FinTech Female Fridays: Cristina Pascalau, VP Software Developer, Bank of America
Can you tell us a little more about your background and what made you pursue a STEM discipline?
I grew up in Romania where I attended school before moving to the UK to study at the University of York. Neither of my parents pursued a higher education degree, but my mother was determined that I would one day become an Engineer. For me, it was not love at first sight. However, no matter how much I complained that mathematics was hard or that I didn’t like physics, my mother did not give up on me. It paid off eventually, with the extra work that I put in, it started to become easier, and the easier it became, the more I enjoyed it. After I completed my undergrad, I studied at the University of York in the UK and received my Masters of Engineering in Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence.
You are also a STEM advocate. Can you discuss why this is important to you?
In my class at school in Romania, there were twenty girls and ten boys, and this was an intensive class for mathematics and computer science. I didn’t realize there was a need for STEM advocacy until I came to the UK and found myself in a Computer Science course with around ten girls and more than seventy boys. I wanted to find out why - was there less interest from girls pursuing a STEM degree?
That’s how I discovered STEMEttes and CodeFirst: Girls, two UK organizations that encourage girls and women to pursue a STEM path. We’ve partnered with STEMEttes for a few years now as an organization, and I was part of the core volunteer and teaching team. Together, we helped organize over six coda-a-thons, which we hosted at our offices in London, and we had hundreds of girls attend these events over the years. CodeFirst: Girls focuses on students and recent graduates who would like to find out more about coding and encourage them to consider a career as a software developer. I’ve been a lead instructor for their eight weeks Python and HTML courses for the past four years.
It is acceptable if you have no interest in a subject, but it is not acceptable to be discouraged purely because of assumptions that are made based on your gender. I was teaching a Python course as a volunteer a few years ago, and one of the students told me that when she was at school, her teacher was very dismissive about her interest in mathematics as -- "that’s for boys". That should not happen.
I also want to tell these girls that it’s ok if something is hard, it’s ok to struggle, and, yes, it might be frustrating when you see others that seem to ‘just get it’. But that doesn’t mean you should give up or that it's not for you. The adults that they see in those roles didn’t all have it easy; they just didn’t give up.
You work in software technology for the Commodities Front Office team and as part of the FICC Risk Horizontal Team working with FX and Credit. Each of these products behave quite differently. How are you able to provide the necessary implementation to make sure that risk is taken into account correctly?
I split my work between working for the Commodities business and as part of a FICC Risk Horizontal Team. Commodities were amongst the first adopters of the newest intraday risk system, and as well as being an adopter, we also helped build the application. The horizontal team came about as the result of having a few members that were involved from the start, to help other lines of business on-board. It still is a learning process, we work with the line of business tech teams that help clarify any questions we have that relate to risk and risk viewing, and we help them achieve their users’ requirements in the new system.
How have you helped grow the business at BOFA with technology?
The two projects that I have worked on since joining the company have helped the bank migrate off old legacy systems and onto a newer single platform. Starting with the end of day process for Finance, and now with the intraday risk for Front Office. We are heading into a direction where we have a consolidated view of our risk end-to-end. This helps us be more reactive to market disruptions and gives more flexibility to Front Office as we are moving more of the spreadsheet operations onto the new application.
Can you tell us about your career progression at Bank of America?
I joined the company in 2015 as part of the graduate program immediately after finishing my university degree. The first year was structured with training and activities to help us settle into the organization and our respective departments. Throughout my time here, my immediate manager has held several discussions with me to make sure that I am happy with my role and to discuss my future at the company. When I joined, I had this idea that I wanted to become a VP within a few years and I worked towards achieving that goal. Without sounding too cliché, I could have not done it without the support from my management who put me forward and allowed me to work on big projects from very early on.
Can you tell more about the work and diversity and inclusion culture at a large and traditional financial institution?
D&I has an important role at the company, with engagement from all levels. We have multiple internal networks that focus on connecting, sharing, and learning from each other. I am one of the co-chairs of the Women Developers Group in London, an internal network, whose purpose is to build a community for existing and aspiring female developers to network, share expertise and support each other. The group has since expanded with new chapters in New York City, Chicago, and Houston. Each of these employee initiatives gets senior management level support to help us grow and connect with employees from all over the world.
Can you give us your thoughts on the synergies between large financial institutions and the FinTech industry?
Over the past several years, many companies have come forward, challenging traditional banking methods. The primary hurdle for many FinTechs is creating solutions at scale. So we have a team at the bank dedicated to evaluating those technologies and then, if their solutions are better, faster, or cheaper than what we could produce, deciding to work with the FinTech companies directly or buy from them, and help them grow. Also, as a part of that work, we host an innovation summit in Silicon Valley every year that’s one of the largest of its kind, and includes more than 800 attendees representing 450 start-ups and venture capital firms.
Reach out to Cristina on Linkedin.