A lot of discussions are currently doing the rounds regarding a choice that most of the technical graduates have to make sooner or later: be a Silicon Valley coder or a Wall Street quant. Let’s have the calculations done and set the record straight.
Now, I had a brief chat with someone who has got a taste of both the worlds, first as a decade long quant strategist at Goldman Sachs & Morgan Stanley and now, the same person is a startup founder in the Valley. Literally & figuratively, the two worlds of Quants on Wall Street and coders in Silicon Valley have a hell and heaven difference between them. But if one is into maths, science, or engineering and wants a top job, they’re undoubtedly the two most popular options that one will forever crave for. So which one is right for you?
1. How do you like your money?
There is no doubt about the idea that both technology and finance pay, really well. But when the trajectory of how much money one will make is taken into account, it looks very different.
When you are a fresh grad just out of your school, Silicon Valley is likely going to pay you more than Wall Street, the base salaries generally start low. But $500,000 package with bonus/incentives can be achieved in another 3-4 years. In 5-7 years, that’s going to touch a figure of $1 million and one can’t call it bad in 7 years – right? No doubt about it, on Wall Street, a lot of money is waiting for you.
But you’ll never have a net worth over $30 million unless you are a rare superstar trader (these days, pre-2008 was a different story). If stratospheric wealth is what you are crazy for, the kind that can be only gained through stock options, you should pack up your bags and head West.
2. What kind of math do you enjoy more: continuous or discrete?
What continuous math is about, they are basically equations, calculus, graphs whereas discrete math is nothing but counting, logic, algorithms. Continuous math is the staple requirement for Wall Street as it is used to model behavior in financial markets. Equations of life now has started to depend on the kind of maths you have learnt much much earlier in calculus courses totally remaining in dark about how it can shape your future (that’s why some may have neglected it including me at that stage but it’s never late to learn). If differential equations & multivariate integrals is your love, you’ll probably like the work you’d do at the major trading firms.
But such is not the case with the Silicon Valley as it exercises discrete maths more, and more specifically logic and efficient algos. If the sound of combinatorial algorithms races your heart, head this way.
Post Scriptum: The common thread in both worlds is data science.
3. Would you rather be a ninja or a jack of all trades?
This is going to be a depth vs. breadth question. Are you crazy to dive deep and master one skill, or have the power to express the same in several of them?
On Wall Street and in most of the cases, one needs to wear many hats at the same time. In the morning, you’re required to code with a fresh mind; in the afternoon the possibility of a meeting with a client, existing or new, or with the sales team is high. Getting a coffee for Lloyd Blankfein may also be in your fate in the midst of all this but undoubtedly that’s when you’re the one to look into the primes of the company. The most wonderful thing is that you develop versatility and are capable of undertaking multiple roles in a single organization.
Silicon Valley’s about ninjas. If you are the one crazy for a particular hardware or software domain or just too good at algorithms and a particular programming language, Silicon Valley is where you need to aim at. You’ll mostly do one thing, and you’ll get really, really good at it. Yeah, it is right that you’ll be able to point to one thing then but yes, you’re going to say with booming confidence that it’s you who is the best at it. But changing gears so easily as in Wall Street may become a matter quite tough for you.. You’re back-end or front-end but when it comes to having a switch, it’s hard!
4. Would you rather work out of a sports bar or a mountain cabin?
The trading floor of a wall street can be nuts. People can be found there screaming into phones, running down the halls while some others may be found to have plugged in their earphones & solving equations. You can find yourself to be sitting next to a ex-football player turned salesman on one side or a former poet or even a Hollywood actor (if you’re in the west) on the other. You are sitting in the middle of all these chaos but you need to have the guts to have your work done even after distractions. What you’re doing can be seen by everyone around you, and the adrenaline levels are high. What I am trying to mean by all these is that if you are into Wall Street, just forget about remaining isolated while doing your work!
Silicon Valley’s more calm. While being compared to the trading floor, the “coding floor” is quiet, cubicles reign supreme with people working on their own assignments. Life is more regimented there. You can get deep into what you’re working on with fewer distractions, but lesser energy is there to be tapped into.
Bottom Line: Close you eyes, relax your body, throw away the tensions about your duties and responsibilities and ask yourself who you are- intellectually, socially, and financially. Of Silicon Valley or Wall Street, you’ll have to choose any one and there’s probably and must be one where you belong more. Listen to your heart and give it a go with your soul! Best of luck!