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Wall Street Duels with Silicon Valley

Math and computer science experts are drawn to entreprenurial Internet startups. Wall Street regulations don't help.

Data experts who excel at math and statistics are less enamored with working on Wall Street than with Silicon Valley firms like Facebook or its minions, according to today’s Financial Times.

The story argues that Siicon Valley is doing a better job at creating a culture that appeals to Geeks.

Rather than designing structured products for an investment bank, today’s computer engineers and math mavens are drawn to Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurial culture. Though math and computer majors are still wooed by lucrative pay packages to work at New York banks, they are willing to trade in their pinstripe “suits for jeans and website optimization,” according to the FT.

From the FT story:

Wall Street’s financial strength and reputation among elite universities still captures many top maths and engineering students upon graduation. But the daily work may not be enough to keep them from decamping to the Valley after a couple years, said Jeff Hammerbacher, chief data scientist at Cloudera. He was recruited out of Harvard byBear Stearns, the collapsed investment bank, where he worked as a quantitative analyst for 10 months before taking a job at Facebook. “I definitely think the pull has tilted toward Silicon Valley,” he said.

Though Wall Street may depend on quants to design algorithms and compute latency metrics, Geeks are more excited about working for social networking firms, reports the FT article.

One only has to look at the box office success of the film “The Social Network” about Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as compared with the Inside Job, a documentary about corruption in the U.S. financial industry, suggests a source in the article.

Another factor pulling recruits to Silicon Valley is the avalanche of financial regulations and hierarchical structure of investment banks, which can make young financial analysts “feel stuck,” whereas working on open source code or going to a startup to change the world can be much more rewarding to.

In terms of their career path, recruits have to wait until their boss is fired or leaves unexpectedly before they can step in and become a manager. Instead of waiting for their boss to get fired or leave, they head for a start up and wait for a critical opportunity to make a difference.

From the FT:

Engineers want to be surrounded by smart people and challenging problems, he noted. More than anything, they want to be appreciated. On Wall Street, traders and investment bankers rule, not quantitative analysts, or quants as they are called. “They haven’t yet created a culture that places the quant at the top of the food chain,” he said. “Turning geeks into gods is what Silicon Valley is in the business of doing.”

Ivy is Editor-at-Large for Advanced Trading and Wall Street & Technology. Ivy is responsible for writing in-depth feature articles, daily blogs and news articles with a focus on automated trading in the capital markets. As an industry expert, Ivy has reported on a myriad ... View Full Bio
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