Why top software developers are still wary of working for banks
Alex Chiou has been having a busy time. The UCLA computer science graduate, whose resume is peppered with big tech (Facebook) and fintech (PayPal, Robinhood) experiences, now runs a company – JoinTaro.com devoted to helping engineers in big tech firms do better at their jobs. But with big tech cutting thousands of roles, Alex is spending more time triaging developer careers that have been unexpectedly derailed.
The people leaving big tech in the cuts are often in a state of shock, says Alex. “These companies had a reputation as being bastions of stability,” he tells us. “Google and Meta were in a generation of companies that have defined the past decade and people saw them as the most powerful and consistent options for boosting their careers. There was an expectation that performance would lead to rising compensation – throughout the 2010s the share price went up and up.”
That unbroken record came to an end last year, when Facebook’s share price fell 64% and Alphabet’s 39%. In 2023 there have been thousands of job cuts, many of them hitting precisely the juniors attracted by the former status quo. “A lot of the people who were laid off had only been there for six to 12 months,” says Alex.
Those people now have a choice of what to do next. When he left Meta in March 2021, Alex went to Robinhood to escape the “wall of red tape and bureaucracy” that has become a feature of big tech. He says this is often the case when people quit voluntarily. But the current crop of people who’ve been rudely ejected have different aspirations – for the most part, they want to get back into big tech, despite the shock its delivered to their worldviews.
“There’s a lot of value in working for an organization that large” says Alex. “You have a bunch of extremely talented people in a room and you are guaranteed to learn something from them. This is the real value of working for big tech – the learning and not the money,” he adds.
Big banks would like to argue that they offer similar advantages. However, Alex says almost none of the people he speaks to who’ve been laid off by big tech have banks in mind as their next employers. Banks are seen as being even less compassionate than big tech firms by the people who’ve been burned, says Alex. They’re also seen as even more bureaucratic. They don’t pay well. And their code is seen as less well-written. “The engineering at the really big traditional banks isn’t as rigorous,” says Alex. “The best software engineers don’t seek out these places.”
Chiou’s verdict suggests banks still have an image problem. They may also have pay issues. While Meta pays entry level engineers salaries of $173k according to Levels fyi, Goldman Sachs pays $122k and Wells Fargo pays $80k. “Talent follows money,” he says.
Where money is on offer, is in high speed trading firms and hedge funds. Hudson River has been spied offering fresh graduates $600k. Two Sigma regularly pays nearly $300. Top fintechs, like Stripe, can also be lucrative.
Fundamentally, top developers want to work for firms where they can produce good code with a minimum of bureaucracy and politics, says Chiou. Rightly or wrongly, banks have a reputation for both. “There’s often a correlation between the age of a company and the level of bureaucracy. Some of these banks have been around for 150 years.”
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