In terms of niche jobs for developers in the financial services industry, it’s hard to get more niche than roles for engineers who work on ultra-ultra low latency systems at systematic hedge funds and high speed market making firms. They don’t come up often, and when they do, they require a special talent: the ability to program field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs).
Both quantitative hedge funds and high speed market making firms hire FPGA engineers. In finance, they’re found everywhere from Citadel Securities, to DE Shaw, Susquehanna International, Maven Securities and Jump Trading. Few come from a financial services background: most are drawn from chip design and hardware engineering firms. Ben Hodzic, executive director specializing in quantitative analytics at recruitment firm Selby Jennings in New York, says they can be hard to come by: there simply aren’t that many FPGA programmers to go around. “Most trading firms will consider FPGA talent from out of industry, given how hard they are to find and how niche of a skill set it is.”
The appeal of a good FPGA programmer is speed. FPGAs are literally ‘programming metal,’ creating the circuit that will execute the trading signal. “Firms that are focused strictly on low latency are always looking for ways to beat others,” says one London-based consultant specialized in high speed applications. “It’s about using C/C++ and FPGAs and other specialized techniques to reduce the delay by a nanosecond.” Java, C++ and FPGAs can be used in parallel.
How much can you earn as an FPGA programmer at a quant hedge fund or high-speed market making firm? It’s possible to be pretty specific – at least in the U.S. market. Citadel Securities has hired two FPGA programmers in America on H1B visas this year, and both salaries have been disclosed on the H1B visa database: one FPGA programmer at Citadel Securities in Chicago is on a salary of $180k; another at Palm Beach is on $200k; bonuses will be in addition to this.
One of the best known FPGA specialists in finance is found outside the northern hemisphere. David Snowdon, director of engineering at Arista Networks, is based in Sydney, Australia. Snowdon co-founded Metamako, a specialist provider of low-latency, field programmable gate array (FPGA)-enabled network products to the financial services industry in 2013. Arista acquired Metamako in 2013. Arista, too, hires FPGA designers and engineers for its offices globally.
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