From Wall Street to Silicon Valley

by / ⠀Startup Advice / April 4, 2013

Young Professionals Move to Silicon Valley“At some point I started thinking about jumping on my desk, grabbing my keyboard, and smashing it into all of my monitors for a few weeks straights,” says Helen, a trading analyst at Morgan Stanley who quit to join the Optimization Data Analysis team at Appnexus.

Helen is only one of many ambitious young professionals who are hitting this kind of learning and professional wall on Wall Street, and have decided to take a stab in Silicon Valley instead.  Ziran moved from DRW Trading to Yammer after he couldn’t see himself in finance long term, having always harbored an interest in the tech industry.   George, trying to scratch an entrepreneurial itch, jumped the Morgan Stanley ship for the Indiegogo speedboat.

At the recent Davos Forum, Wall Street giants bemoaned the “massive talent drain”, fretting about who will lead the industry in ten to fifteen years.  Wall Street is now riddled with stories like that of Jacques-Philippe Piverger, who left the Street after 15 years in finance, to launch Micro Power Design Inc, which makes solar powered lamps.

Many employees leaving securities firms are saying ” I’m bored and I need to do something about it – this isn’t a challenge anymore,” according to David Boehmer of recruiting firm Heidrick & Struggles.  20 years ago, it didn’t matter how bored you were, because you didn’t have anywhere to go that provided the financial security that Wall Street did.  Today Silicon Valley tech companies are now battling Wall Street firms for the graduates out of top schools, offering a “coolness” factor, equal salary and better stock options.

While I had expected that compensation would an issue, none of the three young ex-financiers cited this as a problem, likely because they all moved to very well funded, late stage startups.  George ever says at now he would consider going for an early stage startup, regardless of stability or pay, since it just depends on the opportunity.

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It’s no secret that ridiculous hours and bad treatment are the staples of your first year on Wall Street, but it was accepted that this was the sacrifice for a fat paycheck and stable career.  But bright young professionals like Helen are realizing that the “misery is not worth some eventual ‘payoff’ in the end.”  Even at three months into the job, her learning curve had flattened.  Furthermore, she would only be able to use the skills she was acquiring in a very niche section of finance, which left her professional trajectory very limited.  As opposed to the thick ecosystem of mentorship in tech startups, Helen felt that managers at her firm were not actually interested in helping younger employees in developing careers or teaching them truly useful professional skills.

For the transition period, all three of them actually cited the physical move from east coast to west coast and logistics as the most difficult part of their transition. Discomfort associated with the transferring of duties paled in comparison to the excitement they felt from starting a new job and a new industry.  Their days have been occupied with meeting new people and learning about their passions, so any apprehension they have had about a new industry simply melted away.

In fact, their new lives have had an incomparably powerful and transformative influence on them.  George says he feels “so liberated” that “after I moved out to San Francisco, I realized that the city, job, and life had gone beyond the high expectations I had for them.”  For Ziran, he’s discovered a “entirely different world out here [in San Francisco]- I’ve been learning so much in the past three months that I feel like I am a whole new person.”

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Most importantly, it’s not what young professionals are running away from on Wall Street, but the opportunities they’re running towards in the Valley.  As Ziran says, “I just want to solve interesting problems. At Yammer, I get to do a lot of that with really brilliant people helping me out along the way.”

For those who considering the same jump, Ziran offers this: “Quitting was probably the most difficult decision I’ve ever made. But once I did it, it felt amazing. I went home, watched a basketball game, read some Game of Thrones.”

It’s very indicative that all three definitively agree they will never, ever go back back to Wall Street.  None of them gave specific reasons, but the huge smiles plastered on their faces were reason enough.

Stephany Zoo creates fire, not flash. Incubated at powerhouses like Ralph Lauren, Princeton, and Likeable Media, Stephany is a vigorous steward of brand, relentlessly excited about enduring imprints of image and word. A New York City transplant, Stephany seeks to bridge her bicultural heritage and achieve a greater understanding of international consumer behavior in Shanghai, China. She enthusiastically advances the customer development of BUNDSHOP.COM, leveraging digital and viral assets to disseminate BUNDSHOP. COM’s vision and voice. 

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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