Quant: leaving finance made me happy, you should try it

Cathy "Mathbabe" O'Neil is a former finance-industry quantitative analyst who escaped her former career and has advice for other quants looking to do something better with their lives. She works in a startup now, and offers a fascinating study of the contrasts between finance culture and startup culture:

First, I want to say it’s frustrating how risk-averse the culture in finance is. I know, it’s strange to hear that, but compared to working in a start-up, I found the culture and people in finance to be way more risk-averse in the sense of personal risk, not in the sense of “putting other people’s money at risk”.

People in start-ups are optimistic about the future, ready for the big pay-out that may never come, whereas the people in finance are ready for the world to melt down and are trying to collect enough food before it happens. I don’t know which is more accurate but it’s definitely more fun to be around optimists. Young people get old quickly in finance.

Second the money is just crazy. People seriously get caught up in a world where they can’t see themselves accepting less than $400K per year. I don’t think they could wean themselves off the finance teat unless the milk dried up.

Telling people to leave finance (via O'Reilly Radar)

(Image: Antarctica: McMurdo Station Finance - 50c, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from elisfanclub's photostream)


  1. I have a job I hate that pays a lot less than 400K.  “Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.”

  2. “The people in finance are ready for the world to melt down and are trying to collect enough food before it happens” is the scariest sentence I’ve read in ages, and worse than even I suspected.

    1. I’ve been wanting to write a story about a rich, sick fuck who realized that he could make himself the richest and sickest fuck in a faster and easier fashion by unloading his investments and crashing the system.  A little bit of that character is present in that quote.

    2. You know what’s scarier than that, to me?

      That these people, whose whole jobs are about managing money, apparently can’t manage their finances effectively enough to already have done so with their first month’s paycheck, on an annual income of $400K or more. They should be able to buy a reasonable subsistence farm in Paraguay with the change in their couch cushions.

      1. Oh but those people aren’t rich. Didn’t you know? They’re HENRYs–High Earners Not Rich Yet.

        Seriously: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/h/high-earners-not-yet-rich-henrys.asp

        “Sure, I make $400,000 a year, but after private school, lavish townhouses and servant wages there’s hardly anything left to invest! MONEY’S NOT REAL IF I SPEND IT”

    3. The scary part for me is that I had this sort of nebulous sense that this is what the last 30 years of US domestic policy has been about — outsourcing manufacturing, neglecting infrastructure, privatizing everything available, pumping money into bubbles where it’s more easily skimmed by hedge funds and investment banks, attempts to push the tax burden away from wealthier folks onto poorer folks, decaying civil liberties, militarization of the police, removing environmental protections, drilling the fossil fuels out of the ground and burning them as fast as possible.  It all amounts to sucking the maximum amount of money out of US civil society before it collapses and the folks who can afford it run off to island compounds with their private security forces.

      The fact that this is the general attitude in finance just sort of confirms this vague sense I’ve had for a while that the people “in charge” are really just looting deposit boxes on the Titanic.

      1. The whole point of Bush II’s administration was for him to let his friends rob the store.

  3. There’s all these cool creative places in San Francisco and then there’s the f***ing finance district. I worked at a place down there that was a finance juggernaut for solar installation that was posing as a startup. IT SUCKED. Now I work somewhere nice.

  4. When your entire sense of professional self-worth is based on your ability to make money for money’s sake then it’s bound to impact your morale (and morality).

  5. Defense engineering work is a similar type of grind, but not as highly paid. I worked in it for 20 years before finding the wherewithal to leave and run my own company. I earn much less and am much happier.

  6. Totally unrelated to the story, but upon following the image credit link, I discovered I was at McMurdo Station during one of the summers that Eli, the photographer was!

    IceStock 2010! Oh the memories.

    1.  What’s coolest of all about your post is that ti suggests *image credits work*. People follow them, discover artists, talk about them. Not often. But more than they would.

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