Steve Rubinow

Think the lead technologist role at an exchange is ho-hum?

By Maureen Callahan, Waters
1 January 2008

Steve Rubinow, executive vice president and CIO of NYSE Euronext, the largest exchange on the planet, loved physical science growing up. “I expected my career would be that of a scientist. It turned out to be more computer science and management science than physical science,” he explains. But before he took those turns on life’s highway, he earned three degrees in chemistry. “For science work, you need a PhD,” he says. “It’s like a union card.” Don’t ask about his class rankings; you’ll want to go back to bed and pull the covers over your head.

Rubinow began his career in financial technology at Fidelity where he developed firm-wide architecture across the 40-plus divisions and mission-critical systems as well as vetted potential investment candidates for Fidelity Ventures. An early adopter, he went off to Silicon Valley where he served as CTO and CIO of a pair of fast-growing start-ups that struck gold, one in an IPO and the other in an acquisition.

His segue into NYSE Euronext was natural; he was CTO of Archipelago from 2001 to 2006 when it was acquired by NYSE, which then acquired Euronext and is now purchasing the American Stock Exchange.

Rubinow is fascinated with the development of the World Wide Web. The Internet was a 25-year-old technology that suddenly becomes disruptive and “impacts every single business on the face of the Earth, including finance” with two developments: the Web and browsers. “Not too many people were excited about the earlier command line interfaces,” he says. But closer to home, the impact of Regulation ATS back in 1999 was enormous. “It opened the door for competition to go up against the exchanges,” he says. He doesn’t miss the irony that he was the competition and now he is the exchange.

The next big things he predicts that will happen, but has no idea about the timing, are disruptive leaps in computing power and storage technologies. Sure, the chip makers will come out with faster processors and the storage manufacturers will develop denser products, but what Rubinow is looking for is quantum computing. “Using the enhanced numeric properties afforded by quantum mechanical states of atomic particles essentially as the basis of the computational arithmetic means we’re talking about increasing computing power by many, many orders of magnitude,” he says.

What about storage? “Storage is the biggest part of our capital budget. We process things extremely efficiently, but storage technology has not grown as efficiently. With regulation, every bit that enters our business has to be stored and it has to be stored for years, not necessarily all online, but it has to be pretty available. When you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of transactions a second and a million quotes a second and you have to store all that, well, it takes up a lot of space.” No kidding.

“People have been talking about holographic storage where you can store data in greater orders of magnitude. Forget about the normal bits and bytes we get in finance, think of what it will mean for more complicated data like video,” he says.

Rubinow finds the peer-to-peer technology model technically fascinating. Google’s million-plus server farms are compelling, too. “To think about how to coordinate, administer, interconnect, sure, it’s a fascinating problem, but I wouldn’t want to have that problem. A million of anything is way too complicated and you should avoid it if you can,” he says. “Problems come out of complexity. It helps to keep things simple: Simple means more reliable, more stable, easier to administer and easier to secure.”

In the future, Rubinow sees “much more interesting interaction between computers because the software will become more sophisticated and not just fancy mathematical algorithms, but things that can interact with the market in a more interesting way with a more comprehensive view. Humans will come in just to see that things are humming along as they are supposed to do, but there will be less human interaction,” he says.

“You know the old joke about the factory of the future, right?” he says. “It will have only two living things in it: a human and a dog. The human is there to feed the dog and the dog is there to make sure that the human doesn’t touch anything. That’s the future.”