Here’s How Silicon Valley is Out Bidding Wall Street for Talent

For the most coveted young math and engineering grads that is. According to a recent column in the Financial Times, graduates from top flight universities are eschewing Wall Street’s big banks (NYSE:XLF) and trading high paying, prestigious positions at iBanks and hedge funds for, “the thrill and cachet of life at an internet start-up.” In an apparent case of culture v. economics, the cultural appeal is winning (surprising with quantitative majors) as recent college grads may be pitting pop-conceptions of greed and corruption on Wall Street against the glam of startup jackpot winners such as Facebook, and concluding that their ability to play a crucial part in the success of a company is the most alluring promise of all.

The FT piece revolves around a young Wall St. emigrant (Jeff Hammerbacher) who left his job at Bear Sterns to settle in the valley. He argues that although the reputation and pedigree of top banks has a strong initial pull for Harvard grads and the like, the grind of a day’s work in the financial sector and the rigid hierarchical office culture of lead investment banks can be discouraging to young employees and eventually lead them to look elsewhere for jobs. The valley, on the other hand, offers a laid back work culture of t-shirts/jeans, a communal, level-playing field attitude, and the challenge of really trying to make a company work.

Hammerbacher spoke on the culture of advancement as well, “The critical jump where they [young employees] made the transition from contributor to manager occurred because their boss was fired or left unexpectedly, so they stepped in and did well. So instead of waiting for your boss to get fired or quit, you go where there is no boss and prove yourself under a trying circumstance…Turning geeks into gods is what Silicon Valley is in the business of doing.”

While Wall Street has also turned many a geek into “gods,” the reality today is that the rags to riches story of the American dream exists in the start-up culture of the valley, while the Street stays in the business of making money off of money…which may defeat the purpose for some.

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