In this series, youth poised to be Chicago’s future leaders (UCAN program participants and recent alumni) interview current Chicago leaders in their fields of interest.
For our fifth interview, Caleb Hunter, a former UCAN participant and now a college sophomore studying Cybersecurity, met with Robert Matles, a technologist and Managing Director for J.P. Morgan Chase, the global financial firm, who helps lead over 1800 technology professionals housed in seven very un-bank-like floors of the firm’s downtown Chicago office. They discussed what it takes to get into technology, what firms are looking for in new hires, and even whether or not Chicago will be the next Silicon Valley.
Find other episodes here.
Caleb Hunter: Mr. Matles, would you please introduce yourself?
Robert Matles: First of all, I want to thank you for the opportunity to spend some time with you today. My name is Rob Matles, and I’m a managing director at J.P. Morgan Chase. I’m a technologist and I work on and build systems that move ten percent of the world’s money every day.
CH: What are the best qualities of your job?
RM: I’ll tell you that for me, the best thing is to work with some fantastic people. I can’t stress how incredible the amount of energy, the amount of passion, the amount of curiosity, and the amount of intellect is here.
The other thing that I really like about this job is that you can make a difference. So, what we work on you can actually see value in it. I’ll give you an example. Last year, I was working on a project where we reduced the time it takes to open accounts for big companies, from 12 days to less than two hours. So, think of the value of that to companies who are now able to open accounts that quickly and start doing business with us. So, you can really see the positive impact you have on the economy.
CH: What are the biggest challenge that come with being the Managing Director of IT?
RM: I would say there’s two really big challenges. One is, things happen so fast in today’s world. Software, startups, FinTechs, Microsoft, the Googles, the Amazons of the world – they’re all moving at warp speed. Our challenge is not just to work that fast and deliver things quickly and be innovative, it’s also that we have to make sure that our clients’ data is private. And every day, someone comes in and tries to figure out how to break into our systems and offices. So, those two challenges, going really fast while staying ahead of the bad guys and keeping everything secure, is really big for us.
CH: What can companies like J.P. Morgan Chase offer my generation in terms of career opportunities?
RM: So, the big secret is J.P. Morgan has 50,000 technologists that work for them. And, we do everything that you can think about when you think about IT or technology. So, things that we can offer are: we have cybersecurity jobs, we have software engineering jobs, we have people who like to work on infrastructure, we have testing jobs, people who run programs, along with machine learning and data science activities. We offer a vast array of opportunities in technology.
CH: Where would you ask people in my generation to start in order to learn about cybersecurity, computer science and programming, so they can launch themselves into the rapidly advancing technology of today’s world?
RM: First of all, I think the closest thing that we have to superheroes today are people who are in technology. The reason I say that is because you have the ability from a keyboard to change the world, just with the software you write and the ability to put something in the cloud and touch so many people. There aren’t many things out there that I can think of that let you change the world like that.
Think of Netflix, think of Google, they all started in a garage, on a computer – and look what they’ve done. So, what I say to young folks is that the first thing is make sure you understand the principles, the science behind computer or software engineering so that you have a base grounding.
But once you have that, I recommend that you go with your passion – and I wouldn’t start and stay in one silo. We look for people who are well-rounded, so start with cyber, start with programming, but don’t stay there. Move around. Get well-rounded, because what we see is that the folks who excel are passionate, they love coming to work, and they do more than one thing. So that’s what I would tell folks looking to come into the field of technology.
And you can’t think of your career in more than five-year chunks. So, if you think of your first two years, if you can do three, four different things, that’ll get you grounded in a way that you can pivot and go whichever direction that you’re passionate about.
CH: As a Managing Director, what do you at look for in young people who want to work for J.P. Morgan Chase in technology?
RM: We look for a few things. One, we look for someone with software engineering or a computer science background. We look for people who are curious, who like to learn new things. We look for people who are very good at solving problems, who have great critical thinking skills, are self-starters, who communicate well and ask questions.
CH: Can you give a description of your interview process?
RM: We have a couple of different types of interviews. We interview people with experience and then we interview folks who are coming out of college who we call new hires.
For the new hires, we start out with some general screening interviews where we get to know you. We get to know what you are interested in, what you are passionate about. If we think that you are a good fit culturally, we’ll bring you in and you get to talk to three, four, sometimes five people about your experiences, and we look for some of those traits that I was talking about.
We want to make sure that you’re a self-starter. We want to make sure that you can solve problems and enjoy solving problems, and we want to make sure you’re curious because we have to come in everyday and want to learn something. People are very successful if they’re driven by curiosity and driven by themselves to push through problems.
CH: Is Chase always looking to diversify it’s work environment with employees and managers who are dedicated to diversity?
RM: Yes. Inclusion and diversity are extremely important to me. Coming from a military background, it’s second nature to me, but we actually have thirty three percent woman who work in technology in Chicago. The average in the industry is well below ten percent.
From an ethnicity perspective, we have resource groups. We have a group called Bold, which is focused on black Americans. We have a group that’s called Aspire, focused on Asians. We have a group of military veterans…and those are just a few examples of how we look for ways to build community and diversity.
In my experience – and I’ve been doing this for, let’s just call it twenty-five plus years – is that the more diverse your team is, the better performing they are. That goes back to a couple of things. One is that people see things from different viewpoints, if they come from different walks of life. And two is, you get diversity of thought. People don’t all think the same, and the last thing that we want to do is to hire fifty Rob Matleses because then we wouldn’t have people with strength in different areas. We think we can diversify more and it’s a big focus.
CH: One final question. Do you believe Chicago will become the next Silicon Valley?
RM: First of all, I would say that we’re never going to be Silicon Valley. Which is fine, which is fantastically fine, it’s great, because guess what? We’re Chicago, we’re unique in the fact that we are the center point for the intersection for all kinds of industries, all kinds of people, and not in the physical world only but also in the digital world.
Every day, a new startup starts in Chicago. We have over 100,000 jobs in this area for technology. And if you look at the companies here like J.P. Morgan Chase, we have fantastic opportunities to not only drive business, but drive our economy and communities and really give back. So, I’m very, very optimistic and bullish on Chicago becoming a great tech hub for the 21st century.
CH: Thank you very much, Mr. Matles, for giving us your time today. It’s been a pleasure.
RM: My pleasure, Caleb. I enjoyed the time with you, and I look forward to seeing some great things in the IT industry in the future.