Here’s a real story in 2010 — I was completely hopeless and stuck in despair after my Goldman Sachs internal transfer was blocked in the last stage. I considered moving my whole family back to Singapore with an offer, and start my job search there. I was seriously considering a S$100k job in a back office batch programming job. Absolutely the
lowest point in my entire career. After licking the would for 2 months, I started looking for jobs outside Goldman and slowly found my foot hold. Then in early 2010, I passed a phone screening and attended a Citigroup “superday”. I spent half an hour each with 3 interviewers. By end of the day, recruiter said I was the #1 pick. I took the offer, at a 80% increment. In the next 12 months, I built up my track record + knowledge in
- real time trading engine components, esp. real time pricing engine
- fixed income math,
- c++ (knowledge rebuild)
I have never looked back since. Fair to say that my family won’t be where we are today, without this Citigroup experience. With this track record I was able to take on relatively high-end programming jobs in U.S. and Singapore. I was able to live in a convenient location, and buy properties and send my kids to mid-range preschools (too pricey in hind sight). Obviously I wanted this kind of job even in 2009. That dream became reality when I passed the superday interview. That interview was one of the
turning points in my career.
Fast track to 2017 — I had a 20-minute phone interview with the world’s biggest asset management firm (Let’s call it PP), then I had a 2-hour skype interview. They made an offer. I discussed with the recruiter the proposal —
- I would relocate to California
- I would get paid around 200k pretax and possibly with an increment in 6 months. PP usually increase billing rate after 12 months if contractor does well.
- Unlike investment banks, PP has long-term contracts not subject to trading desk profits, so this contract is (supposedly) more stable. In a few years, I would consider buying a home in California
- recruitment agency CEO said he would transfer my visa and sponsor green card.
If I were to take this offer, my life would be transformed. (I would also have a better chance to break into the high tech industry in nearby silicon valley, because I would have local friends in that domain.) Such a big change in my life is now possible because … I did well  in the interview.
Stripped to the core, that’s the reality in our world of contract programmers. Project delivery, debugging, and relationship with boss can get you promoted, but those
on-the-job efforts have much lower impact than your performance during an interview. Like an NBA playoff match. A short few hour under the spot light can change your life forever.
This is not a rare experience. There are other high-paying contract job offers that could “change your life”, and you only need to do well in the interviews to make it happen.
I feel this is typical of U.S. market and perhaps London. In Singapore. contract roles can’t pay this much. A permanent role has a few subtle implications so I feel it’s a different game.
 The 7 interviewers felt I was strong in c++ (not really), java and sql, and competent in fixed income math (I only worked with it for a year). Unlike other high-end interviews, there are not many tough tech questions like threading, algorithms, or coding tests. I feel they liked my interview mostly because of the combination of c++/java/fixed income math — not a common combination.