was always scientifically and mathematically inclined. Growing up in a family where this kind of inclination was encouraged, I remember having a conversation with my parents about whether I wanted to be a physicist, mathematician, or an engineer. I remember thinking that being a programmer was the coolest and most interesting thing of them all.

You see, I had this romantic view of programmers and saw them as people who got to solve the most exciting, complex problems.I remember having a conversation with my father in the early 80s about wanting to be a programmer and him saying, “Let me take you to my office, and I’ll introduce you to some real programmers.”

I went to his work, where he had a bunch of mainframes, and he showed me how to write a few lines in Fortran. Those were my first lines of code.I continued writing code in college at Leningrad State University (now St. Petersburg State University), one of the oldest and largest universities in Russia, where I studied computer science. My first programs were written in languages like ALGOL 68, and they were on punch cards and ran on mainframes.

Tell us a little bit about your current role. What does a typical day look like for you?

As Bloomberg’s Global Head of Engineering, I lead the technical organization of more than 4,800 engineers – in 26 offices in 11 countries across the world – who are building the systems and applications that impact the global financial markets each day.

Our developers regularly tackle exciting technical challenges that are unique to this industry. For example: how to collect, analyze, and redistribute billions of market data messages each day (while keeping the latency ultra-low); how to implement a highly-available multi-site data store, while allowing for full transactional support; how to scale financial analytics systems to perform massive numbers of calculations at the speed of the financial markets; and how to make machine learning algorithms work well at market data speed.

As much as I get excited about being personally and directly involved in solving these kinds of challenges, I see my current role as one in which I build and lead an organization that is capable of solving these problems. As a result, I spend a lot of time in conversations with people throughout the Engineering organization about non-technical aspects of what makes them successful and what more I can do to help them, as well as with leaders on the business side of the organization.

At the same time, my favorite way to spend my day is talking with teams of developers and engineers about the solutions they are building. So, while I may not be reviewing actual code all that frequently anymore, I do meet with them to understand the details of our broad architectural approaches. In turn, this enables me to get a better sense of the implications of a solution’s performance at scale or the productivity of our engineering teams.

What are the unique challenges you face as the Global Head of Engineering?

In my current role, I have to constantly remind myself to take a step back and focus on building and leading a strong team that can solve these technical challenges, as opposed to rolling up my sleeves and doing it myself.

Tell us a bit about your previous roles and how they lead the path for where you are today.

Throughout my career as a programmer, I have always focused on building tools and frameworks for other engineers – not on application development. I was always excited by solving hard technical challenges, improving performance or scalability, and building tools to make other engineers more productive. This question of how to make engineers more productive has always been something I had a lot of interest in and care for.

When I joined Bloomberg 14 years ago, I was an engineer who was an individual contributor. I quickly ended up in the Software Infrastructure part of our Engineering department, as this is where the tools which make other engineers more productive is developed. After some time, I was managing that department.

What’s your favorite part of being a developer?

Being a developer combines two things I really enjoy. The first is solving difficult intellectual problems. I still love solving math problems and puzzles. I simply enjoy the thrill of solving something that is exciting and challenging from an intellectual point of view.

The other thing I love is building things – that is, making something. Software engineers have a unique opportunity where they get to combine both of these things.

What has been your experience working with recruiters?

In my current role, I work closely with our Engineering Recruiting team and get involved with recruiting a lot of people for our Engineering teams. Hiring amazingly talented engineers is extremely difficult. But this investment in the future is one of the most important things that we do as leaders of the Engineering organization.

At Bloomberg, we have taken a strategic, long-term view on building a strong, capable Engineering organization. We look for great engineers who are excited to come and work for us in New York, London or San Francisco. Ideally, these candidates should make our teams stronger and those around them more productive. More importantly, they should have the skills and ability to learn, grow and develop within the organization over the long-run.

Once a developer joins us, they’re going to find that Bloomberg is the kind of place where people work hard to solve some exciting, challenging problems. Just as important, they’ll be working together with really smart, talented people. Plus, they’ll be making real impact on the world out there, since the code they are putting into production as part of the Bloomberg Professional Service (aka the Terminal) is being used every single day by some of the most influential people and companies around the world to make smarter decisions.

What’s something you wish employers knew about developers?

I think it’s important for employers to better understand what motivates engineers. Personally, I believe the biggest thing for great engineers is the ability to see the results of their work. And what frustrates engineers more than anything else is working in an environment where it is difficult to get those results – for example, when large corporate policies get in the way. Those are the things I think it’s important for employers to recognize about developers – what motivates and frustrates us.

Where do you see the world of technology in 10 years?

In the last 30 years, since I started programming, I have seen things change in a drastic, huge and exciting way. There are a wide variety of massive technology shifts one can think of. The Internet and the emergence of the smartphones are just two such examples.

But, I’ve also seen the opposite, that is, great promises and great anticipation that never materialized. When I first started as a coder in the mid-80s, everyone expected Artificial Intelligence (AI) to take over in the next year. Today, we are finally seeing real breakthroughs start to happen in this field – though these are often limited to very niche areas. AI is still a very specialized solution to a very specific set of problems. At Bloomberg, we have more than 100 technologists and data scientists devoted to machine learning and natural language processing applications that will help our customers make more informed decisions about their business and financial strategies.

This post was authored by Rachel Ferrigno and originally published on June 20, 2017.

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