High frequency trading firms, which can pay up to £200k, are now largely closed to investment banking technologists

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The time was that high frequency trading (HFT) firms would pay through the nose to secure technology talent from investment banks who could reproduce their ‘secret sauce’ code to give their trading platforms an edge. Now, they’re looking outside the financial sector, and this once lucrative route appears to be closed.

The most notorious case of an investment banking technologist moving to a high frequency trading firm is that of Sergey Aleynikov, who was eventually cleared of stealing code from Goldman Sachs to use in a new job at Teza Technologies. He was reportedly offered $1.2m to move – or triple his previous salary. Ex-SocGen programmer Samarth Agrawal was also jailed for stealing code to use for high frequency trading.

When the stakes are that high, it’s clear why programmers making proprietary code at investment banks would feel inclined to move. Now, however, HFT firms are being more economical with their recruits and hiring people from gaming companies.

Games developers work in one of the few industries where their skills are transferable to a HFT firm, as they have experience working on code and algorithms that could potentially be applied to real-time trading platforms.

“There’s not enough history in high frequency trading for there to be a huge backlog of available talent, and therefore the churn in the industry tends to come from within,” says Mark Warburton, managing director of tech recruiters Pioneer Search. “Gaming is an obvious place to find new people with similar skills. Pay is comparatively low, so people are being lured across.”

An experienced developer working for a gaming company is likely to earn around £50k. According to recruiters Cititec, entry level pay at HFT firms is £60k (or £350 for junior contractors), while salaries can rise to £200k for senior technologists.

“Gaming companies have traditionally hired C++ developers to build responsive systems and the programming techniques used in this area are similar to those used within HFT,” says Rob Grant, chief operating officer at Cititec.

C++ is also, of course, a common programming language used in developing trading platforms of investment banks, suggesting that HFT have simply decided that poaching techies from the financial sector is too expensive.

High frequency trading firms aren’t exactly renowned for shouting about how they operate. Getco, for instance, doesn’t have a careers page and recent senior hires – Jon Ross as chief technology officer and Robert Smith as head of Europe – have both been internal appointments.

Spire Europe is, however, recruiting for a quantitative developer and will likely have to recruit from the financial sector for this while Virtu Financial is only hiring at a graduate level in Europe.

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