I’m an engineer on one of the most innovative teams at Ken Griffin’s Citadel. Here are 7 lessons that have been critical to my rise at the $59 billion hedge fund.

  • Kristofer Baxter leads a team of about 20 UI engineers at Citadel, a $59 billion hedge fund.
  • His team designs tools used by Citadel employees to help them get the most out of the fund’s tech.
  • This is his story charting his career path and important lessons learned, as told to Bianca Chan

This as-told-to essay is based on an interview with Kristofer Baxter, a 39-year-old engineer who leads a user interface team at Citadel, a $59 billion hedge fund founded by billionaire Ken Griffin and headquartered in Miami. It has been edited for clarity and length.

I’ve been working professionally in technology for quite some time. Now I work at Citadel, where I lead the Citadel X team’s user interface (UI). I’ve worked in a variety of settings, but this is my first job in the finance industry.

The field of user interface engineering is extremely broad and diverse. However, software is very similar in many places. So switching industries has been a relatively simple transition. Having said that, it is extremely beneficial to understand your software’s users.

I began my career at a golf tee-time reservation company before moving on to positions at Netflix, LinkedIn, and Google. Along the way, I’ve used the following seven lessons to help me succeed in the fast-paced world of Citadel:

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good

Right after college, I began working professionally at a company that handled tee times and hotel reservations.

There, I learned to move quickly while balancing concerns about perfect code quality with output volume. It’s very easy to be swayed by the notion that code must be flawless. However, it is critical to act quickly.

Many businesses rely on speed, so don’t let perfection become the enemy of good. In order to move quickly, you may write code that you intend to refactor later. However, it is critical to disseminate the lessons as soon as possible.

But speed for the sake of speed can create other problems

One of the things that initially drew me to the finance industry was the fast-paced culture. Things change, priorities shift, and you end up building things with enormous value by iterating quickly.

The ability to move quickly with a small team was what drew me to this role at Citadel. Because of the size of the company and the number of users with whom you interact, you can get that close, personal attention. The fact that the loop is so tight drew my attention.

Speed is critical, but make sure you’re communicating with users directly to determine the trade-off between things. Speed for the sake of speed can lead to other issues.

UI can be separate components, but view it as a collective whole

After leaving the reservations company, I worked for a white-label search company that assisted yellow- and white-page businesses in transitioning to the internet age. This was the first time I used my software on a large scale, with a large number of people interacting with it at the same time.

The most important lesson I learned there is that creating a consistent experience is preferable to creating a great experience only in one location. Sometimes you think of the user experience as a collection of operations, as discrete individual things. When a person uses a product, however, they consider it as a whole. People will remember one aspect of your product experience that is subpar in comparison to the rest.

It’s critical that you keep elevating everything together as much as possible, or that you identify the areas that need more attention soon and bring them back up with everything else.

Users act differently than you might expect

After that, I went to work for Netflix, a DVD company. I worked on a variety of exciting projects, including cloud migration, transition to a streaming business, international launch, and original content. I remember writing a lot of A/B tests to figure out what users preferred throughout those projects.

It’s very easy for an engineer, designer, or UX specialist to create things that appear intuitive and natural. But when you get out into the real world, you find that things don’t work the way you expect them to. Users behave in ways that you would not expect.

We definitely use this lesson a lot at Citadel. We collaborate closely with front-office partners and investment professionals to determine what we should build. More importantly, it enables us to identify areas where we are not constructing what is required. This highlights areas for improvement.

Make sure there’s a ‘there’ there

This is something I learned from a colleague at Netflix whom I greatly admired. When you expect to do a lot of work on something, building out a full product based on that idea can be very expensive. However, if you can demonstrate the idea’s viability, do so first. Before you dive in and create a full product that represents it, make sure there is a ‘there’ there.

It can be extremely difficult. Meeting with your real users and presenting fictional scenarios or understanding their workflows, on the other hand, allows you to eliminate an entire category of work. You can show an investment professional something that is rough and incomplete, and they can say, ‘Actually, I can’t use this because of X, Y, and Z reasons.’ So you want to make sure you’re getting that feedback early and often, and that there’s a ‘there’ to aim for.

Metrics are key to understanding users

After leaving Netflix, I went to work for LinkedIn, where I primarily worked on web-performance initiatives. It is a difficult topic to master because it is dependent on what you want to achieve. The software’s intent and the user’s use of the software help to inform what performance metrics are important to them. So, if your business relies on people being able to view your content or use your software, you must ensure that this is true for all of your users.

I learned a lot about how to accurately read and record metrics at LinkedIn, and it reinforced my focus on the important fronts of a business.

This is also true at Citadel. We want to know when something isn’t working properly so that we can make the experience more consistent.

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