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back to article So you wanna be a Wall Street techie? Or anyway, get paid a lot

For at least a couple of decades now, if you’ve been a technologist and wanted to get paid as highly as possible for your work, there’s been pretty much only one place to go: the financial industry. meeting_room_empty_chair Have a seat, chum... we'll be in shortly to pick up the questionnaire on the syntax of complicated and …

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Anonymous Coward

Intial investment

In order to work as a wall street techy you do need to be willing to pay your soul up front.

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Devil

...you do need to be willing to pay your soul up front...

...and that's just for the interview.

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Paris Hilton

Re: ...you do need to be willing to pay your soul up front...

IF YOURE BRILLIANT THEN YOU DONT STAY UP ALL NIGHT WORRYING ABOUT INTERVIEWS ANYONE WHO MEETS ME IN PERSON KNOWS THAT THEY HAVE STUMBLED UPON GREATNESS

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FAIL

what a bunch or self important wankers

>A certain amount of detailed technical grilling is obviously necessary for a job that involves, say, shaving microseconds off the messaging in a high-frequency market-making system, or building an engine to process millions of trades a day.

Yep they really showed the world how they are cut above the "herd" as the author says with the NASDAQ Facebook IPO glitch debacle. Another great example of how our service based economy of giving each other handjobs and selling each other worthless financial products instead of making anything are rotting our way of living from core out.

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Ru

Interviews work both ways...

If an interview panel effectively advertises itself as a bunch of smug sociopaths, they may find themselves losing the odd competent prospect who'd rather work with less unpleasant people.

Anyway, either there is a large pool of suitably thick skinned, fact-regurgitating and apparently competent software engineers out there, or the problem will resolve itself when all the talent goes to work for some awful web 2.0 monstrosity like facebook leaving only the sociopaths in wallstreet to write inadequate financial instrument playing software which ultimately causes the western economy to go titsup.

One could argue that perhaps this has already happened.

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Anonymous Coward

Missing the back door

Work in back or middle office functions. 80-90% of the pay and bonuses. 60% of the stress and hours.

Anon for obvious reasons.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Missing the back door - Middle/Backoffice

Yeah, but it's bloody boring. Oh, and hardly job secure unless you're keen on off-shoring yourself? Our not-yet-offshored middle/back office guys are visibly desperate to get into the front office. They've seen the writing on the wall. Get as close the business as you can and make yourself indispensable. Then you're good. As long as that business area doesn't tank, or that business area doesn't commit some massive fraud, and you're all wound down. But hey, there is risk when you earn the big bucks. Worked in IB all my career - can't imagine working in anything else, or frankly earning any less. Soul is a little tarnished though, but not like those Goldman guys. They are like Satan's law firm in Devils Advocate.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Missing the back door

From personal experience 80-90% of front office IT salary is not achievable in the middle office and definitely not the back office. Your mileage must vary but I have observed a chasm in salary and benefits whilst being fortunate enough to be on the upside.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Missing the back door

what do you mean by front, middle and back office?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Missing the back door

"what do you mean by front, middle and back office?"

Functionally: Trading, risk (generally) though sometimes trader support depending on the institution, then settlements.

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Silver badge

Zen-like puzzles...

Aren't Oxbridge colleges famous for posing questions like "Why don't plants have brains at the entrance interviews"? Perhaps the custom of asking such questions at Google started because interviewers asked questions they themselves had once been asked, or they are aping something they have heard about.

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Bronze badge

Re: Zen-like puzzles...

Evidently the plants are suffering from test anxiety.

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Re: Zen-like puzzles...

I must confess to throwing in the odd curve ball question in interviews. The idea was to see how the candidate reacted. If they just plain called you on it then they got a few extra brownie points...

We also threw in seemingly simple coding problems missing a few details, put the candidate in a room and left, in the hope that the candidate would just come and find us and ask for clarification.

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Headmaster

Oxbridge colleges and Zen-like questions

At my Oxford college interview, I was asked "Did Modigliani paint long thin people because he suffered from distorted vision?". I provided a logical answer: "No, because the visual distortion would make normal pictures look long and thin to him" and got the place.

Some years later, the Philosophy tutor who had interviewed me said, by way of a put-down, "We agreed to award the scholarship to the first person to get the Modigliani question right". I was delighted to tell him that although it might have seemed right to a philosopher, my answer was actually wrong. Perception of objects and perception of paintings are not the same thing, and people with severe astigmatism actually produce distorted drawings.

So much for Zen-like puzzles.

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Trollface

Re:"Why don't plants have brains at the entrance interviews"?

I wonder if they get many plants at the entrance interviews, and, if they do, how they have determined that the plants have no brains.

OK. I passed that test. I got the job, right?

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Re: Zen-like puzzles...

I love questions like these. They involve thinking, rather than regurgitation. I'm bad at the latter. I tend to carry only an index in my head, and know where to look up the fine details as and when I need them. (these days, it's often Google! )

If they are part of an interview process, I guess it all depends on the motivation and attitude of the people doing the interviewing. If they are sadists looking for their brand of fun, the whole process is pointless. If they are genuinely looking for someone who can think outside of his narrow specialism, then this is probably the best way to go about it.

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High pay

About ten years ago, I read a story in a broadsheet about two lads, 21 and 22 years of age, done for speeding because they were caught having a race in London in a Ferrari and a Masserati... I was left thinking 'WTF do they do?!"

The article went on to say that they worked for Barclay Bank's IT department.

Ho hum.

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Happy

Cow orkers

When the interview team are all asswipes then have a little fun with them and turn down the job ... life's too short to spend your working hours licking some idiots ego.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cow orkers

Or... Take the job and stick at it for a few years. Save up your bonuses and buy a nice place in some part of the world you want to live. Then leave, set yourself up as a consultant and due your your unique blend of experience and skills, continue to make the same money from the same institutions while working at your leisure. ;-)

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SATs

An acquaintance, a women then I think in her 50s, went to interview to be CFO at a publisher on the US East Coast. They asked about her SATs.

I assume that people who do this had really good scores, and assume that is what makes an elite anything. I would regard somebody out of his 20s who wished to tell me about his SATs the way I'd look at a man the same age wearing his high school letter jacket.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: SATs

Also, is it not the case that there has been SAT score inflation over the years, with a particularly big change due to change of SAT scales about 1996 or so.... so possibly some younger folks actually think they have better SATs than previous generations if they don't know about it (the magical intelligence-boosting thunderbolt of Zeus!) , or they know about this and are just being ageist ;)

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Bronze badge

Re: SATs

Verbal and math were each "re-normed" 100 points upward at some point.

Having seen the game in action--the amazing $$ charged for prep classes and tutoring--I understand why (like most such measures) the SAT essentially serves as a proxy for the parent's income. At that rate, why not fall back on Latin, as in the days of "Sparky & Co."? The upper middle class will still get its large share of the admissions, and the kids will come away from the whole thing with skills that extend beyond filling out bubbles.

"or they know about this and are just being ageist ;)"

Isn't it an invariable rule that each generation thinks that it's elders & eventually its offspring are all dopes?

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Anonymous Coward

Impossible to answer interview questions

I think there should be one or two of these in any interview, just to assess how the candidate approaches them (not to mention weed out any of the industry's rampant bullshitters that may have got to the interview stage).

Number of piano tuners? Just start with the idea of the "total number of pianos" (no figure required), take it from there and think it through. Any bullshitter can answer that one.

AC because of what I've probably just revealed about myself.......

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Ru
Meh

Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

Pfft. The piano tuners question has been overdone.

Very overdone. Can you estimate at what point in the future that there will have been more successful job applicants asked a tedious estimation question than there are piano tuners at that time?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

"Pfft. The piano tuners question has been overdone.

Very overdone. Can you estimate at what point in the future that there will have been more successful job applicants asked a tedious estimation question than there are piano tuners at that time?"

Well, one would think that whole abstract class of question has been overdone by now (though I've never been asked anything that silly in an interview). The article suggests perhaps not and, worryingly, plenty of interviewees still get caught out.

AC because I'm responding to the response to my comment.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

I would cover my bases on the piano tuner question, by providing logistical answers and quanitifying them with some conditions,...

Assuming 1 household in 20 has a piano that requires tuning once each 9 months on average, and 1 hour to tune and 30 mins travel time, etc.

BUT! With the advent of cheaper electronic keyboards and more "rock-n-roll" instruments out there, the demand for tuning real pianos will have dropped off, so this is not a growth market. (Chance for humour) I can't recall the last time I saw a busker behind a baby grand at the train station.

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Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

It's a Fermi thingy (I know, I just read about it) so you have to make an estimate based on estimates which are correct, 5 million people in a city, 1 in 20 homes have a piano, 1/3rd of those get a piano tuned regularly etc then you can work out the correct estimate. There is no correct answer, just a correct estimate based off other estimates which in the end give a wrong answer.

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Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

The answer is actually quite simple: None.

At least there's never one around when you need one...

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Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

You can do the estimates of estimates, but the easiest way is to google for piano tuners in the city to see how many there are currently, then ring a few up and try to make an appointment. If they can fit you in right away there are too many, if you can't get any one around for 3 months, there probably needs to be at least one more.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

I was asked at an interview "How many piano tuners are there in London?". After going through the process of estimating (x people have pianos, need to be tuned every y years, z hours to tune, etc) and coming up with a final figure, the interviewer then smugly said to me "would you like to know the real number of piano tuners in London?".

After they told me the number, I asked how they knew that.

"We went through the Yellow Pages and counted them up" he replied (getting ever more smug)

"Oh," I said, "but doesn't that just give you the number of piano tuners who advertise in the Yellow Pages? What about the ones who rely on word-of-mouth or advertise elsewhere?"

I phoned the recruitment agency as soon as I got out of the door and told them to withdraw my application to work there.

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Meh

Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

You need to be more abstract than that.

For (N)number of Pianos there is X number that will require tuning at any time, where Y = the number of piano tuners required to satisfy demand for pianos needing tuning.

So, as long as there are pianos to be tuned there will always be enough tuners to tune them :{)

I would write some formula, but cant be bothered.

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Re: Impossible to answer interview questions

knowing zilch about pianos, I was thinking that the question referred to a tool of some kind, in which case I thought your reply was going to be "what about the basic ones owned by all the piano players?"

Regardless, I'm sure there are many many piano players who can do basic tuning. He didn't count them either. Can't blame you for withdrawing your application.

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Anonymous Coward

Questions to ask the interviewers at interviews,...

How are the technical teams split - by discipline or region? (Discipline is good, Region can be bad).

Who is the first person in management chain who is responsible for both myself and the other teams? (Lower down the chain is better, actually present in the interview is ideal)

Does the IT Department have a seat on the board? (if IT is not the primary function of the company; this shows how seriously they take IT)

Does the company / division provide internal support to an parent division or do they provide services to external companies? (Internal-only IT divisions can be at the mercy of the parent division's favour)

Whats sort of events has the social club done recently? (Employee-organised events are good indicator of internal morale)

Do you run SAP? ("No" is the answer you are looking for)

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Coat

Do you run SAP?

("No" is the answer you are looking for), It runs you...

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Questions to ask the interviewers at interviews,...

"Do you use Lotus Notes?" ("No" is the correct answer here, as well.)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Questions to ask the interviewers at interviews,...

"Do you use Lotus Notes?"

"No, we've just got a consultant to write us a replacement using SharePoint"

Run ...

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Gimp

Re: Questions to ask the interviewers at interviews,...

Hey! Notes is a fantasticly capable product! Just people always want to do wierd stuff with it. When I was dealing with it, it always amused me that it was used for email!

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Anonymous Coward

You have to be a very special brand of gimp to work in finance

Having worked for a UK branch of NYSE, I can honestly say the best thing that happened to me was being made redundant. The pay was crap, the hours were both long and unpredictable (so you couldn't even arrange to do something after work as you wouldn't know when work would finish) and my colleagues.. You have to be a very special brand of gimp to work in finance. Sociopaths would shuffle nervously away from that bunch. If you dared to have any plans outside of work you were instantly branded as lazy. They were rude, abusive, would drink themselves to destruction every evening and would even go on holiday together.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You have to be a very special brand of gimp to work in finance

Thanks for confirming a suspicion Ive had for a long time. Im glad I didnt buy into the "go to finance and make tons of money" chorus, it seems like its what constantly gets preached at the IT sector but noone seems to understand the banks simply dont give a fuck about you unless you're a banker. I picked Intelligence instead and while its pretty boring, Ive never had to deal with any of that sort of asshattery.

Anon for obvious reasons.

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Boffin

The point of the questions...

The questions about window washing and piano tuning are all about seeing how you approach a problem. They don't really care whether you get "the right" answer, they care whether you're good at making reasonable assumptions and estimates, and working through them to an answer that is reasonable given those assumptions. These are fundamental skills for an engineer, rather than a programmer.

For example, you might start by estimating the population of Seattle (a few million), then the number of people per household (say 4), then the number of windows per house (say a dozen). Add another window per person to account for the business and commercial districts. So that might make 10 million windows to clean. You can't do that yourself, so you outsource it to a variety of professional window cleaners, let's say they can do a window every 3 minutes on average (given they have to set up ladders and move from house to house) at minimum wage-ish of say $7.50 an hour. That's $3,750,000 in costs so charge $4M to have a little profit margin, or $5M for a bigger one.

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Re: The point of the questions...

But it doesn't stipulate housing, it says windows which could include car windows, as well as the windows on top of skyscrapers including that big pointy round thing, you wouldn't charge someone £5 to wash the windows on that building, but you wouldn't charge someone £5 to wash your car windows too. The answer is very deep and complicated "depends on the window".

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Ru

Re: The point of the questions...

That's the theoretical point of the questions. In reality, you often en up with some tedious arse who think he's super super clever because he's heard about this lateral thinking question involving throwing a brick over the edge of a boat into a pond.

If both parties can understand that the key thing here is to establish some basic problem solving ability (or the lack thereof), great, but as often as not the question is there so that the aforementioned tedious arse can establish his intellectual superiority. Oxbridge interviewers want to find a question which you don't have a pat, rehearsed answer for, because they want to take you out of your comfort zone and see how you respond, not because they get a kick out of crushing you.

Seems like plenty of interviewers forget that bit.

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Re: The point of the questions...

Given the industry concerned, isn't the correct answer to “How much should you charge to wash all the windows in Seattle?”, "As much as the market will bear?"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The point of the questions...

>>The questions about window washing and piano tuning are all about seeing how you approach a problem. They don't really care whether you get "the right" answer, they care whether you're good at making reasonable assumptions and estimates, and working through them to an answer that is reasonable given those assumptions. These are fundamental skills for an engineer, rather than a programmer.

Exactly, though it has relevance across more fields than just engineering, programming included.

In my line of work, our Special Operations Forces have long been doing the same thing by asking what seem like ridiculous questions to see how you think and what kind of "gets" to you. I believe it was the Special Air Service which pioneered use of this as a selection process in the UK's Armed Forces during the Malayan Emergency. Colonel Beckwith saw this and wound up using it in what's commonly known as Delta Force, and Commander Richard Marcinko adapted it to the needs of the Navy for SEAL team SIX. Nowadays its uncommon for a Special Operations Force to not use it to assign personnel to certain duties.

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Meh

Two Points

The best team I've ever led was at a fair sized brokerage firm & no one one the team had a degree in anything. We kicked ass and each person on the team got $65,000 bonuses the first year & it escalated from there. Comp Sci degrees (like many degrees) do not reflect your future abilities only the fact you're willing to stay in school & be broke. In fact most recent grads are often behind the curve in real world skills & it takes a long time to train them up. HR is a detriment to IT.

My uni roommate interviewed & got a job at Google. One of the questions was "Use the word displace in a sentence" His response was "fuck displace, burn it to the ground".

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Thumb Up

Re: Two Points

Your last sentence reminds me of someone in my mother's class at school who was asked to use the word "judicious" in a sentence. He came up with, "Hands that judicious can feel soft as your face..."

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FAIL

No thanks ...

I don't work for dicks.

I don't have a degree.

I also don't earn 60k+ a year.

Do I care? not really.

Would I like to earn more? sure who wouldn't.

Am I any less intellegent than you're average google / banker tech? probably not.

Intelligence is more about logical thinking that reciting textbooks and most "Comp Science" degrees teach you how to use ancient technology that no one bothers with any more, concepts like "N-Tier" or in some cases "object orientation" are not even mentioned for the most if not all of some of these so called "degrees", concepts that oddly enough I use every day.

You don't need a degree in math to solve mathematical problems, the fact of the matter is these days you simply need to know how to break the problem down in a logical manner then have the computer do the right working out, it's more about being able to explain the problem than solve it.

I used to work for a company where I (as the IT manager) reported directly to the CTO who took the attitude "if I don't get it then we don't use it", as a result my plan for a 3 month project that would take the manual work done by 50 people to an automated system run entirely by the computers.

The "narrow-mindedness" (is that a word?) or some people makes you wonder how they get to be in such positions in the first place ... it just goes to show that it really is a case of "it's not what you know, it's who you know".

Looking back ...

Funny how he asked me some odd questions too in interview and I for some odd reason didn't pick up on it or even consider them to be important.

Another odd one:

I used to work with a guy who had a degree ... both of us were junior programmers but my history was more vocational training ... at that point we were both first year programmers and I was churning out working code at a much better rate, and quality than I imagined he was by year 3 or 4 of his career.

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Happy

Re: No thanks ...

Chip on your shoulder much?

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