Thoughts in These Uncertain Times

The ongoing fiasco in the interest rate markets reminds all of us once again that, despite the congregation of all the incredible brainpower on Wall Street, there’s a lot of BS in the financial industry. One will not be reprimanded for calling Wall Street finance a voodoo art, for, to a large extent, that’s what it is, practiced with a limitless amount of cupidity.

So if you still want to work as a Wall Street quant, what should you do now?

If you’re sure about your plans to be a quant, remain steady on your course and continue with your preparation. When you are ready, go out and look for a quant job. Many "experts" predict that the financial markets turmoils will continue, or even worsen, and the job market will be negatively impacted. But even during market downturns (as in 2001-2003), there’re still plenty of jobs on Wall Street, especially jobs that require high skills, from quantitative modeling to quantitative programming. Therefore, you shouldn’t worry too much about the prospect of finding a job. If you work hard, you’ll have a good chance of getting a job no matter what the job market condition is like.

But the uncertainties in the market — the financial market and the job market — also brought home my oft-repeated point that you must have a backup career plan. Don’t just bet your future on being a quant. Pick up versatile skills such as C++ programming which will allow you to be able to find a job in different industries. If you are an engineer, a physicist, a chemist, a statistician, etc., don’t shut yourself out of the potential jobs in your studied field. The only people with limited opportunities outside of finance are master’s and Ph.D.’s in finance — but again, if you have strong quantitative and programming skills, you’ll always be able to find a job, even if not as a quant as you’ve always dreamed of.

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