Leaving a cushy six-figure job at Goldman Sachs

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:

  • Working in finance forces you to be adaptable and sharp. You might get thrown in the deep end but its all a part of the experience. You will struggle but it can be rewarding once you find your feet.
  • The money printer will be spraying notes infinitely. If you work in investment banking purely for the money, it will be very hard to walk away. Go in with clear intentions and be mindful of your motivations. Think of your exit plan before you even start.
  • The job might not empower you creatively to build out your ideas. If that is the case, you must learn to empower yourself. Don't let there be an ultimatum between your job and your side-hustle. Find a way to have your cake and eat it too.

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

  1. 2

    I can totally empathise with this. I used to work at an investment bank here in London and there was very little tolerance for doing something on the side.

    I switched to a tech startup and felt more comfortable being able to work on side projects in my own time. Mainly because I had my own laptop that I could code on (the MS job wasn't in engineering).

    The problem was I still felt some resistance from senior leaders, so I wasn't able to talk about my side projects openly on Twitter, never mind the office! Maybe they were really OK with it and I was being paranoid but I never truly felt comfortable working on a side project whilst having a full-time gig. That changed once I left and started contracting.

    But I think it can work if your employer knows that you'll be working on side projects (and building publicly), as seems to be your case.

    Freeing your creativity is an amazing feeling. Good luck!

  2. 1

    I was building apps, working decent hours and being paid generously

    Respect the hustle. A lot of people lose that hunger when the money printer goes "BRRR"

    Also checked out Tweetpop, looks neat. How you thinking to differentiate now that Twitter has this built in.

    I see your proposition speaks about engagement

  3. 1

    the money printer does indeed go "BRRR"


  4. 1

    Love that you're breaking free Sub - and agree bigco contract terms are very regressive in terms of side projects. If an employee isn't building something competitive, and still getting their day job done, then what's the harm? They also sharpen their skills by creating other stuff, and if it's successful enough maybe you can invest in them. Current system feels like a lose -lose situation.

    1. 1

      The harm is distraction and the cost of employee turnover.

      If a side project actually started to gain traction and do well, how many people do you think could concentrate on their duties at their day job and not be distracted?

      And if a side project really takes off, there is a high likelihood that person will quit which means they will have to incur the cost of recruiting, interviewing, on boarding, and training, a new person which is really expensive and time consuming.

      There is almost zero upside to allowing your employees to work on side projects. There might be a few unique positions where it could be beneficial to the employer but it's rare.

      1. 1

        Allowing employees to have side projects (assuming they're non-competitive) increases the number of talented people willing to join you in the first place, and means you can retain them longer. I think that's an attractive advantage over your competitors.

        1. 1

          We're probably talking about two different types of side projects. If the side projects you're referring to is going to increase the length of employment with their company, you must be talking about smaller projects that are maybe more creative, experimental, or innovative in nature rather than business/profit focused. Regardless of what the company policy is, for those types of projects, I don't think any employer would have a problem with them. Why would they care if there's no threat to them and only upsides?

          When a company says they don't allow side projects, maybe it's just a technicality their lawyers required them to include in the contract. If the side project has zero threat to them and will only result in all the benefits you're mentioning, I don't see why they would enforce or fire people over them.

          With your description of side projects, I'm pretty sure companies wouldn't care what their employees were doing in their own time regardless of their contract wording.

  5. 0

    You did not tell us what you are building and what original ideas you have...

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