CQF - Information Sessions & Free Sample Lectures

The myth of the risk free job

Apparently quant finance is dead, and we are all going to have to get real jobs, perhaps in manufacturing or dentistry, working at minimum wage whilst the global economy crashes around us.

Some will starve.

OK, it is at this point that I have to point out that actually I'm not as young and good looking as many people seem to think.

This is not my first recession, or even 2nd or 3rd. One reson for the slightly hysterical tone on some media and various online discussions is that we have had one of the longest ever runs of economic growth. This has combined with quant work expanding as a proportion of overall banking, and so the idea of perpetual exponential growth has become an assumption when we all ought to know better given what we do for a living.

The issue is not "how bad is it ?", but "how do I make better decisions about my future" ?

As I say in the Guide, you can expect several major, non-discretionary changes in your career whatever choices you make.

Do you think retail is a better place to be ? Really ?

How about manufacturing ? That's truly a bad place to be. Many highly qualified engineers at their peak don't reach the pay that many quants get at entry level. And you will be treated like shit, and at the first chance they will outsource your job to Vietnam.

Media ? I've done a stint there. Was fun. Appallingly badly paid, but fun. Job security there is really very poor, indeed a rather large % of journalists, editors, cameramen, etc are "freelance" because firms don't even pretend there is job security.

Energy ? Lots of risks, there. It's a classical boom & bust industry, with the added bonus that the local government may put you in prison. Pay can be OK, but most of the decently paid stuff is highly specialist and "project based", ie when they finish the pipeline, there is no job for you at all.

Law ? Lawyers are not immune from ups and downs in the economy, though like accountants some of them work in areas that are counter-cyclic. Contrary to what you may have read, big firms can and do make partners redundant.

Accountancy ? In some ways, this is the field most like quant work. Indeed those whose maths are less strong, and who have a higher tolerance for boredom do indeed take this path and it can work out well. Accountancy has good grace of degradation, ie if it goes wrong, you can transfer your skills to another line of work or employer. But the accountancy firms are known to be very bloody minded about firing when the cash flow dries up. Alsothey are intensely political, on a scale I do not observe in any othrtr line of work. (The story about me having to use the "black people's entrance" at PWC is true, and yes the elevator did smell that bad).

Defence ? Aside from the risks of being anywhere near fighting, defence contractors are pathetically dependant upon random acts of foreigners and political pork barrels. Even in a time of greater spending, the mix changes depending on the kind of fights your government expects to have. Many skills here are portable, but again many are not. You need to pick carefully, and the reality is that you may not be given much choice in what you work on.

In house software development ? Not a bad career, but you have three big risk factors. The success of that firm, the growth in the kind of business that you come to learn, and the technologies you use. If one of those 3 go down, it can get very cold, very quickly. All s/w development jobs are gambles. I've been lucky with C/C++, but I was also a founder member of the VB User group, a skill that has declined from attracting a serious premium above other development tools, to being "legacy" in a few short years. That's a common pattern, indeed VB held out longer than many other things like PowerBuilder, OS/2, Sybase, Clipper, REXX and other buzzwords you may not even recognise. Java is not immune to this, and currently looks like having a scarily bad over-supply relative to demand before long. It can be great to be an expert in just in time stock control for retail, but as I say above retail ain't happy right now, and is well known to be highly cyclic, and what else exactly do you think those skills allow you to do if that area goes down ?

As I have said before, and no doubt will say again until you listen is that the only thing that will get you through your career without the changes hurting you too badly is to currently keep your skills up to date. Discipline yourself to look up from the screen often enoguh that you can spot good new directions, or the comind collapse of your current one. Make sure some of your skills are portable. Every so often update your CV, even if you aren't looking for a job, because :

a) you may be looking sooner than you think, and

b) it helps you visualise how marketable you are.