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Ask HN: What's it like for software engineers on Wall Street?
33 points by aerovistae on Feb 17, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments
I was looking at this quora question[1] in which an individual is 23 and makes 300k on Wall Street as a developer. I've heard many times how miserable the financial sector is, but I'd probably be willing to bite the bullet for a couple years at that rate. Information about the jobs there seems scarce, though. Anyone on HN have experience in the financial sector? What sort of work do you do, what kind of work environment is it, what was the pay like, and was it worth it?

[1] https://www.quora.com/I-just-turned-23-and-make-around-300k-working-on-Wall-Street-Could-I-make-this-in-Silicon-Valley-if-I-was-looking-to-make-the-switch




Wall street is indeed a very broad term and the biggest distinction is between banks and hedge funds. Below is a very rough outline and no doubt some people will debate it.

Banks are more standard jobs, where devs are usually siloed into doing very specific assignments in a pre-determined part of the business. If you want to build a long-term career in finance through banking, you should get in, climb the corporate ladder by doing your particular job well and hope your department’s business will be popular and sexy in 5 years. In 2003-2008 CDO and derivatives were the sexiest thing alive, after which it became less interesting. In terms of pay, you would get a higher base salary guaranteed, but any extra profit the bank makes will have to be split across all departments (sales, client, compliance …), so bonuses tend to be limited.

Hedge funds and prop trading are smaller institutions than banks, as such they are more tech-oriented (especially systematic trading places, where algorithmic platforms are built to place and execute trades). Hedge funds client their clients’ money and charge a commission on profits, while prop traders trade their own money and could potentially go down in one day. All this presents challenging problems to solve. Therefore, HFs and prop trading value good developers and they work closely with quant analysts and traders. While they usually look for strong backend developers, there is demand for good front-end engineers to refine the client facing applications too. Due to the nature of the job you would be working with traders and analysts, which is a good way to learn about finance proper. Smaller headcount in hedge funds generally encourages more collaboration and working in tighter teams, as it’s inefficient for the business to silo people away from each other as much. Another advantage is splitting the bonus across fewer people, leaves more money per person, which is where a dev with a lower base will beat your banker dev and can (not always) get > 250k.


I used to work on Wall St in technology. To make 300K or more as a developer, you need to either be in Quant Finance or probably work at a hedge fund, Prop. trading or high frequency trading firm. The other way to make big money on Wall St is to become a specialized consultant in a specific field.

The reality is that majority of developer work for Wall St is to build/manage legacy systems from back in the days. Will you believe it if I said I worked with a back office system at one of my clients in 2010 which was built in IBM iSeries ? Not to scare you but you will be working with old technology a lot on Wall St and not everything will be fancy new JS framework (some are catching up with those too)

Also, on an average, it will be VERY difficult to get over 160-170K as a base salary. Most people fall in the 120-150K range even after years of experience. Sure, you could get some bonus on top but consider those almost zero in today's market on wall st. Pay raises ? Forget about it. You may get 1-2% if lucky. Some years, you get 0 pay raise.

So don't be illusioned about the 300K number. Those are possible but only if you fit the criteria as I explained above. You are looking at average of 120-150K base like I said. Anything over it, you need to become a Director or above and go up the food chain.

The trick of working on Wall St in tech is simple. Negotiate the best pay you can BEFORE you get the job. Once you have it, forget about getting a big raise or bonus these days on wall st in technology.


It sounds like you were mostly working back/middle office. You can earn a lot more in front office if you're working as a developer on a trading desk. At some banks front office developers share desk bonuses which can be very lucrative.

Efinancialcareers is a good job website to find front office dev role recruiters.


Yes, trading desk developers can make more but again, my point was that most software engineers on wall st do not fall into that category as the OP asked. I am saying that the majority of developers on wall st don't make 300K and it is only the few that are either working on trading desk, hedge funds, prop trading etc.


What kind of names do front office dev roles have on efinancialcareers?


It really depends what "Wall Street" means to you. With big banks (my area), you're looking at market rate salary (~100-150k, junior-senior). Retirement+bonus can push it up 25-30%, but that's not salary, of course. My company uses enterprise technology (IBM stuff, Natural, COBOL/Java, Oracle). I have mostly normal hours, open office plans, etc. Python has some traction going. Nothing new and exciting, tons of legacy code. I vary between back-end services and web dev. It is your average boring, corporate gig.

The other part of wall street, the hedge funds, can pay way higher (data analysis/quant stuff). Those spots are quite rare, plus pay is more tightly tied to company performance. Who you know is more important than what you know, if that's what you're aiming for.


there is a lot of pressure for things not to go wrong, so the testing(unit and system) requirement can be higher. Timelines are normally longer too - due to this pressure and politics

Banking/finance bonuses are also capped at 15-25% pa normally - so if the company does badly you dont get a bonus, but if it does well you dont get that much of a bonus in comparison to other areas of the business


I work in the UK equivalent, but have taken trips to US banks on Wall Street.

I'd say these days, the horror stories are rare. There will be times you will be expected to work weekends, late nights etc but these are VERY much the exception, and mostly for hitting regulatory deadlines, rather than business ones. Like a lot of places, it will depend on whether your boss is competent or an arsehole.

The working environment will be more formal than a startup. You may well need to own a suit (or two).

Some of the work is really interesting and cutting edge. Some of it isn't.

The pay (at least in the UK) is lot more than you would get in other industries.

One final thing I would say after being in the industry 20+ years is that there is less of a divide between the Front Office traders and technology. It's no longer seen as an imposition, but key to them making money and trading well.


I am just off Wall St, but things are stable at my place. We get to code a lot more than people at the bigger banks. If you have a solid degree in math and can program in C++, there are firms in NYC that will pay you 400k - 1M total compensation.


I worked in finance for ~15 years. The short answer is that it is largely the same as any other tech. industry. To make "big" money in finance, you need a couple of things 1) be in the front of the house, that is, things that are trivially tied to revenue. 2) be attached to a profitable division (this is good advice generally by the way)

Most large comp numbers in SV come from stock grants, most on Wall Street come from profit sharing bonuses. This is double edged, when profits go away you don't make good money & you frequently lose your job.

Happy to answer specific questions.


There are all sorts of developers who do all sorts of things. Any role that generates P&L is going to pay significantly more than if you're developing some random insignificant backend.

I also would caution against generalizing on the hedge fund experience. I would say that unless their strategy is tech-driven or there are some senior management in tech roles, you could be in for a not so fun time.


That's not a typical salary for someone that age. Anyway main differences are that the good gigs have a very high level of competition compared to SV, and also more importantly the industry is very closed. No open source, no hackathons, no collaboration due to extreme secrecy.


I agree with your points about the salary and levels of competition. One shouldn't expect any odd company to slap a >150k offer on the table and getting an offer is challenging enough. That's why both sides benefit from a recruitment layer between them to help candidates find out about the opportunity and understand the company to go to interviews prepared.

However, your point about the lack of openness seems directed at prop trading shops more than banks or hedge funds.

Banks are large corporations and are expectedly monolithic, but they are seeing benefits to opening up and hosting hackathons. Using/contributing to open source is difficult there because of inflated compliance departments, who need to justify their existence by banning the use of open source and signing up on enterprise solutions.

Prop trading is definitely the most secretive, because the people are trading their own money and aren't huge fans of letting anyone close to the secret sauce. Because it's their bread and butter, you would probably be less keen to make your methods public if your money was on the line in a really cut-throat environment. It's comparable to google not open sourcing their ranking/search engine - we don't complain about that, do we?

Hedge funds are by far the most open both internally and externally. Several of the big funds I know, sponsor academic events, research, organise hackathons internally and externally. A NY HF recently ran an internal build your air hockey AI to play against human air hockey pros. Devs were working on the software and someone connected airhockey controllers to leves and pulleys. The AI won. the business model at HFs promotes collaboration and the engineers are the most chilled out bunch you ever meet, so most people end up liking the environment.


1. Know the right person. 2. Actually make millions for your employer each year. 3. Negotiate well at review time. 4. Profit (but a small fraction of what you would make if you ran your strategy yourself)




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