I could be working in Silicon Valley. I studied computer science at one of the top universities in the U.S. and most of my peers went into start-ups. Six years later, I'm a 27-year-old a quant on Wall Street and I seriously think I've made the wrong call.
My mistake was crystallized when I went back to San Francisco for three days last week. Literally everyone I know there is working for a start-up and the contrast with Wall Street is immense. Everyone in SF knows someone who's cashed out, who's bought a "second home in the Bahamas", some kind of car, or has just stopped working altogether. That kind of stuff is commonplace.
OK, it helps that my class graduated in 2010: my peers have been able to ride the post-Facebook IPO valuations wave. The companies they work for are mostly private, so the equity wealth has gone to the venture capital and private equity funds that backed their employers - and to them as employees. Banks and traders have been mostly locked out of this, it's the 20-something workers who are cashing in (and out).
In the meantime, the sell-side is floundering. I've been paid less than $155k for the last two years and have been waiting for the kinda-good-times to come back to Wall Street. Sure, there are some upsides: I'm at a bulge bracket bank which is highly respected and has a wealth of institutional knowledge to tap. I get to work with cash sales and trading, derivatives sales and trading, exotics and prime brokerage. There's a wealth of data and knowledge at my fingertips.
However, while I respect the institution I work for abstractly, being a junior quant/tech guy who's had flat pay for three years in a stressful job in a stressful city isn't my idea of fun. I'm starting to get a little tired of this, especially when I look at SF and see that everyone else's net worth is multiplying.
The thing is that I knew finance would be a challenge, but I didn't imagine that it would be like this. The low pay, resignations, and general pessimism are beyond what I imagined. Back in San Francisco, the gyms are filled with 20-somethings who've parked their Maseratis and Ferraris outside. Someone made a wrong choice, and right now it looks like that person was me.