Are you too old to start coding to save your finance job?
We’ve all seen the stories about startups being founded by twentysomethings who become billionaires. The reality is that the average age of startup founders is actually 45 (Harvard Business Review). Whichever you look at it, experience is going to be helpful, but those aren’t the stories which make the front pages.
I often think there’s the same misconception when it comes to learning to code if you work in finance. Even the definition of what constitutes being “older” in finance, is somewhat different to the rest of society. It really isn’t the case that coding in a bank should always be a young person’s game. Indeed, I suspect you will probably find folks working in technology in banks who are older than you would tend to find in trading. Take for example Bjarne Stroustrup, the creator of C++, who is currently a managing director at Morgan Stanley.
Sure, I myself started to code when I was a kid. However, my code was also pretty awful and unreadable, so much so, that I had to unlearn all the bad coding habits I picked up when I went to university. The moral is that you can write bad code at any age.
There are many prerequisites for learning to code, which are frankly not age related. But you can’t get past the fact that in order to learn to code, you have to put in the time to do it. If you are determined to learn to code, you will put aside that time, regardless of age. It also takes a lot of persistence to overcome the inevitable setbacks. Learning to code is never a one-off process too, you learn continually over the years. Are you ready for that?
If you are, then you also need to know that coding is very much an iterative process. It's about trying something, seeing if works and then repeating it. As such it requires a large amount of patience. At least personally speaking, I probably have quite a bit more patience now, than I did ten years ago.
If you have both time and patience, then there's one more thing that's worth considering before you even sit in front of the computer. - Why are you learning to code? What do you want to do when you can? Once you've picked up some coding knowledge, you'll also need to ask yourself what you are going to develop. - How will all the components link together? What is the output supposed to be? Who will use the software and how?
If you work in finance, over the years you will have picked up a lot of knowledge about the market and the industry in general. In time, this will prove invaluable in this part of the development process and will enable you to produce code that folks will want to use.
It’s also worth noting that coding can vary a lot. There’s a big difference between coding in C++ to develop a super-fast trading system and coding in Python to crunch data to help forecast the market. The first is very much a hardcore development task, which needs a very experienced developer, with many years of coding under their belt. The second is far more about understanding the market and using Python as a tool. If you're a markets professional who is thinking of learning to code, Python is therefore probably the language for you.
The good news is that you can probably get the basics of Python coding in a few months. The difficult bit is getting market experience, but if you’ve already worked in banking for a long time, you already have that. Learning how to code is the easier part here.
So, if you’re a bit more experienced and working in finance, the time is always right to learn to code. Coding is fun and gives you the ability to leverage your experience. Even CEOs of banks these days are learning to code (like SocGen CEO Frédéric Oudéa). I guess that means there’s no barrier for anyone else to learn too. And, in answer to the question, there is no age where you are too old to learn Python. Good luck!
Saeed Amen is a systematic FX trader, running a proprietary trading book trading liquid G10 FX, since 2013. He developed systematic trading strategies at major investment banks including Lehman Brothers and Nomura, and runs Cuemacro, a consulting and research firm focused on systematic trading.
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