Working with Larry Summers (part 1)
After I had been working at D.E. Shaw for a few months, I was asked by the American Mathematic Society to write an expository article on leaving academics for finance. Here’s what I wrote. It was infinitely vetted by the legal department, and they removed a bunch of stuff- by the time they approved it I couldn’t remember why I had wanted to write it in the first place. Oh yeah, something about answering a bunch of questions that math grad students kept asking me. The one edit I refused to budge on, I remember, was that they objected to the word “rich” in the sentence “However, it is clear that if you stay in finance for long enough, and are successful, you do become rich”. They wanted change the word to “wealthy”. As if that was going to soften the blow to the poor suckers who weren’t privileged enough to work at this holy place.
Ever since it was published, I’ve wanted to write a second edition. It would go something like this (taken from a letter I wrote to a friend recently who is applying to another hedge fund):
I actually never really intended to stay in finance, it was just the only “real job” I could get with my number theory skills. In the end I decided I wanted to work at a startup and there are more internet startups than finance ones. The truth is, there are a bunch of jerks
in finance, very likely due to the amount of money floating around, and I noticed a correlation with the size/age of the company and the douchebagginess of the “leaders” of the firms. I don’t know alot about ****** but word on the street is that they are huge douchebags. On the other hand, I myself don’t regret working with douchebags for four years, because it thickened my skin quite a bit (and in particular made me realize how impotent and feeble the academic douchebags are in comparison) and made me strive for something better. Although to be honest it sometimes really sucked.
I could sum it up pretty well thus: people who are successful for a while think they know everything. People who are rich think they are always right. People who are both successful and rich are absolutely incredible douchebags. It seems like a law of nature (i.e. I can only assume that if I ever become rich and successful I will also become a douchebag. One more reason not to be wishing too hard for things like that.).
So instead I work for *pretty good* money (better than I’d have gotten in academics but not as good as at DE Shaw) and I enjoy things like oatmeal in the morning, biking to work on the bike path, my incredible adorable macho developer colleagues, a really cool hands-off boss, and a bunch of awesome karaoke-loving beer-drinking coworkers who think I have special powers since I can do math. Oh, and the possibility that someday my numerous stock options in this startup may make me a douchebag someday.
I just want to add that, of course, not everyone I worked with at D.E. Shaw is a douchebag, not even all the leaders. In fact I still have many friends from there. But it’s definitely not a random cut of the population, and I would have to believe that people in it would agree with that (and would say it’s worth it).
In part 2 of this post I will talk about what specifically made me decide to leave the hedge fund industry.