People making technology work: "Everything we do is about connection"
IT Infrastructure: are those the guys working in the basement, pulling cables and rebooting servers? Well, on the contrary. It’s true: the people working in IT Infrastructure at ING have a knack for things like server racks and Storage Area Networks. But they do step out of the basement and into the light of day. And they work on strategic and challenging projects. From Database as a Service (DBaaS) to File Transfer as a Service (FTaaS), from Unite to the ING Private Cloud.
We got three of our IT Infrastructure’s senior professionals around the table. Filip, Johann and Steve discuss top-notch technology with all of its opportunities and challenges, international collaborations, automation and experimentation.
Could you summarize your job in one sentence?
“No. That’s not possible. You could say that we supply developers and end users with the hardware they need. You could also view our roles in a more holistic way: we keep everything and everyone connected. But there’s much more to it. We also make long-term plans to make our organization future-proof and experiment with new technologies. Our ING Private Cloud, for example, is a perfect combination of strategy-building, technological innovation and operational work. After all, it still is a challenge to build cloud solutions in our context.”
What’s so specific about the context of a large, international bank?
“What sets us apart from our colleagues in other industries is, on the one hand, regulation. On the other, we have the highest standards of compliance, privacy and security to take into account. That’s normal, because that’s what a bank should promise.”
That sounds complicated.
“Well, it is complicated! We love a challenge here at ING. However, we’re not reinventing the wheel with our private cloud. We’re always hungry for new insights, and so we do keep an eye on whatever public cloud vendors are developing. Innovation mostly comes from specialised cloud companies. But in the meantime, we are also developing our own solutions and building knowledge internally.”
What kind of people are working on the ING Private Cloud?
“There are multiple squads in Belgium working for the ING Private Cloud. To automate, to make migrations go seamlessly, to build the service offering of the future. What our squads have in common, is that they work in a multi-country setting with the best engineers worldwide. And that is a great thing to be a part of.”
What our squads have in common, is that they work in a multi-country setting with the best engineers worldwide. And that is a great thing to be a part of.
That sounds great. Can anyone get into these squads?
“Probably not just anyone. At the start of each initiative, we try to put together the best possible team, with the best people for the job. We do this by communicating the goal and contents of the initiative to the ING teams in all countries. Then each country can introduce one or more of their own experts for any of the roles that are needed.”
What happens once the team is selected?
“The first step is to make sure the members of the squad get to know each other and familiarise themselves with the challenge. That’s why there’s a lot of travelling in the beginning. Usually, squad members meet up for around two weeks to get the project started. During the first few months, the frequency of travel is high. But after that, squad members work from their own location. The team meets virtually for day-to-day discussions.”
How much time do people generally spend abroad?
“Not that much, because we prioritise a healthy work-life balance. That’s why a lot of consultants end up applying for a job at ING. As a consultant, you’re often asked to travel all over the world, all year long. After a while, many want a calmer pace or start a family. They want their job to be more sustainable, but still challenging. ING is an ideal work environment in that respect. There are plenty of opportunities for innovation, creativity and challenging projects. But at the same time, you are encouraged to focus on your wellbeing. People can work from home, for example. We’re flexible about such things.”
Are there other challenges within IT Infrastructure?
“Automation is big now and will only get bigger. It will eliminate the need for manual repetitive work for our teams and for developers. So that’s great. In an ideal world, developers would automatically obtain the infrastructure solution they need for each project. No need for them to think about the technicalities, or for us to do repetitive work. Requesting a server took six months in the past. Now it’s done in just a few minutes. In the future, it should be a matter of seconds.”
Is there room to be creative, to experiment?
“Absolutely. People are free to use around twenty percent of their time to experiment. That’s a lot. What’s great about it is that people can choose how to spend that time. They can get together with colleagues to develop an idea or test a new technology on their own. We even have a lab environment. That is a room in our basement with a lot of new devices and technology, tools and server racks, to play with. People really like going there to test and create.”
If people apply, who would be the ideal candidate for your teams?
“We don’t necessarily need people with experience in the banking sector. What we do is not really sector-dependent, although we do deal with more regulation in banking than elsewhere. The best candidates for us are people who really want to create solutions. Infrastructure people with an affinity for programming, or developers with an affinity or infrastructure. We need people who want to make a change and see ING’s large scale as an opportunity to have an impact. And of course, they must enjoy pizza meetings. (laughing)”
Filip has been with ING for over fourteen years. He has a very diverse history at the company, from IT support to management. Luckily, he has many fields of interest. That’s why he loves the variation in his job as IT Area Lead in Infrastructure. When he’s not at work, you’ll find him spending time with his family, mostly driving his daughters around to ballet practice. If there’s one cliché tech guy thing about him, it’s his love for all kinds of Sci-Fi series.
Johann moved from Germany to Belgium two years ago to come work for ING. What drew him towards his job as an IT Area Lead is the agile and international way of working. Seeing that the people in his department are happy and involved gives him energy. He loves the fact that he really feels like he can make a difference for them. He’s not only agile at work, but also at home. He loves efficient sports like running and CrossFit. And since a few months he can also proudly call himself a dad.
As a Chapter Lead at Automation and Visualization, Steve loves to coach his colleagues and help them shape their careers. He joined the ING Belgium team twelve years ago and has never regretted the decision because of all the opportunities he gets. You can see by the festival bracelets around his wrist that he loves music (preferably metal), but his biggest love is his son. When he’s not at work, you can find the two of them tinkering with home electronics together (his wife is not always happy about that) or enjoying the outdoors.