| 1075 words

One thing I've found somewhat surprising as I transitioned from my student to a corporate job is the way they approach philanthropy. Not every company most likely, but the industry I ended up in is a little unusual.

So for those who don't know, I live in Chicago because I got a job there. The reason my job is in Chicago is because Chicago happens to be a big trading and finance hub, and I was hired by a finance company. It's home to a massive commodities exchange, the CME or Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and there are a lot of finance companies that are headquartered here for that reason. When I started, I didn't really know anything about finance or what to expect, but I vaguely pictured something like The Wolf of Wall Street.

I think one big misconception is that the entire industry is filled with shady backroom deals and openly flaunting the law and paying massive fines in order to rake in even more massive profits. After all, the big Gamestop stock incident was partly caused by these companies and the way that they bent the rules in order to make more money. A bunch of cigar smoking white collar criminals scheming new ways to screw over the average guy who wants to buy some stocks and coming away with billions.

Now, I'm sure there are places that are more sleazy, but the place I work at doesn'y really operate that way. As you can imagine, this industry is extremely heavily regulated, with regular audits and heavy fines for misbehaviour. But more than that, the kinds of people working here aren't really out of touch lizardmen who do cocaine as a hobby.

That's kind of what I wondered going into this, what kind of people end up in this kind of high intensity role, casually buying and selling millions of dollars of stocks as a day job (I don't do that part, I just just do stuff with computers). If you sufficiently dislike capitalism and think that institutions like the stock market are evil, it might make sense to conclude that the people involved care only about money and their own financial gain. Not unlike the stereotype of the sleazy finance douche working on wall street.

To my surprise, most of the people here are really just motivated by the challenge. They have backgrounds in advanced math and theoretical physics, and if you know anything about that brand of nerds it's that they require interesting puzzles. They need them like a fish needs water. I'm sure the money doesn't hurt, and it is significant, but it's not the ultimate thing driving them. There are very few other roles like this where the mathematical models you create have a direct impact on your performance, and you the feedback loop of seeing how you did and getting a new problem is incredibly short. If you work at google or microsoft and reduce the loading time by 1% that's cool, it might get noticed in your annual performance review after it's been reviewed by 3 different commitees. Here, if you make the trades happen 1% faster you'll know if it worked by lunch and you'll be complimented on the extra profits you created by the end of the day. It can be absolutely thrilling when it works.

The next thing I noticed is what all these nerds end up doing with all these massive amounts of money that the end up making. Again, the finance bro stereotype might be to gamble it all away or spend it on drugs, but that's not what I've found here. To my surprise and delight when I first started, companies like these make extremely bold charitable commitments and follow through on them. This is not just the executives donating a few million to their own foundation as a publicity stunt - there is a whole culture around giving back and volunteering.

I can't speak for other companies, but in mine there are full time positions filled with people who's job is to find the best charities to donate to and the best volunteer opportunities for the employees. I recently volunteered at an event where 25 of our employees met with a high school class and they interviewed us and asked for advice. Not just that, but our charity director liked the organization so much we funded them for a year as well.

Sending 25 employees away for 3 hours in the middle of the workday is a pretty serious commitment. That's 75 hours of labour the company is ok with missing out on for the sake of charity. More than that, we weren't assigned to go. All the people at the event were a lot like me: they loved kids, enjoyed teaching, and regularly volunteered for stuff like this. They all chose to help out because they believed in philanthropy.

I think this is what surprised me most. It's not a few lone billionaires giving away their money to make themselves feel better. It's an entire culture of giving back and caring about the community that somehow we have cultivated and grown as a company. There's regular volunteering events that are quite popular, a matching of charitable donations, and a willingness to help out.

Again, I'm not sure if this is typical to the industry or specific to us but I would love to know. I think that more than all the other benefits and pay, this is what draws me most to this place. It's exactly the kind of volunteering and getting involved I tried to organize for myself in university, but now it's handled professionally by someone who has much more resources to find the best and most impactful ways to help out the community. Lots of it is focused on education as well (we have a partnership with Room to Read) which happens to be one of my favorite causes. I love that I have easy avenues to volunteer to teach underpriveleged children coding or to help impart advice to students about to graduate.

Anyway, I'm just glad I've ended up in a place that aligns with my own values so well. I hope that wherever I may find myself in the future, that trend will continue.