Tech As An Alternative to Finance

I've been seeing lots of grass is greener envy on WSO and thought I could offer perspective.


For Context

I was all set to join a hedge fund post graduation, but the financial crisis put the brakes on that plan: the fund pulled out of my country, I took a job in big tech to ride out the storm, and I've been here ever since.

I work on the business side but have many friends in engineering.

On Startups as a Founder

They are, for the most part anyways, lottery tickets.

There were dozens of search engines that debuted around the same time as Google - some with better technology - that no one has ever heard of.

Slack, the current hot "startup," spent 4 years as a failing MMORPG before the CEO laid off 80% of his staff and pivoted to a communications app.

The company with by far the smartest founders I know (a CERN caliber theoretical physicist and a Harvard mathematician from MBB with research experience at MSFT/Google who raised money from Peter Thiel) was acqui-hired (read: failed) after 7 years of going mostly nowhere.

May 2017... I wonder how many new MarTech companies have been founded since then?

That pic is exactly what it looks like: 5000 "MarTech" companies all competing for a slice of the CMO's budget.

You can find similar groupings for everything from self-driving to pets (yes, PetTech is a thing).

On Startups as an Employee

They are, for the most part anyways, lottery tickets.

Even if the organization you join hits unicorn status (exceedingly rare) and realizes liquidity without complication (exceedingly unlikely) after 4 years (exceedingly fast), your 0.1% is only going to be worth 125k per year after 2x dilution.

Here is the top comment in the first search result for "how much equity startup reddit:"

Reddit User:

I once had a bunch of options in a pretty hot startup. The startup hadn't IPOed yet, but if we were heading in that direction and if we ended up with a similar market cap to our nearest (virtually identical) competitor I would have been holding about $1.5m in shares.

Then the market tanked, no one could IPO or get additional funding, and the company went bust.

We ended up having a competition at a bar to see who could make the best paper hats out of our option paperwork.

I didn't win.

For a more detailed analysis of why startup life can suck for employees, particularly young employees, read this.

On Startups in General

I'm not sure who to blame for muddying the waters, but a "startup" has traditionally gone by another name: a new business. I'm not sure if you've heard, but most new businesses fail, especially ones that focus on fast growth at all costs.

If you're going to give this a shot, be prepared to spend ~3-4 years earning less than your peers, with the most likely payout being nothing but experience and a story to share (and possibly a very bitter story at that).

To maximize your chance of a positive outcome, pick the best people that meet all of the hygiene requirements - good IQ, good schools, good degrees, good industry, good idea, good backers, etc. - that work well as a team.

Just like in banking, you need people who hit certain competency thresholds, but having the world's greatest AI researcher means nothing if the team can't deliver a real product that solves a real need... you know, the whole execution thing.

After you check all of the boxes, make your decision based on instinct.

LSO ftw http://www.leveragedsellout.com/2014/02/the-book-o...

On Roles Most Similar to Banking/Consulting

There are a ton of functions I left out of this post - customer success, renewals, quality assurance, enablement, etc. - that are really great jobs for most people, but I don't know much about them and they offer little appeal to the typical WSO forum member (read: Type A overachiever and/or Greedy SOB)

As you would expect, you'll see lots of burnt out/passed over MBA bankers & consultants running around the corp dev and strategy departments.

Of the well known tech companies, Uber feels the most banking/consulting like - the offices are generally more sophisticated than what you see in consumer tech, and the employees have an aristocratic vibe. It's currently the most popular tech-haven for Goldman/Mckinsey refugees.

Uber boss Dara Khosrowshahi with Andrew Ross Sorkin

At the lower levels you'll find them in operations roles, and at the higher levels they serve as city GM's. The work is analytical but not overly complex (sound familiar?) and if you factor in equity the comp is similar.

You'll find the "best" tech people in product management - PM's own a particular product and sit at the intersection of users, business, and engineering. The required skillset is very broad, requiring technical aptitude, communication skills, analytical abilities, big picture thinking, etc. etc. so lots of engineers w/MBA's and successful entrepreneurs in these jobs.

PM roles - particularly well known rotational programs like Google's APM and soon Uber's - are highly coveted, and can lead to senior management or investor positions at classy VC firms.

On Sales

Being an account executive is similar to being a managing director in banking - you have revenue generating responsibilities and everything else is secondary. In the more senior roles, you'll have a reasonable base salary (say, 150k) with a variable commission that can fluctuate wildly depending on your territory, the timing of your product, and your talent.

Sales is the riskiest - there is lots of pressure to perform, and though you could be very talented, if your timing is off and your territory sucks you might not sell anything all year, and the company can fire you for non-performance.

Of the careers discussed here, sales has the lowest intellectual requirements: the barrier to entry is effectively non-existent, ergo you'll find plenty of underachievers and average joe's.

On Engineering

I keep reading something akin to "Damn, software engineers at FAANG make so much money! I'll just leave banking and join them!"

A few things.

Yes, some software engineers make a ton of cash. Anecdotally, I've heard of fresh undergrad Google recruits pulling in 300k+ total comp this year. That might be an exaggeration, but not a big one.

Graduates from a handful of AI labs are fielding multiple 7 figure offers. That is not an exaggeration.

Google apparently paid Anthony Levandowski $120mm AND offered 10% of future profits on his self-driving efforts, should he deliver.

But these numbers are for the best, the best of the best, and the best of the best of the best, respectively, not the average.

As a rule, successful software engineers look less like bankers and more like one of these guys:

(Hint: it's not Joe Rogan)

None of the high-end software engs I know could succeed in banking - it's just a very different personality type. There's a certain temperament required to be an effective SWE, and it can look pretty autistic-y. That's not to say it's impossible, but it's the exception not the rule...

And despite what you might tell yourself, finance is NOT. THAT. COMPLICATED.

Software engineers are not paid to write code, they are paid to solve problems, and easy problems are already solved or easily solvable.

If you want to earn the big bucks, you have to tackle new, hard problems, which increasingly means interdisciplinary stuff in the life sciences or robotics... there aren't a lot of people with the IQ & knowledge to push the envelope here.

For people below the stratosphere, software engineering is just another job, and not necessarily a good one - because the powers that be change the technology stacks every 5 years, the skills learned are rapidly obsolete, so workers HAVE to learn continuously just to keep up; there is no professional body to protect them.

Some guys/gals make a pretty good living specializing in some God awful enterprise product like SAP or Oracle, but it can be a miserable existence - no one likes paying some consultant $400/hr to plug holes in software that cost $10mm.

Finally, it's not clear that "software engineering" as it's now known will even exist in 10 years. Something like 90%+ of the code at Google is machine generated today, and we're not going to start re-replacing infinitely cheap algorithms with expensive humans.

In Sum

I think that pretty much covers it.

A career in tech can make sense depending on who you are and what you want, but it's not a panacea, and not necessarily better than a career in finance.

Hope that helps and here to answer any questions.

Happy Holidays,

CC

Comments (53)

Dec 26, 2018

Good write up man and thanks for tagging me. Glad I read this. I know there's a lot of sarcasm on WSO but I am being serious

    • 1
Dec 26, 2018

Thanks for reading!

Dec 27, 2018

Thanks for the tag. Very well written and insightful.

    • 1
Dec 27, 2018

Thank you!

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Dec 27, 2018

Thanks for the tag, I enjoyed reading this.

    • 1
Dec 27, 2018

Thank you too!

Dec 27, 2018

Thanks for the tag.

Moral of the story: Every job eventually becomes just another job. And as econ 101 taught us, if the grass is really that green, enough people will eventually run over until its just as brown as all the other grass.

    • 5
Dec 26, 2018

Had a long reply to this but it deleted itself.. leaving this post as a reminder to write it up again later.

Dec 26, 2018

Positive? Negative? Neutral?

Jan 9, 2019

will you ever write it up?

Dec 27, 2018

SB'd earlier. Good write up.

    • 1
Dec 27, 2018

Great write up as per usual.

Agree that startups are normally incredibly over hyped. Funny how when someone gets to a $1 million valuation, the people around them start to think they could be the next Zuckerberg, when in reality most startups fail.

I don't know about working at a tech company enough to comment, but everything you wrote seems very fair.

    • 1
Dec 27, 2018

Thanks for reading!

Most Helpful
Dec 27, 2018

Overall, very good read.

Couple points I wanted to add.

1) People often forget that if you're on the business side of "hi-tech", you're still just working a standard business job. I feel that the foosball tables, free food, lax dress code and other assortments of perks falsely give off the impression to millennials that by working in say marketing or finance or bizdev at $CoolTechCo you're somehow being different or special. In reality you can pretty much plug and play most of the jobs people on the biz side take up into any other corporate. The hi-tech industry is just very, very good at making what you do seem far more important or "innovative" or sexy than it actually is.

2) Folks in technical/creative jobs (Engineering, Design, Content, Data etc) are the people that actually build the product, yes. But the veil of sexiness adorned on to these roles also misses the point that, unlike a business job, they require hard skills. These hard skills typically correlate with a certain type of personality or way of thinking. It's nowhere near as easy as just simply learning a few lines of Java or messing about on InDesign or doing some data science bootcamp. You have to enjoy genuinely creating something from nothing, solving highly specific/niche problems and overall just be wired in a way that "fits" one of those roles. If you don't have that, no level of online tutorials or bootcamps or classes will change that fact. Even if you do get an interview, passing the skills bar will prove exceedingly difficult.

3) Ultimately, career choices should come down to fit, priorities and interest. There's no use comparing work/life balance of being a software engineer to finance/consulting if your personality/interest/fit is more aligned to the latter's career path than the former's. Grass isn't green-er it's just a completely different colour in this case. I think people need to be more frank and thoughtful about these considerations. Post after post of folks comparing BB IBD MD life to BigTech VP PM or MBB Partner appear tone deaf and completely miss the very real distinctions/requirements/diverging paths between each of those. End of the day, pick the path that makes the most sense and the success will likely follow.

Also:

Something like 90%+ of the code at Google is machine generated today

This isn't true. Google has been working on a library called AutoML which has been shown to produce computer written ML code that is marginally more efficient than human code but by no means is it wide spread or even a complete idea yet. For the most part it's a WIP making use of the infinite monkey theorem essentially stating try something enough times and a better solution will arise. Code is still very much written by humans.

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Dec 27, 2018
princepieman:

.

Also:

Something like 90%+ of the code at Google is machine generated today

This isn't true. Google has been working on a library called AutoML which has been shown to produce computer written ML code that is marginally more efficient than human code but by no means is it wide spread or even a complete idea yet. For the most part it's a WIP making use of the infinite monkey theorem essentially stating try something enough times and a better solution will arise. Code is still very much written by humans.

Eh, perhaps I should clarify. Most code at Google is no longer generated by people hard programming the old way - IF, THEN, ELSE, etc.

People setup neural nets, train them, and the computer is generating its own executable (writing its own code).

This is separate from AutoML.

Google published a paper on this, I'll see if I can find it.

Dec 27, 2018

First time I've ever heard of this... Most engineers I know still code the normal way.

Would be interested in seeing the paper if you can find it.

Dec 30, 2018

Could not agree more with point 3. I would so much rather work 80-90 hour weeks in a job where I felt fulfilled and stimulated by the work itself than 40 hour weeks at a job I felt I was just running out the clock.

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Dec 27, 2018

Great post, and great reply by @princepieman

I'm in finance but dabbled on the tech side, and one of my siblings is a FAANG product manager. I find myself trying to ... not necessarily convince ... but show a lot of my late 20s/ early 30s finance friends that the tech envy is very much a "grass is greener" phenomenon.

Most biz ppl at FAANG are doing what PE/HF types would consider the boring side of finance (low finance?) and are, to some extent, back office. To be a PM/Engineer you obviously need some technical skills, and even if you have the 100% dedication for 1 year required to meet the minimum bar that means an entry-level job at somewhere that pays much less than FB (aka big pay cut), in the hopes of eventually out-competing ppl to get to one of the top firms.

If you are making the finance switch a startup might actually be the most sensible path (so as not to end up at bottom of the pole at big co), but has all the considerations you outlined above.

I think finance ppl are used to thinking they got the most competitive jobs so they can stroll in anywhere and do well, when the reality is they'll be competing with equally intelligent , better trained, and probably more dedicated (most good coders/engineers love coding, a lot of finance ppl just love the money) people.

As far as money goes, it used to be that tech created more billionaires and finance created 10x more millionaires. In the last 5 - 10 years its probably shifted to tech creating about as many millionaires, but for the most part finance is still the easiest way for not-that-brilliant people to make millions.

Dec 28, 2018

For "regular smart" people just looking to get paid, finance is still the better bet.

Dec 30, 2018

What do you mean by "low finance?" -- FP&A? Corp. Dev?

Dec 30, 2018

All the non-strategic stuff in a finance department. Corporate FP&A, BU Finance, Manufacturing Finance, Product Finance etc.

The more strategic stuff like CorpDev, BizDev/Partnerships, CorpStrat, ContentStrat, BizOps, Treasury CorpFin/Portfolio Management are mostly filled with ex-financiers and consultants.

Dec 28, 2018

One of the best posts I've seen in some time.

I would also encourage more young people to take risks and don't be afraid to fail. It means NOTHING when you're young.

My buddy was one of the co-founders of Spin (scooter rental company). They just sold to Ford for $100mm.
https://www.theverge.com/transportation/2018/11/7/...
He doesn't know how to code and he sure as heck didn't have any experience in transportation or scooters. Obviously this is a super rare outcome but persistence and network beats intelligence every time.

My buddy from high school didn't go to college and was the dumbest in our "group". He's making 5-10x what I make running a HVAC business in my home town. Does no work, has about 40 employees.

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Dec 28, 2018

Great post. Your post hits on two intuitive and obvious things that most people should understand but usually don't.

1) A start-up is just a new business, and the vast majority of them will either fail outright (50% in 5 years) or end up being a net negative to the founders in terms of net compensation and hours worked relative to a "9-5".

2) One is rarely picking between a career in high finance and Silicon Valley tech as the personality types are wildly different. A mid-size cybersecurity company recently offered for me to be their CFO. I came in for an initial meeting and was blown away at how..umm, how, uh, geeky and socially awkward the company's talent was. They were searching me out not just for my skillset but for my complementary personality.

Dec 29, 2018

"Software will eat the world"

It's kinda funny how software dev requires way more intelligence, as do the medical fields and logistics, and those will go before finance purely because they're all Hard subjects- where there's a right and a wrong.

Finance, for the most part, seems to be highly political and there isn't a "right answer", therefore it is Soft. Soft industries can also be seen as more competitive- aka beating opponents is more important than actual production (zero sum games).

Hard is easy to compute, Soft is difficult (though easier to bullshit).

Software will eat Itself before it hits other fields, even though the other fields are probably easier targets.

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Dec 29, 2018

also, good fuckin job @CuriousCharacter , I think you'll have a lot more fun around people who think in code and solve problems closer to the Metal- they feel so much more real.

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Funniest
Dec 30, 2018
urmaaam:

I think you'll have a lot more fun around people who think in code and solve problems closer to the Metal- they feel so much more real.

Most people hate me, it's why I post on internet forums.

Jan 1, 2019

This is great. As someone who spent the first part of my career in finance and then transitioned to tech (as an engineer), I can say that a lot of your points are in line with what I've observed barring a couple exceptions (most coding is still done the "old fashioned way" from what I've seen and a lot of engineers are not awkward / aspie).

One general comment. While "grass is greener" envy is certainly a part of the current infatuation with tech, I think the appeal is also largely driven by some fundamental shifts in finance, tech, and the broader economy.

Finance just hasn't been the same since 2008. It's still lucrative, people are still doing deals, but the game has changed. The line between commercial banking and investment banking has blurred, big PE shops are concerned more with building AUM via "diversified strategies" than doing headline grabbing deals, smaller PE shops often find themselves in "too much capital chasing too few deals" type situations, and the HF industry is in major decline.

On the other hand, seemingly every day some article or report comes out pointing to the ascendency of tech (granted a lot of these are hyperbole). Cities that are growing, adding jobs, or gentrifying are usually doing so because some critical mass of tech companies or startups have moved in. Companies that embrace tech seem to thrive, while those that eschew it seem to flounder.

Hard to ignore these things if you're looking for a place to plant your flag long term.

Jan 2, 2019
labanker:

I can say that a lot of your points are in line with what I've observed barring a couple exceptions most coding is still done the "old fashioned way" from what I've seen and a lot of engineers are not awkward / aspie).

I guess I'd better find that paper. If I remember correctly it can be found in Google's AI publication database, and I think Nvidia produced something similar.

Here is a National Labs primer on what 2040 computer science might look like: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1712.00676.pdf
Re: engineers and personality - I mean that's fair, and YMMV.

In my experience, the pretty good engineers end up in hybrid roles like technical sales or sales engineering... the truly brilliant ones I know however all seem to have some sort of mental health deficiency.

labanker:

While "grass is greener" envy is certainly a part of the current infatuation with tech, I think the appeal is also largely driven by some fundamental shifts in finance, tech, and the broader economy.

Finance just hasn't been the same since 2008. It's still lucrative, people are still doing deals, but the game has changed.

True. Herb Allen of Allen & Co. is quoted as saying
"Ultimately Wall Street will be eliminated"
https://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=6092116&p...

Would you agree with that assessment?

labanker:

Cities that are growing, adding jobs, or gentrifying are usually doing so because some critical mass of tech companies or startups have moved in. Companies that embrace tech seem to thrive, while those that eschew it seem to flounder.

Hard to ignore these things if you're looking for a place to plant your flag long term.

Also true, but joining a startup is not without downsides/risks, and I thought it would be good to share some.

Jan 3, 2019
CuriousCharacter:

Re: engineers and personality - I mean that's fair, and YMMV.

In my experience, the pretty good engineers end up in hybrid roles like technical sales or sales engineering... the truly brilliant ones I know however all seem to have some sort of mental health deficiency.

I can definitely see the "pretty good but sociable/savvy" engineers ending up in some kind of hybrid business / tech role like technical sales. I have also seen this type of engineer pivot to product management or go the entrepreneur route. There's almost a sort of "wall" in engineering where most engineers move onto something else (apart from the select few you reference).

CuriousCharacter:

True. Herb Allen of Allen & Co. is quoted as saying
"Ultimately Wall Street will be eliminated"
https://abcnews.go.com/Business/story?id=6092116&p...

Would you agree with that assessment?

No. I don't see Wall Street or finance in general being "eliminated". I think there's just been a big shift from value add services and active asset management to commodity services and passive asset management, particularly among the larger players. Commodity services and passive asset management are a lot less exciting and don't have the same asymmetric payout opportunities so MBAs and top undergrads are taking their wares elsewhere.

CuriousCharacter:

Also true, but joining a startup is not without downsides/risks, and I thought it would be good to share some.

Completely agree. If you're not in the founding circle of a unicorn / near unicorn startup, you're likely not going to see any big paydays. However, if you're in a startup ecosystem like SF, your financial downside is somewhat limited. If the startup you're working for fails, it's usually pretty easy to walk down the street to the next startup and pick up where you left off.

There are some additional non-financial downsides to the startup / tech world, however. Despite the fact that most startups claim to be "making the world a better place," a lot of the organizational pathologies you encounter in finance or traditional corporate life are far worse at startups. Don't let the ping pong tables and "unlimited vacation days" fool you.

Jan 3, 2019

So a couple of notes on the engineering part:

1) Yes, Entry level Bay area Engineers are getting paid very well out of school - sometimes with a total comp up to $200k-$250k, but some of those are RSU's, and the COL in SF is out of control. Either the city is facing a horrible crash in the market, or the prices are going to rise at a terrifying rate.

2) It's just the AI / ML rock stars that can demand 7 figures, and by rock star, I mean you need to be a leading researcher / scientist in the field. And even then, you'll most likely be the head of some group to get that high. See Goodfellow, Sutskever, et al. at OpenAI

But scientists in AI do earn pretty well, at least in the US and certain Chinese startups - in Europe such salaries are non-existent. And lastly, as with all research, it is very hard to foresee what works and what doesn't, or has the most impact. Lots of equally talented people out unfortunately working on less hot topics, making pennies compared to their peers - even inside the field of Deep Learning. And you most likely won't get much work without minimum a relevant Masters Degree - most likely a Ph.D. But who knows, if you're talented and interesting enough, you could get on a fast-track with Google brain, Facebook AI Research, or similar. Highly unpredictable career trajectory, and you better love the topic

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Jan 5, 2019

Just to provide further compensation details on engineer comp, I can say with certainty that all-in comp at Facebook/Google in the bay area out of undergrad exceeds 200k in year 1: think $65k signing bonus, $120k base salary, $100k stock vesting over 4 years so $25k in year 1, and ~10% bonus or ~$20k; all in this is $230k. $300k per the OP is exaggerated, but not by that much. And before anyone says these comp packages are only reserved for the best of the best, yes you have to be smart/good school/good grades but it's no different than landing a typical front office role in finance as this is considered a 'base' package.

Remember, I'm talking about a fresh out of undergrad engineer at FAANG (but can only definitively confirm for Google and Facebook). Pair that insane comp with much more reasonable hours per engineer friends (think 60 hours per week max) and it's hard not to be envious when you can barely sniff that comp in year 1 in any finance role even in the absolute bull case and of course the hours are a different level too.

I don't get sucked into the 'grass is greener' mindset because as many others in this thread have noted the skills/personality types of finance vs. tech is so vast that you can't just toggle between the two so in a way it's out of your control. That said, it's hard to argue that anyone would choose to be born predisposed to going the finance route vs. the tech one given the comp + quality of life advantages right off the bat.

Jan 6, 2019
AreWeHavingFunYet:

I don't get sucked into the 'grass is greener' mindset because as many others in this thread have noted the skills/personality types of finance vs. tech is so vast that you can't just toggle between the two so in a way it's out of your control. That said, it's hard to argue that anyone would choose to be born predisposed to going the finance route vs. the tech one given the comp + quality of life advantages right off the bat.

At this juncture I'd much rather live in a financial services hub (NYC, London) than a tech hub (Bay Area), even if my comp was lower and hours longer. You legitimately have to have a pretty shitty personality to like what the Bay Area has become.

Jan 6, 2019

All great points. I think it also underlines the fact that since finance and tech (hard-skill tech that is) are not interchangeable, most finance-minded guys on the business side of tech are very, very replaceable. It's almost always easier for very technically competent engineers and scientists to learn the business side; doesn't really work the other way around. This means that when most finance people/vanilla MBAs talk about possibly going into "tech" they mean taking generic business roles like sales, fp&a, etc. at FAANG et al. which (brace yourselves) aren't all that different from similar roles at big companies in less sexy industries like Chevron or Walmart.

Tech makes a lot of sense if you,
a. are very (maybe evenly uniquely) technically skilled
b. have a strong hybrid tech/business background (maybe engineering + MBA) or
c. are remarkably good at some element of business that it would be hard for an engineer to do himself.
If these don't apply and you're a finance ugrad student with a coding bootcamp under your belt, think long and hard before you decide to start climbing the greasy pole that generic business roles at sexy companies with less hours and more free food can be.

.

Jan 7, 2019
TheFuzz:

All great points. I think it also underlines the fact that since finance and tech (hard-skill tech that is) are not interchangeable, most finance-minded guys on the business side of tech are very, very replaceable.

I actually think it's the opposite. "Hard skill tech" is still labor, which means unless it is a very new, very rare skill, it will at least be somewhat standardized and commoditized, and therefore "interchangeable". Finding a way to get someone to pay you money for a product or service (i.e. business) on the other hand? That is definitely not interchangeable.

TheFuzz:

It's almost always easier for very technically competent engineers and scientists to learn the business side; doesn't really work the other way around.

I also used to think that it would be easier for "very technically competent engineers" to learn the business side. Experience has suggested otherwise. Most engineers just cannot grasp the business side of things. I think it's due to several reasons:

  • Engineers are very bad at figuring out what users care about and more importantly, what users will pay for.
  • Engineers are generally bad at ascertaining what's important in the grand scheme of things. Very easy for them to get lost on some technical minutiae and forget the big picture.
  • Engineers often view sales and marketing as annoyances at best and evil at worst. Hard to build a business with that mindset.
  • Many engineers are naive. They just don't understand the realities of markets and capitalism, and they aren't really interested learning about them.
Jan 3, 2019

I would advise everyone in here to look at:

Some of the comp is staggering, and these are for people who are not working 100 hours a week in extremely political environments. This kind of comp (400k - 600k) is accomplish-able by people with state school resumes, who's resumes are not perfect. Contrast that with finance, where it's all prestige driven and political. The truth is that technology is far more meritocratic, stable income is available at the 400k level for people who dont even need to take risk. Those same individuals can start their own business or join a growing start up for the chance at an 8 figure payout.

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Jan 6, 2019

The TANSTAAFL principle says you're wrong.

.

Jan 4, 2019

I was at a BB, followed by 1.5 years of doing distressed debt in a Southern city.
Now I am in data science. Technically speaking, there is no comparison between finance and DS. Every day, I read graduate level textbooks (math, statistics + my undergrad is in engineering) and try to make it work in a business environment. I've opened handouts from a finance bootcamp maybe... four times during my banking days?
Tech heavy roles (PM, SE, DS, data science engineers) are much more complex that traditional IB jobs in terms of the raw academical knowledge.
That's why you see quite a few of bankers with science degrees but hardly any computer scientists who are history majors (no offence to this respected degree).
Also, I definitely like the point about a personality. Successful developers are definitely... different from who you might run into in a grocery store. Data Scientists tend to be normal (unless they're PhDs).

    • 1
Jan 4, 2019
ulm:

Successful developers are definitely... different from who you might run into in a grocery store.

"People imagine that programming is logical, a process like fixing a clock. Nothing could
be further from the truth. Programming is more like an illness, a fever, an obsession. It's
like those dreams in which you have an exam but you remember you haven't attended the
course. It's like riding a train and never being able to get off."
- Out of time: Reflections on the programming life, by Ellen Ullman

Yeah, you gotta be a little different to excel at this kind of work.

Jan 5, 2019

Great read, now I just gotta convince my parents that choosing a finance job was the right path as a dual degree CS/finance ug

Jan 6, 2019

Really great post. To add to a couple of the culture points others have hit, you can't overstate the fact that the same shitty culture aspects that apply to large companies anywhere also apply to tech (even "startups"). That's largely because they stem from human nature/group dynamics which are inherent despite a mount-Everest-sized pile of free snacks or the sneaker-wearing ceo.

Another element of tech/Bay Area culture that hasn't been mentioned but is a major turnoff to me is the weird politically correct snobbery and belief in universal received wisdom. By any historical standard it seems ridiculous to cite "snobbery" as a reason to lean finance over tech culturally but as someone who grew up in the Bay Area I can tell you there's a 24/7 stream of "social consciousness" that gets insufferable. Climate consciousness is a big one (Mirai>Tesla>Prius>>>>any other vehicle - actually maybe bikes are at the top, although don't ask anyone where their electricity comes from) but it spills over to any number of other issues. In its own right this awareness isn't a bad thing but the hypocrisy tied to it is often too much to take and these issues often become corporate sacred cows that everyone venerates and dares not question. Then scale this up to a company-wide level and you get unpleasant James Damore situations, not to mention a very stifled environment despite all its laid-back trappings.
Whether or not you align politically with the majority of your coworkers, finance is refreshingly results-oriented whereas in tech, especially within the big players like FAANG, kissing the ring (-s, in the right order, re the right issues, in the right way, on the right hands), can mean the difference between getting promoted and being tarred and feathered on twitter.

Finally, for all its wonderous creations, silicon valley breeds a highly technocratic mentality where every issues or even social phenomenon is viewed as a cause-and-effect engineering problem to be solved by the person with the highest IQ (from Stanford that is - if you didn't go to Stanford, too bad, cause as everyone knows a Stanford degree equals divine right of greatness). A lot of problems out there can be solved by engineers, but a lot can't and require a more nuanced understanding of human nature, economics, common sense, etc. etc. Like the cultural/political monochrome of many large tech companies, this technocratic, "tech can solve every human problem" mentality (seriously believed by many) gets very old very fast.

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Jan 7, 2019
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Jan 8, 2019
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No pain no game.

Jan 10, 2019