Leaving FAANG dev job for serious finance (Yes, you read that right)
I'm thinking of swimming against the tide and leaving tech for finance. Any thoughts are welcome. This post is kinda long, feel free to skip sections and just read the TLDRs.
Since graduating, I've worked for a couple years as a software engineer, and after a startup exit I'm currently at a company at the lower prestige end of the FAANG++ group (think/Microsoft/etc, rather than F/G). I'm seriously thinking about transitioning to a career in finance - is this even possible? What are my options? Or am I forevermore stuck debugging 1000s of lines of arcane code?
My Background: I've been interested in econ/finance since forever - I was the kid spending my pocket money buying the Financial Times. When picking up pizza, I'd mentally start estimating revenue/profit based on customers, staff, etc. I recently found an old notebook and my 2 stock picks of 2008 were F and GOOG (what a weird kid). But I was decent at math as well, and thinking it'd be much easier to go math-y to finance than the reverse, chose to do that at university.
I have a math / theoretical physics degree from a top target (usually ranked #1 or #2 globally for both my subject and overall), but - and here's the kicker - with a bad GPA. Turns out, when you're competing at that level, shit is tough, and from day 1 I worked my ass off to keep up, including straight through summers (massive mistake, didn't do any internships) This wasn't enough, and being in the middle of the bottom half of the cohort, with harsh curving, I finished with a 2.95/4 GPA. Eek!
After a month vacation, I picked up a software job at a small tech company. I couldn't actually code, but needed a job, so stuck some Python stickers on the outside of my laptop and wore a black hoodie to the interview, and basically social engineered my way in. I was bored with coding after just a few months, started looking for another job after ~9months, but then BigTech swooped in and bought us. So, in a last throw of the career-satisfaction-dice, I changed team, technical area, and city. But it's still boring af.
Background TLDR: was a hardcore finance nerd, did math-y stuff at university (with a bad GPA), got a coding job and ended up in BigTech
Why? So why am I even considering this? Surely anybody sane would cling for dear life to their BigTech coding job? There's a pile of reasons both pushing me out of tech, as well as pulling to finance. Let's start with why tech sucks for me, and why I'm seriously questioning it as a career:
- Coding just isn't fun for me. Leetcode-style questions (ie technical interviews) are ok, but I dislike 99% of the actual job. Debugging and testing are extremely tedious and menial, I don't like learning endless new languages, frameworks, etc, and I don't even like design-work (but I don't completely detest this). The only parts I actually like are softer work like mentoring people, running meetings, and thinking about how to improve team communication & efficiency.
- The whole industry is basically a bunch of male chinese and indian nerds. Eg on my current team of ~30, other than 1 russian, everybody else is a highly introverted male chinese/indian, with English so poor that communication is seriously impeded
- Relatedly, my soft skills are decaying, and I want to avoid becoming an industry veteran neckbeard. It's taking significant active effort to slow the decay and talk to people outside tech. I think there may be a closing window of opportunity here
- Career growth is mediocre. Experience from 10 years ago is effectively worthless, and I don't want to spend my 50s learning Python version 23.987 and practicing leetcode to change jobs. I'd almost certainly cap out at "senior" (ie Google's L5) at best, given I don't like much of the work
- Remote work - yeah, this is down in the right category. WFH is working pretty well, and my company is recruiting strongly in cheap locations outside the West. I don't want to spend my 50s competing with people in rural India who can code just as well as me
- Tech is booming - yeah, this is also down in the right category. Pay is high, software is eating the world etc. But given how easy it is to get into the industry, the labor market is adjusting relatively quickly. Industry growth rates must normalize at some point, and when that happens, pay/hours/etc will also normalize. If this is my experience now, what will it be like when things aren't booming?
- Tech is USA, and more specifically SF, centric. I want to spend time in UK/Canada/Australia. Tech has far less pay/prestige there, while finance takes less of a haircut. Also SF is bad (but I'd be happy in NYC for a while)
So why finance, rather than becoming a basket-weaver?
- I might actually like it. I read bloomberg, FT, etc all the time. I'm currently half way through a distressed debt book (by Moyer), and it's actually interesting. I care far more about Fed announcements than Python releases (or anything from the National Basket Weaving Association.) And coworkers wouldn't think I'm the devil when I say things like "what's our revenue?" or "monetary policy"
- I think technical competence would be relatively easy - for an objective data point, a few days ago I was considering doing CFA L1, did a practice test to see what the content was like, and got 90%
- Pays better than basket weaving. And wouldn't be too much of a downgrade from tech. I don't really need the money, but it's a bonus
- Finance hours are probably worse to start with, but a week of 50h debugging + 10h leetcode + 10h learning framework v234.987.0 isn't so great either
- But have never done even an internship, so I have no idea what it's like on the ground
Why TLDR: Tech sucks because coding, nerds, and future career doesn't look good. Also SF bay area is trash. Finance doesn't suck because it's interesting, future career isn't terrible, and I could do it without melting my brain. But I don't actually know that, because no internships
What are my options?
So this is where things become unclear. The usual option for somebody in my position (math-y undergrad, does software work) is hit the stats books and get a quant or quant dev/ / etc. I think I could probably, with some practice, get and pass interviews. But I know folk who work there, and their math ability is on another planet to mine - I'd fully expect to be out looking for another job before long. I could probably survive at a tier 2/3 shop though.
I'm probably too old at 24 for an IB analyst job, and in any case my GPA is still a problem if I try to go in via the front door.seems more promising, particularly if I target groups. How feasible would that be? Ideally I'd like to end up in something with a bit more bite though - things like RX, products, or structuring seem more interesting, but are likely far more of a stretch for me right now, or flat impossible. PE is, I think, not ever going to be in reach. The nuclear option, of course, is getting an MBA. I'd rather avoid that if possible, but would consider it if it's the only option, probably with a move first to product/project/program management (for sanity preservation).
How should I be approaching this? What am I overlooking? How should I improve my chances of a successul transition? CFA, MFin, research reports, trading my own account, networking like crazy?
Or do I just not realise how good I've got it, and should suck it up and keep coding?