Shaped By Experience
"I'm fortunate to have a fantastic technology management team underneath me. They have a personal attachment to their projects," says Dobner, adding that just about everyone has gone through the ranks at GFI. "For now it's a homegrown team," he adds. "We have all sorts of developers here at GFI who didn't major in computer science, who have degrees in physics, music and languages, who had nothing to do with computer science and are some of the world's best computer programmers."
Dobner's view of software development was shaped by his own experience and learning on the job. He has been programming for 32 years, since he was 10 years old, when he would when sneak into his father's office and read his manual and program on the computer. Eventually he got his own computer. Later, he took some courses and studied his "brains out" to obtain certification as a Microsoft developer to formalize what he knew. Instead of taking the traditional path of studying computer science, Dobner has a degree in Talmudic law, a challenging course of study.
When it comes to building technology, GFI has a preference for proprietary trading platforms, Dobner says. "It allows us to hone it so that it performs and provides the functionality that we really need."
Most of the effort is put into developing trading platforms because of the sensitive nature and quality controls, as well as timeliness, says Dobner. "GFI's edge is the ability to respond to the market in a timely manner, so having the agility of an on-site team allows us to do that," he says. GFI does some offshoring that amounts to less than 5%. Dobner declined to divulge the size of the firm's technology budget for proprietary reasons.
GFI relies on some key technologies, such as Oracle for databases and corporate systems, and Hewlett-Packard for servers. It's also a heavy user of Java technology and Tibco for market data distribution. "We're careful about vendor reliance. We keep vendors more at the infrastructure level, like basic services, databases and servers," says Dobner. The company is also working with low-latency-network vendors, but Dobner declined to name them. With swap markets evolving toward electronic venues and streaming prices, GFI is moving its matching engines in the Equinix NY4 data center in Secaucus, N.J., where many GFI customers have a presence.
With its emphasis on quality assurance, GFI does quite a bit of automated testing, especially for capacity, which allows it to ramp up and simulate a busy environment, says Dobner.
The company's success metrics are based on the overall volume increase to a desk after it's deployed an electronic product. "We measure success of our IT projects by looking at what percentage of volume is driven through our electronic trading platforms. Looking at trading volumes before and after we launched a new program gives you a really good idea of what we are accomplishing," says Dobner. GFI is also building out an analysis package to allow it to look at market trends and how it's doing.
Looking ahead, Dobner predicts mobile technology will change the corporate desktop. "Just as it's become more convenient at home to sit with an iPad to browse through email or watch a movie, over time it's going to start replacing some of the corporate tools we use."
CTO, GFI Group
Career bio: Dobner began his career at News Alert, a market data provider to websites, in 1998. He started as software developer and became a team leader and project manager leading software development projects. Dobner served as market data architect toward the end of his tenure. He joined GFI in 2001.
Education: Master's degree in Talmudic law at BMG in Lakewood, N.J.
Who had the biggest influence on your career? "One of my first managers at GFI was very helpful to me. He always backed me. If had an opinion on who was qualified or how to structure a team, or what was the priority, he trusted me, and he made sure that's what happened. He positioned me for success. I was lucky to have that."
What's the next big thing? "Mobility -- the handheld device in multiple forms is going to start replacing some of the corporate tools we use. It's a different man/machine interface. The way you touch/swipe is a different way of interacting with the computer. "
What do you do to relax? "I have five children and I love spending time with my family. In the summer, we go to a bungalow summer home in the mountains."
What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about you? "I bike 35 minutes each morning down the West Side Highway. It's fantastic and it gets my day going with positive energy. ... The morning is easier, so I bake it into my schedule."
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