The last two days I took a sick leave. While resting at home, I watched a 3-disc DVD program called Navy Seals: BUDS Class 234, a six-part mini-series about young men training to become members of the elite U.S. Navy special forces group. (The original series apparently aired on the Discovery Channel a few years ago.)
The toughest part of the 6-month SEAL training, called BUD/S, is the first three weeks, when the new recruits are put through endless physically and mentally demanding tests one after another. The goal, as the announcer explains, is to make sure every young man who wants to be a Navy SEAL knows what it takes, and to make sure that every person is committed to being a SEAL and to being willing to deal with the difficult situations under which these warriors will be required to perform their duties. Anyone with a shred of self-doubt is dropped from the program.
While Wall Street is physically nowhere near as demanding as fighting in a war, it can still be a stressful and exhausting place to work. Physically, you often need to put in long hours, and as a quant you’ll likely sit in front of a computer 10-15 hours a day, sometimes with nary a break.
But the real challenge is mental, just as what the Navy SEAL trainees, as well as real SEALs, have to deal with in their line of work. As my book mentions, it’s likely your boss will be a jerk, or even an asshole, who puts little respect in his or her employees. Your coworkers may see you as a competitor. The workload can be demanding — but unlike what the SEALs do, quants work with extremely boring stuff. Take me for example. I often spend a lot of time working on mindless (and needlessly useless) mundane tasks like QAing Perl scripts or manually calculating some numbers nobody gives a hoot about. Actually I just lied to you. I do that all the time. It’s a good thing I have a cute toddler son at home for me to look forward to going home to every workday. Otherwise, I’d probably have picked up a drinking habit or some other unhealthy lifestyle. Trust me: 99% of the quant work out there is very boring and carries no social value whatsoever.
So, if you want to be a quant only because all your friends are working as quants or working on Wall Street, or if you think you can make a lot of money, you should double-check your vision of reality. If you’re already enjoying the non-financial field you’re studying or working in, I highly recommend you think very, very carefully before attempting a switch into finance. Before you commit, question and double-question your motivation and level of commitment.