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Advice / Career Paths / Career Stories

What It’s Like to Work at BlackRock’s Innovation Hub in Scotland

Joleen Lehmann, a VP at BlackRock's iHub in Scotland
Joleen Lehmann, a VP at BlackRock's iHub in Scotland.
| Courtesy of BlackRock

A lot has changed since Joleen Lehmann’s inaugural experience in tech, when she volunteered to help a legal firm install their first computers. From there, she worked as a network engineer, troubleshooting issues with PCs and, as she recalls, “crawling around the floor laying network cables” while attending night school to earn more certifications.

After going back to university full time to complete her degree, the Scotland-based Lehmann jumped feet first into a tech career, working in an operational role before pivoting to a database administrator position at a financial company.

“This is where I got a basic understanding of the financial world from a data perspective,” she says. “I found it exciting to get insight into wealth management and financial institutions, which led me to BlackRock.”

Today, Lehmann is a vice president at BlackRock, where she is responsible for leading delivery of the strategic initiatives for Aladdin, the firm’s investment management tech platform.

“Cross-functional initiatives like Aladdin are critical and technically complex, and support BlackRock’s growth priorities and commercial outcome,” she says.

Here, Lehmann describes BlackRock’s iHubs and why they’re important, how the Edinburgh office has evolved since it opened 25 years ago, and what it was like to grow up on a farm in Scotland.

What led to your current role at BlackRock?

I came to BlackRock to support Aladdin clients and resolve their technical issues. I enjoyed the direct connectivity with clients and began to run small client-facing projects. My manager was supportive, and before I knew it, I was building client environments with BlackRock’s technical teams.

As my confidence grew, I began looking for my next opportunity and was given the chance to set up a team that would project manage our internal products. I got it up and running, but unfortunately it only existed for a short time. While I was disappointed, it made me hungry for more. My next challenge was a stretch goal: to migrate BlackRock to a newly built data center. The BlackRock environment migration was completed successfully along with dependent applications over one weekend with no migration or production issues; it’s certainly my proudest BlackRock moment so far.

The Edinburgh office is also one of BlackRock’s Innovation Hubs (iHubs). What exactly is an iHub and what type of work does Edinburgh focus on specifically?

At BlackRock, iHubs focus on developing new technologies and platforms that support the company’s purpose of creating financial well-being for more people.

Edinburgh provides deep subject matter expertise across the entire Aladdin ecosystem, which is what makes it a unique iHub. The core activities are focused on client, trade, and control lifecycles. The adjacencies created through the office have a material impact on client experience, scale, and risk management. It also allows us to provide local support and expertise to key clients, business partners, and regulators.

The expertise within the Edinburgh office and the presence of multiple critical support teams and DevOps teams—alongside the work we do on client, trade, and control lifecycles—allows us to easily collaborate, ensure alignment, and continually build on the culture of innovation. 

As someone who’s been at BlackRock for more than a decade, how have you seen the Edinburgh office change and grow?

Edinburgh was BlackRock’s first international office, and we recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. Since then, we have seen exponential growth in our workforce, our involvement in the Scottish community, and our footprint in the local financial services industry.

In 2013, the office moved to a bigger space, and now I’m involved in another upcoming move to Edinburgh’s New Town in 2025. It’s exciting that BlackRock keeps focusing on Edinburgh as an iHub while also building a culture of inclusion and diversity within this newly planned workspace. I’m excited to see what the next chapter brings.

Why is now an exciting time to join BlackRock, specifically for those who work in tech?

We are not just a financial company, but also a tech company—which is something our CEO, Larry Fink, often reiterates. We are always improving our tech stack and our processes to work smarter, not harder. We are trendsetters at the forefront of the tech ecosystem. It’s our mission to advance a global culture of technical excellence, innovation, and leadership, which makes BlackRock the career destination for building world-class financial technology.

Tell us about your involvement in BlackRock’s recruiting programs and why this work is fulfilling.

I have been heavily involved in Edinburgh’s Analyst Programs for Technologists for many years. Every year we bring on analysts, ranging from summer interns for an eight-week program to full-time positions for a two-year program. My favorite part is engaging with new talent and listening to their opinions and fresh insights, as well as being able to mentor and coach them. It brings me so much joy to see them grow and build their careers.

When you think back on your time at BlackRock, what’s one project you’ve worked on that was especially inspiring or innovative? What impact did it have on the company?

It has to be my first project, which was to remove a dependency on the BlackRock environment for each of our Aladdin clients. This enhanced the stability and resiliency around reporting for those clients. It might not sound that critical, but it was a relatively small change that made a large difference. I remember this work because I was new and had never managed my own project. I didn’t have a clue about where to start or any of the technical items I was decoupling. I also had to work with people I didn’t know from all over the world. I was quite overwhelmed, to say the least.

Through the project, I learned how Aladdin worked from a reporting perspective, I learned each and every Aladdin client, I met the operational teams who supported Aladdin, and—perhaps most importantly—I built relationships with my new colleagues. I still connect with them, 11 years later.

Switching gears a bit: As someone born and raised in Scotland, what are a few of your favorite places to visit today and why?

I love to visit Kyle of Lochalsh, a small village just before the bridge to the Isle of Skye. We always stop to eat the amazing fish caught that morning. I’ve eaten a lobster wrap basking in the glorious sunshine looking over the water. I’ve attempted to eat fish and chips while cowering on the side of the snack hut in gale-force winds and rain—but that’s what makes it Scottish! I also enjoy visiting castles and grand houses with incredible gardens. Eilean Donan Castle is a famous and beautiful one en route to Kyle of Lochalsh. Another of my favorites is Inveraray Castle, where the Downton Abbey Christmas 2012 episode was filmed.

What’s something most people would be surprised to know about you?

I grew up on a farm in Lochmaben, a small village near Dumfries. I had pet lambs and chickens that would steal my chocolate as a kid. My brother and I would spend our days roaming around the fields and jumping in the tractor with the farmer as he went about his daily duties. We helped feed the cows and sheep, and picked fruit and made jams in the summer. One memory that always sticks with me was waking up to find the cows had escaped and were in our paddling pool. As kids, this was hilarious until we realized they had pierced it with their hoofs. It was such a great place to grow up and create memories that we will keep forever.