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Are KDB+ developers stuck in a "dead end career"?

Any software developer interested in algorithmic trading will likely already be aware of the database KDB+ (no affiliation to the Manchester City footballer, unfortunately ☹). KDB developers have the potential to earn big money but some developers feel like they've been sold a dream.

On jobs forum site Blind, a former Bloomberg engineer, now working at JPMorgan, shared his KDB career nightmare, feeling the "need to escape" from it. He said KDB was a "dead end career and I regret getting pulled into it." With three years of experience, he was earning just £65k ($80.1k). 

"The paradigms are just so different" he said, "and I'm sick of reading code that looks like a child mashed his face over a keyboard." He's certainly correct that the code isn't pretty; a real example of code given by him is "{@[(#y)#x[0]0#x 1;g;:;x[0]'x[1]g:.=y]}"

KDB is a popular trading database. Unenjoyable but effective seems par for the course with high frequency trading; C++ is notoriously difficult to work with. Learning KDB is still worth it, according to Paul Bilokon, an expert software engineer who has built advanced financial frameworks on Wall Street and in the City. He says a mastery of KDB and its corresponding language, Q "is essential for working with big and high-frequency data."

Contrary to popular opinion, Bilokon doesn't believe that KDB is difficult to learn, either. "As with every programming language there is a learning curve," he says, "but having invested the time and effort the developers will be proficient at kdb+/q." He positions it next to Python and C++ as the three most important languages for aspiring financial services engineers to learn. 

At the right employer, a KDB expert can earn insatiable amounts. A recent listing for a quantitaive developer at a hedge fund in New York specifies KDB and offers to pay a salary of up to $400k, asking for only 2+ years of experience. 

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Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: alex.mcmurray@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance. 

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AUTHORAlex McMurray Editor

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