More words, less code from quants

LinkedIn often gets derided. Somehow it’s become the home of that motivational post, which usually revolves around the seven traits of successful people. I’ve never quite ascertained, why are there only seven traits for successful people. Why not, for example eight traits, or perhaps nine?


The day of a successful person, according to these posts, involves some sort of masochistic schedule, waking up at 4am every day, as a prelude to running till your legs drop off and pumping iron, doing deadlifts with a bar loaded up with the weight of the world like a latter day Atlas, before consuming a breakfast of some inedible and yet inexcusably healthy food, before catching the morning train to work, and stumbling into your office dazed and confused, before 6am.


The work day consists of sitting in state of contentment motivating your colleagues, whilst simultaneously becoming a philosophical genius and reading self-help books, musing on what good you can do in the world. There are no lunch breaks, merely nutrition pauses, where you gulp down kale which has been liquidized, with a side of sushi and quinoa. There are no setbacks, there are no barriers, everything is some sort of miraculous mission you waltz through. Ok, I think you get the general picture about LinkedIn motivational posts. Strangely, none appear to point out that perhaps the route to success isn’t taking yourself this seriously, and everyone basically just muddles though in practice (just some more successfully than others).


Obviously, I’m being harsh, because by and large, LinkedIn has some great content, it certainly isn’t all unrealistic motivational posts. I’ve found a lot of interesting posts on a whole multitude of topics, related to financial markets and careers. One recent post, I found on LinkedIn, was a link to an interview with Goldman Sachs CEO, David Solomon which was posted by Igor Haperin. The gist of the interview was that Solomon increasingly finding it more difficult to find people with a particular skill: writing.


Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising. It isn’t that we’ve stopped using the written word, after thousands of years. The written word is more ubiquitous today than it was hundreds of years ago, when literacy was limited to a relatively small number of people. It is simply that the way we use the written word has changed. Both in and out of the workplace, we are consuming and also writing relatively short messages, whether they are in the form of text messages, tweets or e-mails.


I fundamentally disagree with the notional that quants, or indeed anyone who has studied STEM subjects can’t write or shouldn’t be expected to write. Writing is a valuable skill to have, whether you are writing documentation for your code, creating a pitch or simply expressing yourself. Writing is never quite as spontaneous as speech, but that is the point. Time helps words to form and mature in our mind during the process of writing. Perhaps coding could be viewed as writing, albeit a very particular form of creativity, where the reader is just very facetious, responding to errors in grammar with carefully guarded insults such as “segmentation fault” or “stack overflow”.


So how can you become a better writer? The best way to write is of course to read something which has been well written and to keep on reading. If your mind is saturated with the words of F Scott Fitzgerald, I’m not claiming you’ll suddenly be writing like one of the greatest American novelists, but I do think you’ll subconsciously improve the way you conjure meaning from the written word. Also take on board the criticism of others. It’s very easy to spend hours writing and to somehow miss very subtle ways in which it could be improved. Trying to hard when writing can also fail. Adding long words for the sake of it, does nothing other than waste the time of the reader.


So what are you going to write next?