This is somewhat a rant on an article about an article… In Tech is the New Wall Street, Joseph Walker seemed to feel like coming up with the pithy headline, “Tech is the New Wall Street.” Quoting from “The End of Wall Street As They Knew It,” there’s an arrogant comment by a current finance exec explaining how right now, you’d go to Silicon Valley instead so maybe you could be the next Mark Zuckerberg. Uh huh. That’s all it takes.
It’s disturbing, though perhaps not surprising just how shallow that article is. While it’s possible a migration of folks who otherwise might have gone to Wall St. into tech will have value, it’s conceivable there’s an attitudinal problem that will need to change on the way to such a transition. That is, one of unbridled selfishness vs. desire to create value. Obviously, a talented manager with financial chops can provide value to just about any company. But tech isn’t just about management; it’s about vision and value. Things the pure quant folks don’t seem to fully realize. While there’s nothing wrong with a healthy amount of personal selfishness, my personal belief is that this kind of motivational imperative isn’t what typically leads to good product craft. In fact, in a lot of cases for B2C products, something decidedly non-finance and not even technical is needed. That being, some empathy that could allow a visionary or product manager to sense a pain point worth solving or an unmet desire.
Whether tech has more money and power than Wall St. is questionable; at least for most individuals’ average salaries. Though it should, because it produces value, whereas Wall St. has arguably been failing in that regard. In terms of prestige, well… right now anyway that situation is obvious enough.
The Financial Industry exists – or should – to provide services for both industry and individuals. Financial markets are supposed to allocate capital towards productive use. Governments theoretically provide the throttles to level the playing fields and in some cases, also participate. (E.g. the Reserve as “Lender of Last Resort.”) A lot of what the finance industry focuses on lately – from algorithmic trading to all manner of arbitrage games to securitization of toxic debt – is more self-serving than value creating. Arguably, angel investors and Venture Capitalists focusing on technology are exceptions here. Conversely, tech by definition is pushing back boundaries that have either the explicit goal or accidental side-effict of life enhancing possibilities. Many efforts fail. True enough. And even more will fail at a faster rate given the sprouting of so many accelerator and incubator programs.
It could be great if up and coming whiz kids who otherwise might have headed for financial careers consider technology as an alternative. But only if that’s because what they’ve learned from recent events is that it may be more valuable to try to create value, rather than merely extract it.