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This Is Uncomfortable
Commentary

High-frequency trading: Bad for markets… and the soul?

Marketplace Contributor May 21, 2012
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Like many people in this country, I grew up in a world that equated success with money. I read Ayn Rand and subscribed to her idea that your worth to society is perfectly measured by the amount of money you earn. I followed the path of least resistance and with degrees in computer science and finance, I wound up in high-frequency trading in 2009.

I thought I was happy. While the economy was falling apart, I was getting rich and so was everyone around me. Then last spring, the test came back positive — my wife was pregnant. Suddenly I found myself thinking how I would explain my job to my future daughter. What exactly did I do to make so much money? What exactly was I doing to add value to the world? After two years in high-frequency trading, I could see how little value it actually created. And I saw first-hand it was nowhere near enough to offset the damage it wrought — where computers create whipsaw volatility and fortunes are made and lost in milliseconds.

I knew in my heart that I was nothing more than a leech, regardless of how impressive my trading algorithms were. The brain drain that sucked so many smart and talented people away from noble pursuits and into financial services to earn their fortunes made me question the very foundation of my economic assumptions. I decided to leave the industry and find a new path. My passion for start-ups had been with me my whole life. I found myself craving the challenge of creating something new and the rush of excitement when something you’ve built resonates with other people. I knew it would be difficult to quit my job in a terrible economic environment, start a new company, and have my first child. But in my heart I knew it was what I wanted. When my daughter was old enough, I wanted be proud to tell her what I’ve done, and even prouder to tell her that no matter what, she must follow her passion in life like her father did.

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