Last week marks the end of my time at Goldman Sachs. I'm writing this post to reflect on the reasons for leaving.
Let's lay down the context first. I'm a London-based engineer who likes to build web apps, and that's exactly what I was doing at GS. I've been working in the industry for 4 years and that includes 1 year I just completed at GS. I joined pre-pandemic and spent 6 weeks at the office before lockdown took effect. Since then, I've spent the remainder of my time working remotely.
Disclaimer: This isn't going to be a rant where I bad-mouth the company. I can only speak of my own experiences at the company, which haven't been bad. I know there are a lot of assumptions about working at GS because of what people hear from media outlets. I'll get a couple of things cleared up right away: No, I did not work 80 hour weeks or get bullied by managers!
An assumption that you're probably right about is that the money printer does indeed go "BRRR". In other words, employees are rewarded very well in comparison to the general market. This is an undisputed fact. Admittedly, the title of this post looks like clickbait, but you'll be glad to know that it's not exaggerated. My salary was indeed in the six-figure range (~100k GBP). I'll leave you to convert to USD or whichever currency is local to you. Regardless of exchange rates, even in an expensive capital city, that's a significant amount of money.
So, I was building apps, working decent hours and being paid generously. Why would anyone decide to leave a job like that? One answer is that most people wouldn't. Thousands of people choose to work at investment banks and stay put for a long time. This hasn't been the case for me so I'll try my best to explain the reasons for that. Since I'm posting this on Indie Hackers, some of those reasons might already be obvious. Don't worry. I haven't quit my job to become a full-time indie hacker. As epic as that would sound, it would be a naive decision for someone in my position. I'll still be working full-time and indie hacking as a part-time gig.
My interest in building products as an indie hacker developed after joining GS. I stumbled upon this online community and it opened my eyes to a whole new world of opportunity. The best thing about it is that once you fall down the rabbit hole, you start to see inspiration in every corner. This happened to me and I quickly realized it was going to be a part of my life. One of the reasons I decided to leave was after reflecting on my long term career and where I wanted to steer it. I pictured myself working in the corporate world for the next few years and couldn't see how it was going to keep me on the tracks I wanted to follow. I learnt that regardless of how convenient things are in the present, it's important to act with the intent to help your future self. Thinking a few steps ahead helped to push me over the edge.
Here's another caveat: investment banks are strict about what employees can and can't do outside of work. Reputation is important so they tend to play it safe to prevent things from getting ugly. For example, owning a personal business may not be allowed. This isn't ideal for those who want to create and sell digital products. Not to mention policies around intellectual property, but this is common in other industries too. In my opinion, prohibiting employees from pursuing their interests in the form of a side-business does more harm than benefit to both parties. It is an attempt to protect business interests, but it does so at the direct cost of the creator economy. As suggested by Tim Ferris, one way to go about this is to ask for forgiveness, rather than permission. But that's not sustainable and no-one wants to have their identity suppressed by hiding away their work. Out of the thousands of people who abide by these policies, imagine how many excellent ideas are unable to see the light.
It's not just about formalities. Culture is crucial for personal growth and success. Empowerment has a major influence on the actions people take. If people are encouraged to be creative and build out their wildest ideas, they will do just that. But if they don't feel like it would be acceptable due to cultural expectations, they won't. I'm not saying GS doesn't empower its employees, it does in many great ways. But it's not the push that I need to be able to build something on my terms. I like being creative and expressing myself through the work I do. If you take that away then there's not much left to motivate me.
I've talked a lot about exiting. What about the other side of it? Is the grass much greener? The alternative options are very important to consider. The last thing you'd want to do is jump ship and end up in another place that isn't suited for your needs. This is why I was very selective about where I wanted to work next. I didn't hate my job and so wasn't in a rush to leave. I took my time to find the right opportunity which ticked all of the boxes and only resigned once it came around. I was fortunate enough to find a strong match relatively quickly. I'm very glad to have gained experience in finance because its something I've always wanted to do. Now I'm looking forward to the journey ahead and excited to see where the road takes me.
Here are some final thoughts:
That's all for now. Feel free to ask me questions in the comments!
Follow me on Twitter to see what I'm building - @SubhavGautam