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Suits vs. Hoodies: Someone Who's Worked in Both Finance and Tech Talks Differences, Similarities

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Jul 13, 2016
JeansVsSuitWall Street in the east and Silicon Valley in the west both make serious money and attract ambitious, intelligent people who love working on high-level problems. Those are the similarities. But, according to one person who's worked in both the finance and tech industries, the two economic powerhouses have major cultural differences, so someone who would thrive on Wall Street might wither in Silicon Valley, and vice versa. It's an interesting look at how vastly different business cultures can be, and the importance of how culture fit when deciding where exactly one wants to work. 

While the article goes into more detail, the big differences include people's attitudes towards how long one should be at work, the importance (or lack thereof) of educational credentials, and the consistency of payoffs. Basically, Wall Streeters will spend nights and weekends at the office, think where one went to school is important, and generally make consistent money, usually in the form of the annual bonus. In contrast, tech workers in Silicon Valley may work long hours too but it's not as important that they be done at the office, educational credentials aren't seen as very important, and compensation can be a gamble (if your startup blows up, you're the new Zuckerberg, but if it sinks, you're left holding worthless stock). 

Despite these differences, though, it's interesting to note how much cross-pollination seems to be happening between the two industries. Finance is becoming an increasingly tech-driven industry. From high-frequency trading to robo-advisers to blockchain, the financial sector seems to be surging ahead into a computer-guided future that makes the days when people crowded into stock exchanges waving tickets in the air seem positively quaint. With this in mind, finance companies have been increasing their tech hires, even when cutting jobs in other areas, according to a CNBC article. CPA firms are no exception: an article in Accounting Today notes that demand for IT staff among accounting firms has never been higher. 

And on the other side of the coin, the number of elite business school graduates going into tech versus finance has been growing, according to a Wall Street Journal article. In fact, according to career and job search site Tapwage, the tech industry is looking for more MBAs than Wall Street: the eight largest Wall Street banks had 900 jobs where an MBA was preferred, versus 3,000 at the largest tech companies. Meanwhile, tech companies have been getting into realms traditionally occupied by Wall Street banks. Square processes credit and debit cards, Apple Pay aims to replace credit and debit cards entirely, and Venmo allows for peer to peer transactions. Even Facebook is getting in on it, offering its own payment service through its Messenger app. Meanwhile, crowdfunding sites like Gofundme and Kickstarter let people raise capital in less traditional ways. 

Banks and tech firms alike are aware of the crossover potential, and so are engaging in what MarketWatch says is a talent war to hire the best people to their industry, before the other side can get them. There seems to be quite a bit of back and forth between the two: if you google "wall street vs. silicon valley" you get one article about people leaving the former for the latter, and then, immediately after, another article about people leaving the latter for the former. 

This tension, according to an opinion piece in The Guardian, may represent a wider power struggle over just where the center of power in U.S. capitalism really lies, between the old guard financial sector and the upstart tech sector--and east vs. west conflict for the post-Cold War era. But unlike the Cold War, it's unlikely that it will end with one victorious over the other. More likely, as tech moves into finance and finance into tech, the line between the two will become less and less meaningful as the years go on. Perhaps our grandchildren, making payments using cybernetic augments implanted directly in their brains, will be astounded that the two industries were ever seen as separate at all. 

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