Here is a question I get asked a lot.
Why did you switch from engineering to finance?
During interviews, I would say something along the lines of, “I’m in love with the intricacies and math that drive the stock markets.” The truth is, I did not care much about the inner workings of the financial markets.
All I cared about was one thing: MONEY!
I decided to switch to finance before my senior year at City College. That summer, I had the opportunity to intern at General Electric’s transportation division in the city of Erie, Pennsylvania.
First of all, irrelevant to my reason for switching careers, but currently Erie is my least favorite city in this country. Why, you ask?
Because Erie is at the top of my list of cities where I experienced the most racism in a short amount of time (second on that list is Boston, third is Forest Hills). For example, I had to stop buying items from the CVS near our dorms due to the cashier not wanting to ring up my purchase because “I didn’t belong in this country.” The sad part was that the customers and other CVS employees did not do, nor say, anything about the negative remark. They just stood there, staring at me. Not to escalate the problem, I just left and never came back.
Anyhow, that’s a story for another day.
Let’s get back on topic.
Aside from the location, GE’s summer internship was a great learning experience. I met students from across the country with various backgrounds and astonishing academic achievements. I also had the opportunity to see first hand how engineers work in the real world. The most important lesson from this summer internship was the fact that I did not like what engineers did in the real world.
Another great thing about GE’s summer internship were the after-work events. We had many BBQs, beach days, volleyball tournaments, and an end of the summer internship gala. And it was at this gala where I overheard the conversation between two interns that would lead me to switch from engineering to finance.
DISCLAIMER: The names in this conversation are fictitious, but the content is accurate.
“Do you remember Chad from last year’s golf tournament,” Greg had asked Dunst. “Well, he told me that Deutsche Bank had just offered him a $100,000 base salary. But get this, Dunst. On top of the base, they are giving him a $30,000 signing bonus! It’s fucking crazy!”
“Bruh, that’s similar to my offer from Bank of America,” Dunst exclaimed. “How the fuck is he getting a $30k bonus? My GPA is a 3.3 and I am only getting a $15k bonus. Chad’s was barely 3.0!”
“I know, bruh. And Chad almost fucking failed Micro-Economics! I think it was his uncle who gave him a recommendation. Whatever, at least my base is $105k and my bonus is $20k. I hear that they do not offer much here at GE. I doubt they will match or beat our offers.”
When I heard these numbers, I couldn’t help but immediately turn around and inquire about their majors.
“We’re both studying Finance at Penn State,” Dunst said.
“Is Finance hard,” I asked. “How difficult is it?”
“Nah, dude,” Greg exclaimed. “It’s fucking easy! Dude, we’re usually at frat parties, drinking all day!” Greg high fives Dunst.
“Damn! So you’re both getting $100k? Sorry, I overheard your offers,” I said. “But, finance must be a lot of work, more than engineering, if they are offering you six figure salaries plus bonuses.”
“Dude! Nah, man,” Greg exclaimed. “The workload is shit compared to engineering. I’ve probably only stepped into the library once, and that was because of Rebecca. Yo Dunst, remember Rebecca? Whatever, Rebecca wanted to make out. That’s about it. But, yeah, I feel bad for you mechanical engineering majors. You guys are in the library, studying day and night, just to earn, at most, if you’re lucky, $70k. Sucks bro!”
“Yeah, sucks,” Dunst followed.
Yes, it does suck! I was busting my ass every single day, studying for hours, losing sleep, and missing family events just to earn, at most, if I am lucky, as Greg said, $70,000. So all these years, while I was at the library studying to maintain my 3.6 GPA in Mechanical Engineering, Chad, Greg and Dunst were partying and drinking every day, and were offered six-figure salary packages. Why didn’t anybody ever tell me how all this worked?
At that very moment, I decided that I was going to drop my job search in engineering and follow the money. As soon as I got back to New York, I began researching everything about the financial services industry. I combed through the entire World Wide Web for any information that would help me break into the finance world given I had an engineering background. After hours of exploration, I came upon an article on the subject of financial engineering.
For those of you who don’t know what is financial engineering, basically, it’s the use of very complicated mathematical theories to solve very complicated problems in the realm of finance. It is also known as financial mathematics, computational finance, quantitative finance, mathematical finance, and “revenge of the nerds” finance. Okay, I made up the last one, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.
It is a specialty dominated by highly intelligent nerds that create ridiculously complex, sometimes extremely risky, computer algorithms to make money in the financial markets. Think of the flash crash of 2010 in which $1 trillion in stock market value temporarily disappeared.
I was immediately fascinated by the financial engineering world. It was a hot area at that time, and banks all over Wall Street were paying financial engineers boatloads of money. It was common to read about salary and bonus payoffs totaling over $1 million.
So, you may be asking yourself, how do I become a financial engineer? Simple, if you are good in math, then get a masters degree in financial engineering.
With this in mind, I started working on grad school applications. This time, I was not going to make the same mistake as I did with undergrad, where I only applied to one target school (NYU) and four “safeties.” I decided to find the top 15 financial engineering programs in the country and apply to them all.
Sadly, I got rejected to all but one school, Boston University, which was ranked 15th at that time.
Despite the fact I got accepted into just one university, it was still an incredible moment when the acceptance letter from BU arrived. My mother and I were overjoyed. We were crying, screaming, jumping, dancing, and calling every single one of our family members. I kept telling my mom I was going to be rich after I graduate and have enough money to buy her a house in Dominican Republic so that she can finally provide great care for her mother.
The whole moment was unbelievable. It seemed inconceivable that after I graduate from BU, I would be making six figure salaries and bonuses just like Chad & Co.
Little did I know I will quickly regret attending Boston University. Obtaining a job on Wall Street was going to require more than just a degree in financial engineering.