Matt Levine: Ethics, Quants and Cold-Calling
There are two massive areas of job opportunity for data scientists: They can build models that help hedge funds trade stocks and bonds, or they can build models that help internet companies sell advertisements on web pages. Oh or they can build models that help cure cancer or whatever, but compared to financial trading and internet advertising that is a small and unprofitable niche. One of the most incredible feats of marketing of our century is that the internet companies have convinced a lot of people that selling advertisements on web pages is basically the same as curing cancer, while buying stocks and bonds is evil:
“At tech companies, the permeating value is that they’re about trying to make the world a better place, whereas at hedge funds it’s about making more money,” Mr. Epstein said.
That’s from a Wall Street Journal article — in its series on quants — about the talent battle between Wall Street and Silicon Valley. As far as I can tell, the pitch for data scientists from Silicon Valley is: “Come work here, you can build advertising models and pretend that you’re saving the world,” while the pitch for data scientists from Wall Street is: “Come work here, you can build trading models and not have to pretend that you’re saving the world.” I actually think that is a useful sorting metric, and I know which one I would take.