##[16] lower jobs:Plan B if !!dev-till-70

I had blogged about this before, such as the blogger-pripri post on “many long term career options”

Hongzhi asked what if you can’t go to the US.

* Some Singapore companies simply keep their older staff since they still can do the job, and the cost of layoff is too high. My experience at OC/Macq convinced me to have very low hope.
* Support and maintenance tech roles
* Some kind of managerial role ? I guess I am mediocre but could possibly do it, but i feel hands-on work is easier and safer.
* Teach in a Poly or private school ? possibly not my strength
* Run some small business such as Kindergarten with wife

dev career]U.S.: fish out of water in SG

Nowadays I feel in-demand on 1) Wall St, 2) with the web2.0 shops. I also feel welcome by 3) the U.S. startups. In Singapore, this feeling of in-demand was sadly missing. Even the bank hiring managers considered me a bit too old.

Singapore banks only has perm jobs for me, which feel unsuitable, unattractive and stressful.

In every Singapore bank I worked, I felt visibly old and left behind. Guys at my age were all managers… painful.

##deeply felt Priorities b4 U.S.→SG@45 #big-picture

  1. — priorities over the next 2-10Y horizon
  2. Career[a] longevity till 70, probably on wall st, not in Singapore or West Coast. A related keyword is “relevance” to the geek economy.
    1. On Wall St, I continue to keep a keen focus on robust technologies like core Java, cpp, SQL, sockets, core threading, common data structures. Outside Wall st, jxee (and possibly web stacks) offers the best market depth and demand.
    2. Compared to Wall St, West coast is possibly low priority for now as I don’t see long term visibility.
  3. my wellness — Need to guard against PIP-hell, trapped… A “stability factor” arguably more impactful than GC, housing, schooling… One of the key signs of wellness is weight and calorie count.
  4. boy’s education — I don’t know if U.S. system is better for him
  5. GC — a G5 priority in my current plan, primarily on the back of the longevity factor.
  6. preparing for war at new job — short-term, immediate but actionable.
  7. — 2nd tier
  8. increase precious time with grand parents in my 3rd U.S. era — fly business class to NY.
  9. more passive income to reduce the cash flow stress
  10. Saving up for U.S. housing — not much I can do now.
  11. I now have a deep desire but limited hope to keep up my 细水长流 motivation for coding drill and QQ learning. Burning pleasure; self-esteem; satisfaction; absorbency.
  12. wife’s and daughter’s life-chances in U.S. — important but not much I can do now
  13. leaving a good impression with MS manager

[a] I didn’t say “income”. I think more important to me is my marketability (+ relevance, in-demand ..). Career longevity is the basis of entire family’s well-being for 15Y until kids start working.

Salary — is kinda secondary because the room for improvement is negligible in my biased mental picture.

4 competing domains to Support dev salary@WSt

In terms of supply/demand, there are systemic forces that support the relatively high developer salary in investment banks.

  • #1 pure tech shops — generate high profit, attract hot investment
  • #2 buy-side shops including mutual funds
  • #3 small startups — only in U.S. can they offer competitive salary
  • #4 exchanges and fintech shops including bbg, Reuters, S&P. Some (Miami, NYSE..) seem to generate high profits
  • #5 package software vendors

Few of these categories exist in Singapore.

if not4$$, y I sacrifice so much2reenter U.S.#again

Q: As of 2016 to 2019, I didn’t need high salary so badly, so what’s the real reasons why I sacrifice so much to re-enter U.S.?

A#1: foundation — rebuild confidence about career/financial foundation for next 20->25-30Y, since my passive-income/asset/burn-rate profile was (still is) far from comfortable
* age discrimination
* green card
* lower calibre requirement on a typical job .. “semi-retirement job”

A#2: self-esteem rebuild — after multiple blows (三人成虎 , three-strikes)   .. stigma
A#3: far bigger job market, providing much better sense of career safety

##Y c++IV improved much faster]U.S.than SG #insight{SCB breakthru

Hi XR,

I received 9 c++ offers since Mar 2017, mostly from U.S. In contrast, over the 4.5 years I spent in Singapore, I received only 3 c++ offers including a 90% offer from HFT firm WorldQuant (c++ job but not hardcore).

  1. Reason: buy-side employers — too picky. Most of the Singapore c++ jobs I tried are buy-side jobs. Many of the teams are not seriously hiring and only wanted rock stars.
    • In contrast, Since 2010 I tried about 6 Singapore ibank c++ jobs (Citi, Barclays, Macquarie, Standard Chartered Bank) and had much better technical wins than at buy-side interviews.
  2. Reason: Much fewer c++ jobs than in U.S.
  3. Reason: employee — I was always an employee while in Singapore and dare not attend frequent interviews.
  4. Reason: my c++ job in the U.S. are more mainstream so I had more opportunities to experiment on mainstream c++ interview topics. Experiments built up my confidence and depth.
  5. Reason: I had much more personal time to study and practice coding. This factor alone is not decisive. Without the real interviews, I would mostly waste my personal time.

Conclusion — availability of reasonable interview opportunities is a surprisingly oversize factor for my visible progress, 

By the way, Henry Wu (whom I told you about) had more successful c++ interviews. He joined WorldQuant and Bloomberg, two companies who didn’t take me up even after my technical wins.

CV-competition: Sg 10x tougher than U.S.

Sg is much harder, so … I better focus my CV effort on the Sg/HK/China market.

OK U.S. job market is not easy, but statistically, my CV had a reasonable hit rate (like 20% at least) because

  • contract employers don’t worry about my job hopper image
  • contract employers have quick decision making
  • some full time hiring managers are rather quick
  • age…
  • Finally, the number of jobs is so much more than Sg


mainstream^specialist jobs: positioning in Sg+U.S.

I feel this is all about positioning — accumulation, body-building contest…. The high-end jobs are always limited and contested.

  • I tend to see algoTrading and quantDev as high-end specialist roles.
  • I tend to see app owner or lead developer (a.k.a. architect) in mainstream domains not as “low-level specialist“, because I tend to believe “devil is in the details”. I feel better with the low-level specialist role
  • There are also many senior dev roles in mainstream (non-specialist) domains, such as market data, risk,…

In the U.S. there are more specialist type of roles, some even open to contractors.

In Singapore, I sought after HFT and quantDev specialist roles but as I told a Bbg interviewer, these attempts never worked out. The quant related roles offered no accumulation and poor market depth. Therefore, for my next Singapore job I will consider more mainstream.

FTE^contractor: mgr choosing 1 guy to let go

There are individual differences, but I now feel majority of manager-decision-makers across U.S. and Singapore do feel a higher resistance to let go an FTE rather than a contractor. Deterrence:

  • expectation of affected employee that the job is long-term. Most managers won’t ignore your feeling. They are worried about your complaints
  • reflection on her own record as a manager
    • they often prefer an internal transfer
  • formal performance improvement process is not required for non-performing contractor
  • severance
  • official complaints
  • litigation (in the U.S.)

The deterrences are a form of protection for the FTE, but paradoxically, I hate these deterrences, as they lengthen the slow death.


lower pressure to move up ] U.S.^sg

In U.S.,  the overall income differences between a hands-on developer vs a leadership role is smaller.

UE: U.S. engineers;
UM: U.S. managers;
SE: Sgp engineers;
SM: Sgp managers;
  • salary — UE much better than SE. The few high salaries in SE are too rare and unreachable
  • career longevity — UE clearly better than SE; UE probably better than SM too.
  • job security — UE much better than SE due to abundance of similar jobs; UE probably better than SM
  • fungible — UE can move into technical UM and back, more easily, thanks to abundance of jobs
  • tech lead, architect roles  — UE can move up in that direction more easily than SE, thanks to abundance of jobs. SM and UM may not have enough technical capabilities.

Economy — I feel hands-on specialists are more central to the U.S. economy and U.S. companies than in other countries. In Singapore, manager is by far the most instrumental and dominant role.

For a Chinese techie in the U.S. the prospect of managerial path is limited. Most of these managers won’t rise beyond the entry-level. And then consider your own background relative to the average Chinese here.

My tentative conclusion is

[17]FASTEST muscle-growth=b4/af job changes]U.S.

I now recall that my muscle-building and, to a lesser extent, zbs growth are clearly fastest in the 3 months around each job change. I get frequent interviews and positive feedback. This is a key (subconscious) reason why I prefer contracting even at a lower salary. I get the kick each time I change job.

My blogging activity shows the growth…

  • #1 factor … positive feedback from real offers from good companies.
  • #2 factor — I actually feel real zbs growth thought it tends to be less strategic in hindsight.
  • factor — on a new job, I am curious to learn things I have wanted to learn like Xaml, FIX, Tibco, kdb, SecDB, multicast, orderbook, curve building

Beside the months immediately b4/af job change, I also experienced significant growth in

No such environment in Singapore:(

I worked harder as FTE than contractor@@

My experience – in terms of work attitude, professionalism, ownership, my contractor jobs were not really lower than FTE. However, longer hours were rare. When I work longer hours as contractors, manager often recognize more easily.

Personal sacrifice was lower.

Ownership of project is often with FTE.

Expectation of bonus is real as FTE.

All in all, the bitterness (and pain, blow to self-esteem…) of a poor appraisal and low bonus is deep, hard, pervasive. It last many months and is a bigger stress than marriage issues, kids poor studies, investment failures etc. I was “shaken to core” (Michelle Obama once said) by those events.

Generally I choose to work at slightly higher than the minimum level to get by.

  • as contractor — sometimes this hurts me (Citi) but often my standard is well above the manager’s
  • as FTE — I don’t like to work way harder than the minimum, because often (Stirt, GS) it’s still not good enough for various reasons, so I would feel “not worth it”.
  • I also have a conviction that managers decide which FTE they like based on non-technical reasons, so why bother to work so hard? If manager doesn’t like me then hard work won’t help a lot.

establish tech stronghold(GTD+nlg)]each team

Note – focus is job performance, not IV.

To survive in a team,need unique technical specialty in a key area.

With the possible exception of the Citi Muni team, I have not seen a banking IT team to tolerate a “dead weight” guy. To do reasonably well in any financial IT team, I often need some “hard” strength (like an subject matter expertise), not just soft skill. If within your team you have a unique technical strength in a complex and important sub-system, then you can “name your price”, and you are kind of irreplaceable. Perhaps a go-to person. Some team members don’t have any expertise but survive on strong relationships. I’m unable to do that. In the past teams, I think many team members have such a strength. If I don’t have it, my position would be less established, less solid.

  • 😦 😦 stirt? Worst experience. Was good at the insignificant preferences framework; canceled trades
  • 😦 GS? Uncomfortable position. My Perl was not top notch. My java was below Yang. I became good at Error Memos (EOS) and trailers/upfronts
  • 🙂 OC? was good at Bloomberg adapter and Guardian builtin web server to show the log files
  • 🙂 🙂 95 Green? My DB design was convincing to Ravi. My wait-notify based design was pretty hard to match.
  • 🙂 Barc? FMD, fmath
  • 😦 Macquarie? In the quant team, whatever I accomplish seems trivial to manager, since he’s too strong. I’m seen as very slow on small tasks.

tech strength^weak, as@Nov2016

My strengths – quick but more than superficial learning of (in random order):

  • finmath, financial jargon,
  • Comp Science practical topics:
    • OO fundamentals
    • algo, data structures,
    • threading
    • basic tuning of DB + others
  • language fundamentals (more respected in the java, c++, c#, SQL than python communities)
    • versatile in many important languages
  • relative familiarity with scripting, unix, SQL, but not IDE, version control etc
  • relatively quick whiteboard (not compiler) coding

This strength turned out to be extremely valuable on Wall St consulting market.

My key weakness identified in recent jobs (not counting the IV defeats):

  • learning local system
  • large existing codebase – AutoReo, GS
  • superfast GTD

tiny team of elite developers

Upshot — value-creation per head and salary level would rival the high-flying manager roles.

Imagine a highly successful trading shop. Even though the trading profit (tens of millions) is comparable to a bank trading desk with hundreds of IT head count, this trading shop’s core dev team *probably* have a few (up to a few dozen) core developers + some support teams [1] such as QA team, data team, operations team. In contrast, the big bank probably have hundreds of “core” developers.

[1] Sometimes the core teams decide to take on such “peripheral” tasks as market data processing/storage, back testing, network/server set-up if these are deemed central to their value-add.

In the extreme case, I guess a trading shop with tens of millions of profit can make do with a handful of developers. They want just a few top geeks. The resultant efficiency is staggering. I can only imagine what personal qualities they want:

* code reading — my weakness
* tools – https://bintanvictor.wordpress.com/2012/11/08/2-kinds-of-essential-developer-tools-on-wall-st-elsewhere/ * manuals — reading tons of tech info (official or community) very quickly, when a “new” system invariably behave strangely
* local system knowledge
* trouble-shooting — and systematic problem-solving. I feel this largely depends on system knowledge.
* design — it right, and able to adjust it as requirements change * architecture?
* tuning?
* algorithms?

(soft skills:)
* clearly communicate design trade-offs in a difficult discussion * drive to get things done under pressure without cutting corners * teamwork — teamwork to back down when needed to implement a team decision

pyramid of wage levels, CN^sg^US

See also the similar post on NBA salary

Look at my brother-in-law. (I’m not too sure about his situation so I will use tentative statements.) He’s smart, dedicated. Rather long experience as a team lead. He has a MBA from a good uni in Shanghai.

However, there are many people with similarly strong track record in China, so he can’t move up the pyramid to, say CNY 1000k. He said CNY 400k is achievable, but CNY 600k offer is tough and mostly available from high-end prestigious employers.

In Singapore I’m facing a similar challenge. A S$150k (after tax) tech job is rare and considered elite so you need to be rather strong to get it. In other words, the pyramid has a sharper tip than in the US pyramid, based on a sample of 5,000 IT jobs.

(I think the Shanghai salary distro is better than most China cities…)

The NBA post brings together other important factors — lifelong income; managerial skill; …

[15]Re-enter U.S.: inertia,fear@unknown,comfort zone

I told many of my Singapore techie friends about the US job opportunities. All of them are resistant. They aren’t sure if they can make it in the US.
Indeed among the Indians, Chinese etc, some did succeed and other didn’t.
It’s remarkable that in New York I came across much fewer Singaporeans than Malaysian Chinese, Taiwanese or Hongkongers (and Koreans too, but that’s too different a nation to compare). I feel Singaporeans favor Australia and Britain over US/Canada. I guess largely because of friends and family, the familiar vs. the unknown. Chinese and Indians often settle down in the US and bring over their relatives.
A related factor is the “comfort zone”. Singapore life is too comfortable, too convenient… US is like a buffet dinner – go get it yourself.
Change is uncertain, challenging, requires analysis, observations, opinions, bets … There’s no way to avoid it actually. Change happens to us. Some would say we can take advantage of changes…. think of big data, c++, west coast, python..
In a way, my recent discomfort and dissatisfaction in Singapore is a divine message, and breaks the comfort zone.
One of my growing discomforts in this “comfort zone” is the position/value of specialist vs generalist leader.

stable job4H1 guys#le2HenryWu

Hi Henry,

See if you can connect me to your H1 sponsor at your earliest convenience.

For most H1 immigrants, having a stable job is a top priority. We all worry about losing our job, losing the H1 status and Green card petition.

Therefore, many prefer a big, reputable employer. Some prefer a consulting firm that can help maintain our H1 status even when we change project from time to time. There are definitely risks of “gaps” between 2 jobs. In my experience, 1 to 3 months are tolerable. Beyond that, there are probably other solutions. It all depends on the last employer and the lawyer. Remember I’m not an immigration attorney.

In the Worst scenario the employer cancels the H1 right away. The USCIS regulation probably allows us (“the aliens”) to stay in the US for a few weeks looking for the next job. If we can’t find any, we should ask our lawyer when we have to leave the country. We would re-enter once we find a new employer.

The exit/reentry can (in my imagination) be a real hassle for someone with a big family, esp. if kids are in school. It might be best to avoid the exit/reentry. I guess this is one reason many H1 families are fearful of layoff and prefer a stable job even at a lower salary. (Overall, Singapore companies are less likely to layoff large number of staff.)

Therefore, if I were you I would prefer a stable job. As a risk taker, I will take a gamble that I could reduce the “gap” between jobs to 2 months, by being flexible on the salary.

real J4 embracing U.S.: ez2get jobs till60

ez2get jobs; abundance of jobs — At the risk of oversimplifying things, I would single out this one as the #1 fundamental
justification of my bold and controversial move to US.

There are many ways to /dice-n-slice/ this justification:
* It gives me confidence that I can support my kids for many years. * I don’t worry so much about aging as a techie
* I don’t worry so much about outsourcing and a shrinking job pool * when I don’t feel extremely happy on a job, I don’t need to feel trapped like I do in a Singapore job.
* I feel like an “attractive girl” not someone desperately seeking on “a men’s market”.

Look at Genn. What if I really plan to stay in one company for 10 years? I guess after 10 years I may still face problem changing job in a market like Singapore.

## Y in sg(^U.S.)u can’t be developer till 65,succinctly

In the US, at 65 you could work as a developer. (Actually that’s not the mainstream for most immigrant techies. What do they do? Should ask Ed? Anirudh? Liu Shuo, ZR…)

Why SG is different? Here’s my answer, echoing my earlier posts.

  1. US culture (job market, managers…) has a tradition of being more open to older techies
  2. US culture respects technologists. Main street techies get paid significantly higher than SG main street techies
  3. high-end (typical VP-level) technical work – more comon to get in the US than SG, partly because wage premium is smaller, like 100k -> 150k

XiaoAn@age discrimination:$5k offer !! bad4an aging programmer

I could keep this current job in Singapore for a few years. At age 44, or 45… I might be lucky again to get another finance IT job but what about 50?

The odds will grow against me. I’m on an increasingly tilted playing field. At 60 I’ll have very very low chance.

XiaoAn points out that at such an age, even finding a $5k job is going to be tough. I believe indeed some percentage of the hiring managers don’t like hiring someone older. XiaoAn admitted he’s one of them.

You could feel confident about age discrimination, but the reality is … in Singapore there are very few such job candidates so we just don’t know how the employers would react.

Also bear in mind at age 55 I am unlikely to perform as before on interviews.

app arch – civil engineer or a salesman, sg^U.S.

I feel in Singapore context, “architect” is more likely to refer to a hands-off role. In the US, I never meet an architect who doesn’t writes code hands-on at least half his time.

A real app architect in finance (different from professional software product vendors) really needs hands-on capabilities. Her output is not just on paper, but in code. If her design (not the document but the “key ideas” implemented) doesn’t work, she must roll up her sleeves and make it work. Most of those ideas are low level, like some serialization or some threading construct, and require just one good developer. In that sense it’s not unlike a library module.

In this context, architect is the name of the technical lead of ANY dev team. Often known as lead developer, in a smaller team.

Any dev team needs a technical leader. Half the time, the team manager or the project manager is technical enough to lead a suppor team but not a dev team,  so an architect is needed.  Often, the architect is the only leader.

The pre-sales architect is very different. Castle in the sand. Imaginary buildings.

Update: I feel in the US I could become a lead developer, once I become familiar with a codebase, but any role that requires a lot of persuasion I’m not too sure. I feel if my technical grasp of everything is higher than the rest then it’s possible. It’s all relative.

social class]U.S. n%%chosen tech domain

I used to feel US is a less class-conscious society than China or Singapore. Anyone can make it in this “free”, meritocratic country. Then “insiders” tell me about the old boy’s circle, and the alumni circles on Wall St.

I feel in any unequal, hierarchical society, there are invisible walls between social strata. I was lucky to be an immigrant in technology. If I step out of tech into management, I am likely to face class, racial bias/affinity and … I would no longer be “in-demand” as in tech. Look at the number of Chinese managers in GS. Many make VP but few rise further.

Therefore the tech role is a sweet spot for an immigrant techie like me. Beside Tech, a few professions are perhaps less hierarchical – trading, medical, academic, research(?), teaching …

y a Chinese geek prefers NY/Ldn over other financial centers

1) On Wall St, many Chinese techies lament about glass ceiling. Many in their mid 30’s can’t move to leadership. Even if you have talent beyond technical,  even if you invest in non-technical areas, you may hit that ceiling.

Even among those who rose to entry level VPs, there’s a dearth of further promotions. I could be wrong, but i feel 2nd promotion is harder than the first. Indian techies and locals seem to be luckier, causing complaints among the Chinese techies.
Reasons? Factors? Root causes? Many say that in any hierarchical command organization the majority race would dominate the upper echelon, though I notice many exceptions.

Many suggest “inner circle” or “old boy’s club”. Do you get invited for house parties? Are you a fan of Superbowl?

I hear many techies say they prefer non-manager, pure tech roles to people-management roles. Some say the latter is stressful. I guess the former is easier “control-wise”. You finish “your job” and can go home and sleep well.

Some geeks are not keen/ambitious about manager roles, so they don’t feel the pain or the ceiling. So Wall St is perfect for them.

In Asia, a non-manager geek often feels threatened for survival…

2) Wall St (and Si Valley) rewards tech specialists better than other financial centers. Respected, not by some vague gestures or lip service, but by hard cash. See http://bigblog.tanbin.com/2011/07/specialist-vs-generalistmanager-spore.html
Remember the 4 stages of Contribution? An individual expert is valued /to the extent that/ she can “contribute through others” — some form of (knowledge) leadership.

3) On Wall St a geek can remain hands-on till 55 or 60. Less age discrimination.
4) the valuable and tough, ground breaking, money-making, really important technical work takes place in the trading hubs like Ldn, NY, or Chicago — Trend setters. If you measure the financial impact of an engineer (outside Si Valley), the hedge funds probably come out top but they employe much smalller number of techies than big banks. Anyway, most of the important work is in the trading hubs — upstream.

%%#1sustainable value-add(#1reliable career path):hands-on dev

see also letter to German (post)

Hands-on development, analysis, design, debugging, maintenance, prod support … I get things done. My job interview performance is even better than project performance.

I can do this till age 65, even though my memory will decline.

This is a typical white-collar job, knowledge intensive, and pays “reasonably well” in SG or China but “very well” in US and Europe.

All other roles I am less confident about, including management, Business Analyst, quant research, DBA, data analytics.

Given this #1 thingy, my future belongs to the US.

In SG, at age 50 if I’m given a programming job along with some 20-somethings, I’m likely to be more competent than them, but as Miao and Xiao An pointed out hiring managers may not give me a chance. The Singapore government won’t help me find a high-paying programming job.

KPI operational skills:under-valued #eg IDE…

I know Barclays (or any big bank) pays a VP salary to experienced developers. Would they pay the same for someone very familiar with IDE, CVS, automated build/release/test, script automation, back-up … lots of tools?

No because the latter skill is a commodity “operational” skill compared to the “creational” skill of a product developer. In a way, developers are a revenue center. Developers need analysis, design, deep experience, domain knowledge…

I feel interviewers ask too much about algorithm/data structure, problem solving, financial domain knowledge, and not enough about those operational skills. I guess in 50% of dev team there’s no one specializing in those infrastructure stuff, so every developer must pick up this skill, which can really impact productivity and trouble-shooting.

I think instrumentation skills (see other posts) are closely related to this.

return to sg as a West Coast programmer@@ too niche

Upshot: I feel the dev (coding) experience in West Coast would be even less relevant in Singapore.

Financial domain tech skills are considered niche. West coast is even more so.

A realistic scenario — what if I specialize in php or big data? Extremely rare tech roles to match the US salary. I think the 2016 Zaobao article  interviewed some of these techies.

The type of tech skill considered in-demand and “upstream” in the US (c++, quant dev, core java not non-J2EE..) is probably too niche in the Singapore context…

In terms of technical expertise (not management expertise) I think SG needs system integration “specialists” (I consider them generalists) in large government projects.

how effective is %%resume]NY^sg fin IT

* On Wall St, the battlefield is  the tech IV.
* In Singapore financial IT, the battlefield is the resume. I feel 70% of the battle is on the resume.

In Singapore, I have tried 3 times (2011, 2014 and 2015). Much fewer “senior” roles (i.e. 150k+); much lower chance of shortlist. I believe the competitors are way too many for each role.

On Wall St, Many friends (XR, YH, Mithun etc) all get many interviews without too much effort.


speak freely, westerner, humor…

Sometimes you feel tired of paralanguage-monitoring and self-shrinking – it can feel tiring[4] (for the untrained) to be always on our toes and to avoid sticking-out. Quiet people are presumably more comfortable with that but I'm not a quiet person (though I'm rather introspective or “looki”)

Sometimes you just want to, for a moment, be yourself, express (not in a loud, in-your-face way, but in a Passive way) your individuality and leave the judgement to “them”. I seem to have many family members + colleagues/bosses having that tendency, though each of them decide when to show it and when to Control it.

Humour is a decisive part of it. Some would say “No humour, don't try it.” I'm not humorous even though I find many words I speak somewhat amusing.

99% of the time I decide to “let my hair down” and speak “freely”, it has been a (conscious or semi-conscious) gamble since I have no control over the situation [1]. I suspect a lot of times the negative reaction in the audience couldn't be completely offset by the positive. Let's face it, if there's any trace of negative reaction after you say something, it tends to last a long time, even if the positive is much more. Especially true if the negative is taken personally like a joke about age or weight. Showbiz people like to take on those sensitive topics… because they can, but it's foolhardy to “try it at home”. You also see people communicating rather directly in movies and in publications, but it's an exaggerated/distorted version of reality. In reality that kind of speak is rare, shocking. It's like playing with fire.

In my (somewhat biased) perception, I tend to see westerners as less restrained, more individualistic, speaking-for-own-self, carefree, less careful, less rule-bound… This long list of perceptions would eventually lead to the American ideal of individual “freedom”, but that word alone would be oversimplification.

Experience — In my first 5 years of working, I was often the youngest team member. I didn't have to “image-manage” myself as a future leader. I rarely had junior staff looking up to me.

[1] major exception is the last few days on any job.

[4] I suspect most of us can get used to it, just like children getting used to self-restraint once in school.

stick-out, eccentricity, US vs Asia, high-flyer vs low-flyer

On 29 February 2012 02:54, LS wrote

Being direct, aggressive, loud is not what I meant by “sticking out”.  It is a work style.  It will help you push back, get attention, and not become an easy target.  Of course there are drawbacks, so it is just one of the work styles.  Not sticking out doesn't mean you have to keep low profile. 

What I mean is something completely unrelated to work.  A habit few or no one has, and make people feel it.  I will make up a couple of examples — you don't have them, I am just describing some examples.
1. If a person has to wash hand every 5 minutes during meal and therefore needs to pass other people when having a group lunch;
2. He eats very slow so people have to wait at group lunch.

I don't think there is any problem with sticking out unless you feel such kind of behavior hurts your career.  You may want to talk to the high-flyers around you to get some feedback.  Good luck.

Hi LS,

Hope your family is doing well in Beijing's winter.

I was thinking about the concept of keeping a “consistent” and harmonious appearance in the office, so that I don't look different from others. I now feel I don't want to change myself too much.

I feel many colleagues do show a bit of “personality” in paralinguistic (body language, silences, voice, hesitation…), email wording etc. I feel US big company culture is more relaxed and a bit more “individualistic” than Singapore.

There's an important backdrop though — Each colleague's rank in the office serves as the backdrop of the interaction. Many leaders do show a bit of unconventional personality. So do many high-flyers. Low flyers probably should not compare themselves with those.  I now remember in GS I was low-flyer and semiconsciously kept my head down. My team lead was abrasive, outspoken, loud (and aggressive) but he's a high flyer. Such a personality is very much liked by some, hated by others.

I now feel a fundamental factor why I developed my personal style is that I had been a relative high flyer in small companies for most of my formative years.

A basic (and rather relevant) principle is “if you aren't good at standing out, then don't stick out”. I have realized that after my initial rise as a 2nd-grade “computer wizard”, I am no longer good at standing out. In fact, my personal style is not welcome in a typical Chinese context, though more accepted in American context. In short, I'm not good at standing out. So it's very important that I don't stick out.

All my role models (like GS team lead, my sister) are in leadership roles, not necessarily management role. For them, being invisible isn't a good thing. But I also recognize many good leaders keep a low profile.

wit – increase chance of getting into US job market

For a developer from overseas, another skill valued by US interviewers is wit.

A lot of US interviewers really appreciate it. Many believe it shows an intelligent communicator, who gets things fast. Humor and wit doesn’t always cross borders. Takes a long time to learn the American way, though many US interviewers aren’t American.

If you delight your interviewer with just a little bit of ingenious humor and wit, it will be memorable and outstanding. Most of the time candidate’s wit isn’t ingenious, but some effort is worthwhile.

In US everyday culture, humor is prized more than in other cultures. There is a less hierarchical, more free-flowing, expressive, almost “selling” style.

You mentioned some colleague spending a lot of his personal time getting familiar with fantasy football? Same kind of thing.

strength/weakness ] sg dev talent pool

+++ core trading engine green field development, not just maintenance
+++ [d] java keywords and syntax nitty gritty
+++ [d] threading, data structure, STL
+++ [d] integration of MOM, dispatchers, queues, threads in a high volume design
+++ java and c++
+++ sybase
+++ [d] DB tuning
+++ unix
+++ bond math
+++ tibrv
+++ complex query
+ concurrent package
+ [d] low latency techniques + theory
+ swing
+ java mem mgmt
+ pre-trade quote pricing
+ trade execution, order matching
+ marking, pnl
+ design patterns

– greeks
– unix tuning for low latency
– python
— mkt data
— c#. Many candidates have c# and c++

[d = details]

specialist^generalist(manager), SG^NY #le2Ed

To compete in a knowledge-intensive industry, an organization needs specialists + good managers (what I call generalists).

In labor-intensive industries, specialists or knowledge experts are less important. Important roles (below the C*O level) in such an organization are effective managers. Singapore has a reputation for producing effective managers.

Singapore is trying to move off labor-intensive into knowledge-intensive sectors such as life science, research, high-tech design, high-tech manufacturing (such as chip making, where I once worked), education/training… The sector I know best is the Info tech (IT) sector. IT is often cited as knowledge-intensive, but the large workforce required in a typical IT project makes it more and more like a blue-collar labor-intensive industry. You don’t need top experts in a typical IT project. You do need good managers. They make important decisions, shape the team culture, create the communication patterns, select team members for each task, motivate and lead….

Now let’s zoom into a special sub-sector within IT. In investment banking, IT is relatively labor-intensive, with large headcounts. In contrast, quant and true front office trading roles are specialist roles — very few head counts but very high financial impact.

What I found recently in Singapore vs Wall St job market is — Wall St pays big bucks for both specialists and generalists, whereas Singapore primarily rewards generalists. Certainly there are quant and trading roles in Singapore, but I can’t qualify for those so I only focused on tech roles. On Wall St, there are a good number of well-paid developer positions — specialist positions, paid on par with entry-level managers (Some architects are paid like mid-level managers). Very, very few such roles in Singapore. In Singapore, well-paid IT roles are exclusively managers and high-level architects (largely hands-off). These generalists are no doubt important — they are important on Wall St too, and also in traditional industries. It’s easy to recognize their importance so they are well-paid.

I’m not a manager, and without substantial management track record. I’m more of a knowledge specialist (aspiring to an expert). That’s why it’s so tough for me to get a suitable job in Singapore.

y trading IT pay so high in US and also ] sg

I asked a few friends —

Q: finance IT pays 2 to 3 times the salary compared to other sectors. Initially i thought the person requirement must be much higher, i.e. the average non-finance developer probably can’t easily handle the job. To my dismay, just about any java developer can handle the job. You can learn multi-threading, MOM, … on the job. So why do they keep paying such high salaries?

A: profit margin is much higher in finance. Having qualified developers means faster time to market and more profit. Qualified means track record.
A: trading systems prefer a elite team of experienced guys, not large army of rookies. Average salary is therefore higher. Root cause is time-to-market. Tiny team of elites deliver faster.

A: At the senior developer level, trading system experience (track record) is very rare, partly because of the low head count in a lot of successful desks.

A: manager must spend the budget or get a reduced budget next year.
A: employer must pay high enough to keep the talent

A: Will (recruiter) said trading sys architect talent is scarce in S’pore. Globally, Battle tested architects are rare. Battle tested on trading system is ..rarer. Trading systems have additional characteristics such as (but not limited to) extreme time-to-market, extreme quick-and-dirty, instrumentation, manual override, “explain what happened”….

A: Y. Lin feels many of those high-end jobs are very specialized, with very few qualified local candidates

A: MS commodity trading interviewer said most local candidates don’t have the design experience — they only assist London or NY

A: Raymond feels some sectors (like web, or php) are over-supplied due to inflow of immigrants. System requirement is fairly simple compared to …. say Oracle or SAP — mostly used by large, well-funded enterprises. System is expensive and mission critical.

A: Raymond T also feels an IT service provider is bound by the price clients are willing to pay. Raymond gave examples of construction industry. These clients have a budget and won’t pay extraordinary prices, so the IT guys serving that industry get an average salary. Raymond said finance industry is unique IT serves internal business units and business unit decides how much (possibly huge) budget to allocate to IT. I would add that headcount is much smaller than a team in other industry. So finance IT budget is probably higher, and head count is probably much lower, therefore salary is so high.

A: Raymond T feels in other industries, IT salary is kept “reasonable” by specialized outsourcing suppliers who specialize in certain high-value sectors. In trading, I only know IBM and Sapient have such “practices” and they probably cost a bank more than hiring directly.

marathon – strengthen your(GTD+)lead in the pack#sg high-end

Y Lin pointed out those high-end jobs tend require specialized skills. I now feel concurrency is an example, in addition to —

latency – c++ is the default for extreme latency
latency – sockets
latency – market data
latency – java?
dnlg – math — better entry barrier, closer to business.
dnlg – jargons in FX, Rates…
dnlg – arch

real projects are completed in lowly tools like sql, java, C, scripts, but interviewers need to see much much more than those.

likability vs technical caliber

Q: Out of 10 colleagues in your team, suppose “Beth” is the 2rd most likable and “Yen” the 2nd least likable. How serious is the gap in their likability? Is Yen really that unpopular?

Perhaps Not. If you rank the 10 people in your own team, the 2nd least likable person (the “Yen” in my illustration) is probably not bad. Out of 10 colleagues, it’s rare to find a single person clearly nasty, or unpleasant. You may find the 6th through the 10th are all reasonable teammates and you have a hard time ranking them (but how about at a time of bonus/layoff ? ) If you look at the last ranked colleague (, perhaps he has a strong personality/self-centeredness, or she’s always too busy to help you when you need her, or she forgets/ignores your requests, or he is a bit aloof and cocky and not that warm, or she’s too loud, or he’s too nice with the opposite sex, or she’s working too hard and makes you look lazy, or he has less humor than others …

(By the way, for focus and clarity, i will disregard the important fact that any measurement used in such ranking is extremely vague. )

Another ambiguity with likability is, the colleague you rank in the 2nd half may be my favorite types of personality. Clearly, we should both remove personal “恩怨” — someone who helped me a lot i may not like, but someone who made me a lot of trouble i may find quite amicable and fun to be around.

Another ambiguity is cultural boundary. The “nice” personality in one culture is usually considered polite and welcome (probably not charming/endearing) in another, but some 2nd-half kind of professional guy in India is quite possibly viewed with admiration and attractiveness by some Europeans, for example. Note there are infinite types of 2nd-half personalities!

Another ambiguity — I may agree with you this guy is nice and polite, but in a secret ballot I just won’t put him in the first half of likability. Nevertheless I may elect someone not so nice because she accepts ME better and makes ME comfortable. Likability is something personal to ME, just like clothing.

In a twist beyond explanation, I may never invite the nicest colleague for lunch (perhaps he’s too perfect and way above me), but I do share lunch with a lot of colleagues less than “perfectly likable” — I call it rapport.

Likability becomes serious at review/promotion/bonus/layoff time but i think only the managers’ view counts.
It becomes serious when — you try to transfer internally.
It becomes serious when — you are seen as a go-to person, a helpful teammate — reputation. People would mention your name when they need or received (non-technical) help.
It becomes serious when — you need a massive help from someone.
It becomes serious when — you organize an event.
It becomes serious when — you ask people for a character reference.
If a colleague confides in you, that’s a sign of your likability. Does it buy you anything?

Now consider technical caliber of engineers. The effectiveness, personal contribution and value-add of the 2nd decile vs 2nd last decile is more significant and visible. The difference can be objectively assessed. A mediocre engineer vs an insightful or fast-learning or quality-conscious or clear-thinking or systematic engineer — real difference. It shows in the work.

That partly explains why the very nice people I know often make slow progress professionally, but “mad scientists” often move up on their strength of technical caliber. My view is biased. Unlike me, many colleagues believe it’s more important who you know than what you know.

How about business analysts, accountants, professional traders, researchers and salespeople?

humor in a manager

Now I feel humor is a universal tool and often a first-aid kit for a development team leader, esp. in fast pace, high pressure environments…
The higher one climbs, the more important humor becomes. Look at Obama vs. Hilary…
People say Asian managers are less good at it…
I’m not good at it. As a young engineer I was a bit flamboyant, rather unconventional, and sometimes foolhardy, but as a saving grace I was honest, reliable, quick and helpful to colleagues. I broke lots of rules. was somewhat fun to work with, but unknowingly offended countless colleagues, esp. in large corporations. In fact this is a key reason why I always feel uncomfortable in large companies with structures and protocols
Within such constraints, I find it hard to exercise whatever little humor I have.
By contrast, in smaller companies I interact with CEO or top level managers. They know my personality and accept me. As a result, everyone else has to bear with me. In such a “freer” environment, I would relax and a tiny trickle of humor flows.  
Humorous people are usually smart and smart people are usually humorous. For me, a third thing to make a trio is cool confidence.  Smart and humorous people are usually relaxed and confident. Cool and smart people are usually humorous.…
My sister is humorous, everyone agrees. Also very confident, and a mid-level manger in a large MNC.

if you have a technical mind

If you have a technical mind, financial IT (and Silicon Valley) rewards you better than other industries I know.

In Singapore, I worked (or know people working) in telecom, manufacturing, university R&D, online gaming, logistics, search engine .. These companies all “value” your technical mind too, but they don’t generate enough profit to reward you as trading shops do.

Raymond Teo pointed out the project budget for a big government project would be a few million, whereas the trading profit supported by a mid-sized trading platform would be tens of millions (possibly hundreds of millions)  a year.

Culture is another factor… what type of contribution is considered important and highly valued…

your job at age 55 if u r now an IT techie in your 30’s

To discuss percentages, first allow me to focus on a tiny group of male techies in Singapore — the only group i know.

Note: Manager roles can cover team size of 2 to 20.

— top n
40% Job: some job outside IT. These folks get out of IT before 55.
10% Job: company owner, CEO, country manager — #1 guy in an office.
5% Job: manager in “infrastructure support” (defined below [1]). These roles are similar and sometimes indistinguishable. Large systems need a support “team”.
5% Job: manager in app development AND app support. A standard combination.
2% Job: manager in app development, architect, PrjMgr, but without support responsibility. These roles are often combined. Compared to support jobs, such a dev role is rather tiring at age 55.
2% Job: pre-sales + professional service + trainer. Manager or foot soldier. These roles are often combined.

Other jobs:

Job: sales, marketing (manager) in a tech firm
Job: government officer, excluding infrastructure support
Job: full time teaching (IT) in private/public instutitions + some R&D.
Job: Business Analyst
Job: senior DBA, system admin or network admin, but not a manager. at age 55?.
Job: manager in product support. Only large product vendors need a support organization.
Job: full time R&D in public/private (large) labs + some teaching. R&D is always an “elite” activity.
Job: full time trainer
Job: writer + trainer
Job: recruiter. Some IT professionals are suitable for this role.

— Job descriptions above usually combine these job functions below, most of them project functions. Multiple project functions are frequently carried out by the same individual, since someone strong in one function can take up another function.
* function: pre-sales consulting
* function: business anlysis
* function: development + design + architect
* function: project management, implemetation rollout management
* function: professional service consulting
* function: engagement manager, account manager, onsite or offsite
* functino: testing

Functions below are not project roles, though the individuals in these functions also take part in projects.
* [1] function: infrastructure support serving internal users rather than external customers
** app support, after application development and rollout
** operations support
** web master,
** windows application support, such as email or Excel support
** DBA,
** network admin
** Unix/Windows system admin,
** email server support — Exchange, Lotus Notes…
** storage support
** ERM system admin
** CRM system admin
** mobile and remote access support — Citrix, Blackberry
** IT security admin

* function: product support serving external customers, often loosely known as tech support
* function: customer service, often loosely known as tech support
* function: sales support (not pre-sales consulting)
* function: marketing support
* function: training
* function: teaching
* function: research
* function: writer, editor, reporter, reviewer
* function: IT auditing

Most of the age 55 jobs are likely to *combine* these job functions.

US work culture encourages out-spoken assertiveness

(to be published on my blog.)
There are limits but US work culture is more expressive, liberal and permissive in terms of employee communications. 

I don’t have a lot of personal experience — this is just a casual observer’s personal bias — in this country workers are expected to protest, to complain, to argue (sometimes), to protect his/her self-interest. If you really push the limits (but not exceed them), you can earn people’s respect.
“Squeaky wheel gets the oil”

Not sure about China, but Singapore workplaces are more strict, more disciplined, more “uniform”. Workers are reluctant to push the limits, perhaps because the limits are not so pushable — they are more rigid than in US.
Compare to SG, In US it’s your job to get your job done in time, your job to get the support you need, your job to get rid of the road-blockers. The system (in many companies) is not as perfect and functioning as in SG companies. SG workplaces often present a well-managed, well-controlled environement, partly because subordinates are more obedient.
If you are unhappy, i think you can raise your concerns to your onsite manager, or your offsite managers. You deserve their attention.

US employers resistant to H1 candd

Hi XR,

Many overseas candidates feel discouraged. I think it is good to understand that reputable US employers (rightly) feel a number of resistances towards H1 candidates.

Resistance: verifiable track record in large, reputable companies is rare for many H1 holders. You are lucky to have UBS on your track record. As described in my earlier email, many Indian developers are lucky too. I feel some employers may still suspect an overseas candiate’s job duties, even in a large company like UBS.

Resistance: Tech questions — asked by US employers are tough for most Singapore developers.

When we gradually improve ourselves and slowly overcome any of these resistances, you will feel liberated. US is a land of opportunity. Grabbing these opportunities requires hard work and a positive attitude.

US work xp vs Singapore work xp


(to be published on my blog) Thanks for your questionnaire;-) over the phone. We went over some important topics today. To re-iterate some of my opinions,

I suggest you choose between only these 2 priorities
– find a partner
– spend a few months getting a job , any job, in US, and then look for a better one
* Your investment activities should not be a priority and should not be your focus. Such a focus is short-sighted.

I understand your highs and lows in terms of enthusiasm with dating. Once you fall off the horse, get back on and keep going. Don’t stop. Time is not on your side.

I now have many family constraints on my career choices. I used to see it as a burden but now I see it as a man’s duty. Even though I don’t seem to practice what I preach, I do feel “Family is more important than work.”  Family problems are more serious and more painful than job set-backs. Job compared to family is like a backpack adventure compared to a long long train journey or a financial investment program compared to a savings account. There are inherent risks in most careers, but family is something I grow with care and feeding.

I agree that any US work experience is well-recognized in other countries whereas Singapore work experience (including leadership experience) is seldom recognized in US. Many Singapore team leads come to US and take on non-lead roles.

Thanks for your story of the ex-colleague growing his confidence.
* I will work on strengthening my foundation and my confidence.
* I will work on understanding interviewer’s perceptions and growing my confidence.

Thanks for your detailed illustration of his stance on the company’s side whenever there’s a decision involving workers vs company. Good insight. I will learn this technique.

Thank you for your valuable insight about UBS “approved softwares”. I now see this  policy can leave programmers with a poor understanding of the internals of those “customized” packages.

avoid hands-on coding@@

It’s easy to fall into the trap — avoid learning hard-core development technologies when passing age 30. Many ambitious young men do that. They tend to think coding has no shelf-life.

I feel good about myself still learning hardcore coding.

I still believe my experience with enterprise app challenges (tx,cluster,perf,…) has value in 20 years.

I still believe tech zbs is more solid than PM skill. I could do a good enough PM job even without 2 years experience.