In 2006, Mona Eldam, seven years into her career at Morgan Stanley New York, was ready for something new, yet familiar. A former-developer-turned-technology-manager, she found herself yearning to return to her software-engineering roots. “I wanted to go back to my core technical skills,” says Eldam. Knowing how committed the firm is to supporting technologists in their career paths by offering them various opportunities along the way, she decided to speak up. “I was very open with my manager, who found eight different potential opportunities for me, just by reaching out to various network connections.” Mona picked a role in Fixed Income Technology, where she designed and implemented a data model used to confirm complex over-the-counter derivatives trades and financial instruments.
More than a decade later, Eldam, now a Managing Director, Head of Morgan Stanley Singapore Technology and a Distinguished Engineer, looks back fondly on how pivoting her career helped her learn more about the business, while dramatically expanding her network. Indeed, returning to hands-on software development prepared Eldam for her next big career challenge in 2008, just as the financial crisis was unfolding. Eldam’s combination of technology and business acumen made her the perfect candidate to lead the creation of an equity derivatives trading database from the ground-up, managing a new team that worked directly with front-line users of the firm’s technology to drive innovation.
Eldam recently was asked if she’d be interested in expanding her role and team in India. “I literally jumped at the opportunity,” she says. In 2020, she moved from New York to Bengaluru, where she continues to manage the firm’s databases for its institutional securities businesses and to champion the development of technology and operational innovations. She is a member of the India Technology Management Committee, which oversees the firm’s technology operations in the region, and sponsors the India Tech Diversity Council. Last year also marked another highlight, as Eldam was named a Morgan Stanley Distinguished Engineer, joining an elite group of technologists who have been recognized inside and outside the firm as influencers with superior technical expertise and mentors to the next generation.
I’m originally from Beirut and am the youngest of eleven children. I finished high school at 16 years old and then started college to study architecture. About a year later, during the civil war in Lebanon in 1988, I immigrated to the U.S with my sisters. By that time, several of my brothers and my mother were already living in the US. I transferred to the University of California, Los Angeles, where I switched my major to computer science, with a minor in math.
After graduation, I became a consultant on state government financial systems. I moved around a lot in the US, including to Hawaii and the Virgin Islands, which was not bad at all! In 1999, I decided I wanted to move to New York and got a call from Morgan Stanley. I’ve been with the firm ever since and have never looked back.
I returned to software development at the firm in the wake of the financial crisis. It was an incredibly chaotic time, but also a time of great opportunity. I helped develop a first-of-its-kind bi-temporal data store, which allowed me to establish a framework to manage databases from an application rather than a system perspective. I started building a team that has grown now to manage the majority of Institutional data stores in the firm.
You have been very active in promoting diversity within the industry. What are some projects you’ve worked on and why is diversity so important?
Diversity not only powers innovation, but it also makes for a much richer experience for all of us. I’ve been very fortunate to work for Morgan Stanley. We have an amazing culture here. I’ve always had a voice and a seat at the table. But I know not everyone is as lucky. If you have the means to change things more broadly, you should do something.
In the U.S., I started with a colleague of mine the LGBTQ+ working group in Technology for Morgan Stanley North America and co-led the Women in Technology (WIT) Steering Committee. I have also been very active around AnitaB.org, a global organization for Women Technologists, helping to initiate our sponsorship and working closely with campus recruiting to elevate our participation in Grace Hopper Celebration, an annual event that showcases women’s contributions to the world of tech.
Being a technologist in the financial industry allows me to use innovative tools and systems to solve problems that have huge implications firm-wide. I’m working on a few projects related to moving some of our transactional and reference data to the cloud. This will open up innovative opportunities where we can start utilizing some vendor products and tools that are only available in the cloud. As the data is sensitive, we are making sure that data governance and data security are taken care of appropriately as part of the new architecture and data store choices.
The focus on data has grown tremendously in the last few years. We need to make sure that we have proper data governance, quality, lineage, and most importantly, the levels of security around it. This is an exciting time for technologists who are passionate about data.
What advice do you give most often to people who are starting out in their careers or interested in advancing at the firm?
I always tell people that mobility opens different doors. During my time at Morgan Stanley, I’ve worked with the back office, middle office and front office. Suddenly, there is this light bulb that goes on, and you realize you know so much about the flow between the systems within our firm. That understanding was enormously helpful to me when I worked on data flows that required front-to-back business knowledge, and it was critical to the business in order to achieve federal certification. It’s also been invaluable in supporting collaboration with colleagues.