Introduction

Type “Bjarne Stroustrup” into Google Search and his many achievements pop up. Stroustrup is the father of C++, one of the most popular and influential programming languages ever created and the building block for everything from mobile operating systems and virtual reality to the code used to drive the Mars rover and, yes, the Google search engine.  C++ is everywhere: an unseen foundation of most of our computerized gadgets and systems.

He has received numerous professional honors for his work on C++ and on programming in general. An especially prestigious accolade came in 2018, when Stroustrup won the U.S. National Academy of Engineering 's highest award: The Charles Stark Draper Prize for Engineering, given each year to an engineer credited with technological developments that have transformed modern life. That award is sometimes referred to as "The Nobel Prize for engineering." More recently, he was the recipient of the IEEE Computer Society's  Computer Pioneer Award, which recognizes a major contribution of lasting value to the computer industry. He holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and serves as a visiting professor at Columbia University.

Stroustrup joined Morgan Stanley in 2014 in part because he was impressed by the firm’s reputation for engineering and reliability. “During Hurricane Sandy [in 2012], Morgan Stanley never stopped trading,” he cites as an example, “which means that we have impressive infrastructure and impressive engineers.” Stroustrup is a Managing Director in the Technology Division and a Technical fellow, the highest designation of technical excellence at Morgan Stanley. Stroustrup shares his insights on The Invisible Engine of Everything in this Morgan Stanley Minute.

What motivated you to leave academia to join Morgan Stanley?

I wanted to get back to solving real-world problems. This was very important to me. I had gotten too far away from my roots and I wanted more realistic problems than I was dealing with in academia. I am getting those challenges here at the firm. I find myself motivated by the important and varied technical challenges that are presented, and by working with a technical community that is among the best in the world.

Describe your current role at the firm and your responsibilities.

I look at our technology with an eye to improving it wherever possible for better performance, more reliability and better security. I look at the firm's technology and try to sort out what is common and what is different among the various groups. Individual business groups have their individual needs, so I attend a lot of meetings to learn more about what is going on inside the firm.

Like any firm, we use a variety of technologies, from the most modern and advanced to some that are in need of improvement. We need to constantly renew our tools, techniques and code bases. Part of what I do is to suggest improvements where innovation offers the most advantages.

What is the most fulfilling aspect about your work?

I often travel and speak at public and private conferences, events and universities, and talk with some of the more than 10,000 developers working for the company worldwide. One of the things that amazed me is how global the company is. I have visited Morgan Stanley technologists in Bangalore, Budapest, Glasgow, Hong Kong, London, Montreal, Mumbai and Shanghai. I'm sure all involved learn something from such exchanges; certainly, I always do.

How would you describe the firm’s culture?

Relationships are important. No matter how smart you are, there is always somebody who can help—with some technical topic or just navigating through the organization. Especially in my core domain, coding, there are people in the firm I need to talk to and depend on because they know more about the practical application and how the technology is used here. Mutual respect and willingness to help colleagues are essential.

Where do good ideas come from?

Generating good ideas is not so much a predictable process as an exercise. You look at problems and you play with them until solutions start to appear. Trying to do that alone, in isolation, is inefficient. I find my best ideas are expressed with other people on their white boards as we discuss the problems, why they are there, and what can be done to alleviate them. Often, even when you have what appears to be an ideal solution, it cannot be applied because of the practical constraints of a particular problem. Those constraints may include cost, time to market, reliability, special requirements from the client, and so on. For good ideas to work, we have to respect practical constraints.

How has your experience outside of the financial services industry affected the way you approach your role at the firm?

The people I work with are extremely sharp and very focused on the problems they have to solve right now. One of my responsibilities is to make them look up from their immediate tasks and get them to look ahead to where we want to be several years into the future. We are going to generate a flood of good, new ideas.

More Ideas From Bjarne

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