The road to serfdom
I joined Goldman Sachs in 2005, after five flailing years in a physics Ph.D. program at Berkeley.
The average salary at Goldman Sachs in 2005 was $521,000, and that’s counting each and every trader, salesperson, investment banker, secretary, mail boy, shoe shine, and window cleaner on the payroll. In 2006, it was more like $633,000.
In the summer of 2005, I took one look at my offer letter and the Goldman Sachs logo above it, another look at my sordid grad student pad, and I got on a plane to New York within the week. I packed my copy of Liar’s Poker for reference.
There were other characters in this drama. The sales guys were complete tools, with a total IQ, summing over all of them, still safely in the double digits. The traders were crafty and quick-witted, but technically unsophisticated and with the attention span of an ADHD kid hopped up on meth and Jolly Ranchers. And the quants (strategists in Goldman speak)? Mostly failed scientists (like me) who had sold out to the man and suddenly found themselves, after making it through two years of graduate quantum mechanics, with a bat-wielding gorilla peering over their shoulder (that would be the trader) asking them where their risk report was.
Giving sophisticated models and fast computers to traders is like giving handguns and tequila to teenage boys. Only complete mayhem can result (and as we saw recently, complete mayhem did result) . The quants were there to make sure the guns were loaded, but also to make sure the traders didn’t shoot themselves in the foot.
Not that we were terribly appreciated. In fact, we were basically the trader’s little bitches, and any quant who’s honest with himself realizes that. In time, we quants developed knee callouses from genuflecting to service the traders, on whose profits our livelihoods depended.
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