Day in the life, Fiona Wharton, domain architect, UBS Chief Digital and Information Office

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Day in the life, Fiona Wharton, domain architect, UBS Chief Digital and Information Office

Fiona Wharton is a domain architect at UBS in the firm’s Chief Digital and Information Office. Based in London, she is responsible for the technology architecture for the investment bank’s financing business. She has worked for UBS for 17 years after a 15-year career as a consultant at Accenture. 

6am. I wake up early and focus on getting myself ready before trying to get my teenager out of bed at 7am. If he’s not downstairs by 7.30am, I start calling for him as I don’t want him to be late. When he appears, we have breakfast together before he heads off to school on time, thus avoiding detention.  I live in Hackney, and the London office is around 4km away. I’m there three days a week and I usually run, bike, or walk in – I try to build as much exercise into my daily routine as possible to avoid the need to go to the gym. 

8.15am. Clear communication is important to my job. That means I usually start the day prioritizing urgent emails. Most emails are from my UBS colleagues, but I do receive external emails, particularly when I’ve been at a conference, from vendors and others sharing information they think I’ll be interested in. 

9am. My meetings begin! Teamwork is essential. It’s also half the fun: managing people and complexity. As a domain architect for the Investment Bank’s financing business, my role is to design a blueprint of the IT systems, working with the business to ensure they have the right technology in place to help be successful in their roles. If we get the tech right, everything else in this highly complex business can work smoothly. As a business function, Financing serves hedge funds, investment managers, sovereign wealth funds, and global family offices, providing prime brokerage, equity swaps, clearing (listed and OTC products) and stock borrow lending activities.  Collateral services are also supported. In much the same way that an architect will design a new building, I work closely with the Financing business to help them make the best decisions on application structure and style (eg, microservices and layered) combined with architecture characteristics that include availability, reliability and scalability.

I also ensure there’s adequate governance and that the architecture we’re implementing is fit for purpose and cost effective. My role is about the technology landscape and I’m responsible for around 150 apps where we control the code base. That requires a lot of coordination and a lot of meetings!  

10am. I have a meeting with a project manager about moving applications to the cloud to review the challenges faced by impacted teams and discuss solutions to address these. Cloud migration is critical component of our overall IT strategy, which will yield significant benefits including increased agility and speed to market, IT innovation, cost transparency and better infrastructure utilization.

11am. I have a meeting on governance with another member of the team. This is to confirm that the changes we’re implementing are in line with established principles and approved architecture patterns.

12pm. I take time to have lunch and I deliberately use this time to engage in personal activities – a little “me time.” Once a week I sing with the UBS choral society, another day I volunteer at a local primary school and play games with the children to help them learn their times tables. On Fridays, I work from home and play tennis!  Other times I either have lunch with a colleague or grab something to eat at my desk

1pm. There’s a meeting to discuss the implementation of a new system and discuss how we align this with the business’s priorities. This meeting focuses on content architecture and design: using technology to get from A to B. They’re often refined brainstorming sessions and a place where we can be quite creative. I love that part.

1.30pm. The US comes online and, as we’re a global team, this can be a busy time interacting with members of the team in the Americas.   

2.30pm. I have a meeting with one of my direct reports where we focus on reviewing the architecture for a new cloud hosted application and discuss progress on the target architecture for that domain.  I’m also a chapter lead at UBS, which means that I look after the careers and skills of employees that want to be architects like me.  

It takes years to become an architect – that’s what makes it so exciting. You need to have experience in diverse technologies, frameworks and platforms and you need to have knowledge of the business. There are different routes you can take to become an architect – some people start out as an engineer and go down a technical path first; others go down a systems development path and learn about individual systems before understanding how the systems come together to create a broader architecture. I went down the systems path – I have a finance and business background and then taught myself to code and took a job where I worked on the full system development lifecycle. When I had enough experience, I specialised.

3pm. Staying up to date on new developments is essential in my role. I attend a fintech presentation on new technologies, since part of my job is to understand how technology evolves and ensure we are constantly thinking outside of the box.

4pm. I have a meeting on data. Our emphasis right now is on building a data mesh for the investment bank. This is an innovative approach that has considerable advantages over how we approached data in the past.  

5pm. I have a design authority meeting with the US team where we review the architecture options and recommendation for a new application

5.30pm. There’s a daily wrap meeting towards the end of the London working day. I don’t attend every day, since this meeting is focused on individuals with production responsibility for each of our apps, but I will attend if we have had any resilience issues. Resilience and uptime are of paramount importance to us, and we are working proactively to ensure there are no production incidents.  

6pm. My meetings usually end, and I have an hour to go through my emails. I usually leave at 7pm and I try to avoid logging on again until the next morning. I used to logon in the evenings, but I’ve found it’s not often necessary because when you’re an architect, you don’t face emergency requests – although I can always be contacted if necessary. 

I usually spend the evenings exercising or chilling out. I try to be in bed by 10pm, which is much earlier than it used to be. I have focused much more on my health as I’ve gotten older!  At the weekend I play tennis, both days if I can, go for dinner/theatre or both, meet friends and chill out. 

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