Quant developers vs quant researchers: roles, demand and pay
If you're an aspiring technologist or mathematician looking to get into the quantitative finance space, you might be at an impasse figuring out which of the two primary roles you want. Most hedge funds and HFT firms have both quantitative developers and quantitative researchers, but what's the difference between the two?
Quantitative Researchers - The Mind
Anyone less enthused by elite level software development, who prefers innovative investment strategies will want to become a quant researcher.
In a webinar from Crypto research and analytics firm Profitview on getting into HFT, Mike Tsantekidis, a quant researcher at HFT firm Portofino Technologies said a quant researcher "is the one who investigates new alphas and new signals to suggest new trading ideas, and who amends existing ideas as the market changes"
Quant researchers have to be focused on the long term. "It’s not about coming up with something that works straight away" Tsantekidis says, "it's about coming up with something simple and seeing how results change as you tweak that idea, developing your intuition and coming up with new ideas."
Quant Developers - The Muscle
Having an effective trading strategy is all well and good, but without the proper infrastructure to execute it, what do you really have? That's where quant devs come in.
Tsantekidis says a developer "is more interested in the actual low latency implementation, getting as efficient as possible in the code from market data signal to trade signal."
The role suits technologists over pure mathematicians, as it comes down to fine-tuning code. Tstantekidis says that activities like "working on improving your rep socket feeds" have a reputation for being repetitive but says that "if you understand the complexity of the project quantitative developers handle, it's extremely exciting."
Quantitative Developers are more in demand...
If you're happy with either position and instead want to apply for roles in higher demand, quant development is the right choice for you. Quant research is saturated with candidates.
"If you want to be a quant dev you are in luck because everybody wants to be a quant researcher" says Debolina Agarwal, head of talent acquisition for Portofino. "I can’t tell you how many developers I speak to who say I’ve done this for a few years and want to move onto quant research."
Perhaps this adds some weight to the notion that quant development is the less exciting of the two. Agarwal says it's also a question of perceived prestige: "Many people believe developers are not more valued" than researchers but asserts that they "are equally valued."
That is one way to stand out as a candidate in the interview process. "If you tell a company you’re more interested in quant development," Agarwal says, "they will be more interested in you."
...And they pay better! (with a catch)
While some can slate the content of a quant developer role, they can't deny quant dev pay. Using the H1B Visa salary database we have collected the average salaries for both developers and researchers at three of the top hedge funds.
Quant developers earned higher salaries across the board at these firms in 2022. The differences range from just under $10k at Millennium to nearly $40k at Balyasny.
At all three hedge funds, developer hirings are fewer and further between. Two Sigma, a more science focused firm, hired six times as many researchers on H1Bs as they did developers. But this may simply be because really high caliber quant research talent is typically imported from overseas in the US.
The catch here is that these salaries do not account for seniority level. "Like-for-like hires in terms of experience levels are comparable on base," says Ben Goodfellow, a quantitative research and trading recruiter, "but you’d typically find that researchers who have tangible impact on PnL will earn higher in total comp."
Goodfellow says that, given that these kinds of firms "tend to hire the majority of their QR pool at a more junior level," those results are somewhat skewed.
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