Moved from tech to quant finance

I graduated with a CS PhD degree from a well-known US school and went to a big tech company as a researcher/SWE. Stayed there for a few years, and recently made a career change to finance. I've been coding since I was a kid and went to a number of programming competitions, so naturally I was 100% convinced that my path was in the tech industry. But I wasn't very happy with the work lately, I started looking for opportunities elsewhere. I interviewed with quant firms partially out of curiosity, as I knew a few friends who also did programming competitions and went to quant firms. Now I work as a quant researcher in a buy-side firm (apologies if I'm sloppy with the terms, still learning about the industry). In school, I was always a math guy among the CS people, and a CS guy among the math people. So yeah, this position feels like a much better fit for me than my past workplace.

I'm curious if anyone else shares similar stories. What triggered your career switch, and how was your experience like?

I'm also happy to share anything I can about my experience in the tech industry (interview prep, career paths, compensation, etc), so long as I don't doxx myself. Just to be clear, I've seen a few tech vs. finance posts here that went out of control, and I'm definitely not trying to do the same here. I'm not going to pretend I know everything about every field, so I'll just stick to what I've seen around personally.

Comments (22)

SweatpantsGuydude, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hello, I have a few questions.

What is Quant Research compared to Quant Trading? Does this work differ much between prop shops and HFs?

Do you need a PhD to work in the field? Is there a difference between the kinds of QRs that are Phds compared to masters students in terms of strategies/etc?

Any sense for the distribution of "good" workplaces in the space? Do you need to be at a top firm for it to be better than tech, or can boutiques provide good comp/culture/career progression?


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fjoqlxnvksllaorif, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I'm still trying to wrap my head around the "quant xyz" terms. I've seen many terms being used interchangeably, including "quant trader". My role is to analyze data, find signals, and build mathematical models so we can do automated trading based on the algorithms. I'm guessing that this role doesn't change much between prop shops and hedge funds because where the money comes from is irrelevant for our work.

You technically don't need a PhD to be a quant researcher, but the vast majority of the people at where I am and where I interviewed at are PhDs. There were some ex-professors as well. One would need to be *exceptionally* good in order to be hired over other PhD candidates. All of the interviewers cared a lot about my research experience. Most masters programs I've seen don't have enough depth in terms of research, so even if one could get a chance to interview, it'd be pretty difficult to pass.

Some of the good firms in this domain I heard were: Renaissance Technologies, Hudson River Trading, Jane Street, PDT, Citadel (only some teams). Any of these places would pay significantly better than top tech companies (assuming level 5 aka "senior engineer"). In terms of compensation, I got something equivalent to 2+ levels of promotion at my previous place. I heard from some friends that other firms offer roughly similar amount of compensation as tech companies. But they seem to eventually go become PMs themselves elsewhere for better compensation.

Tech company culture is generally collaborative, and you get to work with multiple partner teams on a daily basis. Seems like this is true for some firms like HRT (heard from multiple independent sources), but there are firms like Citadel and Tower Research that are known to be way harsher. So in terms of culture, it seems to vary a lot. Hope this helps!

  • 4
dapp43758, what's your opinion? Comment below:

What's the compensation like at your current position, and is it commensurate with the median compensation at quant firms in general?

Isaiah_53_5 💎🙌💎🙌💎, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Congrats - I hope you like it.

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teenager🤓, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Honestly can someone stay strong in tech industry if maths isn't that great? Asking as you are PhD in CS

fjoqlxnvksllaorif, what's your opinion? Comment below:

I was at one of the FANG companies. In these companies, senior engineers actually don't code much, and much of their value is coming from strategic thinking. This work involves designing a large scale system, identifying dependencies and interaction with existing systems, breaking down the work to smaller pieces that each team can work on independently. Most engineers I saw ended up going this way. There are a few specialists who don't fit into this stereotype, but that's a really small minority.

So yeah, your math doesn't have to be super sharp in order to perform well as a high level engineer or manager. Only the basic algorithms and data structure knowledge is required for interviews. Large scale thinking, good communication, and soft skills are way more valuable long term.

  • 1
teenager🤓, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Thanks a lot for replying 

Actually I am in a high school in Mumbai, India and actually wanted to get into Quantitative finance but i later realised that it isn't close to actual trading (have been trading in markets from past 4 years from age of 13)

Also my maths isn't good at all as I didn't like the subject much from 4-5th grade so it's unlikely that I'll get good at math and later become a quant!!! Can I still try for Quant? I am money obsessed TBH so Quant finance is strongly in my mind :( 

Majority of prop trading firms as well need excellent mental math :(

Please guide also sorry for long post 

  • 1
CollierV, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Do you have any tips on getting better at math? Maybe even (text)book recommendations?


fjoqlxnvksllaorif, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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