It's now around 18 months since Goldman Sachs hired Marco Argenti from Amazon Web Services (AWS) as partner and co-chief information officer. For someone stepping into a new big job in an entirely different industry, Argenti chose a rather unfortunate time. - He arrived at Goldman in late 2019, and four months later everyone vacated the office and switched to working from home.
It's been an "exciting ride", said Argenti in an interview at a Fintech conference about his Goldman initiation. "In a matter of one or maybe two weeks we had to move 98% of the firm from working in the office to working remotely."
The story of Goldman's frantic shift to working from home has already been told, but Argenti provided a few extra details. Before last April, he said only 8,000 of Goldman's 40,000 employees were set up to work remotely. In the space of a few weeks, almost all the rest were given similar access.
Goldman Sachs has summoned its homeworkers back to the office from early July. For technologists at all banks, including JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, the prospect of returning to the office full time isn't entirely popular. Nonetheless, in a memo sent earlier this month, Goldman CEO David Solomon suggested that everyone at Goldman should expect to be in the office from mid-July, although line managers will, "consider the potential for rotational schedules, where applicable."
Speaking last week at the conference, Argenti suggested that Goldman's engineers will receive extra consideration when they ask to rotate in and out of the firm's offices. "There is an appreciation that engineering is a special category," said Argenti, adding that Goldman is working on "various flexibility plans" for engineers.
If Goldman compels engineers to work in its offices, it risks losing them to technology employers like Google and Facebook. Google has said that staff can work entirely from home if they like. Facebook has said the same (subject to remote working approval from managers).
Argenti said that competition for technology staff has increased during the pandemic and that Goldman is having to work increasingly hard to attract top engineering talent. The firm's main appeal is that it values excellence, said Argenti: "We have a very high bar in the quality of our output. It's something that engineers appreciate - they can do their best work when joining Goldman Sachs."
Argenti said Goldman's experience of navigating regulations gives it an advantage over technology competitors like Amazon, which are finding themselves increasingly constrained by regulation too. At Goldman, “engineers need to be front and centre of the business," he added. "As a business person, you need to understand technology and as an engineer you need to understand the business.” Meetings are being convened at Goldman which are more tech-friendly, suggested Argenti - "There are hardly any PowerPoints."
As Goldman's engineers settle-in for what sounds like a continuation of their work from home arrangements, Argenti said the firm is also looking for ways to prevent overwork. As a coder you "sometimes you can immerse yourself, and then you can almost lose the sense of time," he said, adding that Goldman has programs to monitor this and is teaching employees techniques for creating "mental breaks."
Argenti himself famously relaxes by playing in a grunge metal band in Seattle. He's now moved to New York and says he's part of a "secret progressive rock band" there too. Not that you'd know any of this from his LinkedIn profile. There, Argenti describes himself modestly as a Goldman Sachs "engineer." - "That’s what I do ultimately, and I’m actually quite proud of being an engineer,” he said.
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