I’m going to be writing about my four months at one of the world’s biggest firms, Morgan Stanley. The firm was founded in 1935, they now have over 60,000 employees and over 1,300 offices around the world, including one in Irvine! I happened to be at work on their 80th anniversary! They were giving out free cake. Getting an internship at Morgan Stanley is ridiculously difficult, they accepted less than 800 students to their internship program out of over 90,000 that applied. I was lucky enough to be one of those 800, and was conveniently placed in my hometown, Hong Kong. I can’t go into the specifics of how they recruited me, interview questions, etc because of confidentiality agreements- but it was grueling. 3 rigorous phone-based technical interviews, and one in person technical interview at their headquarters as well as a thorough background check and acquisition of references from every job I’ve ever had. The experience taught me a lot: three new programming languages, enterprise grade code versioning technology, business etiquette in the Asian finance industry and how to effectively make use of the chain of escalation to name a few.
I was hired by an interesting team called Delta One Strategies or “D-1 Strats” for short, they took me out of the internship program and offered me a “temp” classification (more access, more pay, less guidance- essentially). The job of Strategists or “Strats” is fairly complex and broad- in some divisions it requires you to have a working knowledge of stochastic calculus, software engineering and financial engineering and more often is usually some combination of the three. Thankfully though, our team was only looking for software engineers with the willingness to learn a little about finance. The main responsibilities of our team was to make sure that all firm systems were working, the traders were getting the data they needed, servers were running, create new data functions and streams on request of clients and traders, and write software applications to mitigate risk and reduce inefficiency. Working at a big corporation is nothing like you’ve ever done before. They have a dedicated team of IT floor support technicians for every single floor of the office, a 24 hour internal global IT helpdesk, thousands of quality assurance and production management specialists and airtight security in every single aspect of their process- whether it be physical access to offices, virtual access to software systems and remote access.
While I’m not really allowed to talk about most of the work I did there, I can say that Morgan Stanley is definitely one of the most technically advanced banks in the world. They spend over US$4 billion on IT and technology per year, many see Morgan Stanley as more of a tech company than a finance company. They were after all the underwriters to some of the biggest tech IPOs in history: Facebook, Google, Netflix. Apple, and Cisco- to name a few! As an employee of the firm though, it really shows- the folder structure looks the same on every single machine, worldwide. They have a firmwide directory website that hooks into the phones and dealerboards. All the technology I was working on, was on the cutting edge. HTML5 websocket servers, push technology all the latest frameworks licensed, vetted, modified and ready to use. Firm systems in place for any possible request you might have: they even have a special web portal for requesting modifications to your chair. Their teams are extremely dedicated and really embody their culture. They are a very client-centric business. If a client requests something just as someone is about to leave the office, they will stay for however long it takes to ensure the client’s needs are met. Production outages are addressed in minutes. If someone at MS makes a mistake (like booking a trade a few minutes later than expected), they make sure to “do good” on the client and pay for the cost of the mistake.
My role was to build software to support the needs of the traders on our desk. Our desk dealt with “Equity Swaps” in the Institutional Equities Division. Essentially this is the process by which a hedge fund or institution that wanted exposure to a particular stock, could ask Morgan Stanley to purchase the stock, and if the stock price rose, Morgan Stanley would give them the profit, if it fell, they would pay the shortfall. Essentially, all this stock is just sitting there, and so other divisions are free to trade it away or lend it to other brokers. Anyways, I digress- I was contracted to build internal use only software, essentially the purpose of all the products I build was to mitigate day-to-day risk and reduce inefficiency. I would come into the office at 7am (more like 8, but I would try really hard to make it by 7!), and write code till about 11am, then have a progress review meeting with my team, then grab lunch (they had an awesome cafeteria that overlooked Hong Kong’s famous skyline – I once invited like 12 friends up there, heh!) After lunch I’d continue to work until around 7pm. Though, about two thirds of the time, I stayed till around 10pm because work was piling up and it had to be done. My weeks were typically around 80-105 hours long. This was relatively expected considering work culture in Asia along with the general intensity of working for an investment bank. One of my friends from high school was doing a very different internship at the same time for the investment banking division (it was really odd running into him in the café!), he was working as an administrative assistant doing things like cataloging receipts, and his desk of bankers would be working ridiculous hours like 9am-3am.
I made friends with a lot of really amazing people. My boss was a ridiculously intelligent Russian executive director with masters degrees in computer science and economics from Columbia. He started at Morgan Stanley New York over a decade ago, and was chosen to lead up a Strats team in Hong Kong. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, the other teams would refer people with questions to him because “he knows everything”. His boss and the rest of our team went out together a few times- and wow. The managing director of division took us out to an incredibly fancy, secret restaurant in the middle of a deserted bank. You weren’t allowed in without a suit or in formal attire, and it was essentially a very big set of apartments, each apartment had a dining table with over 20 seats, a restroom and a personal butler. He paid over US$5,000 for over 20 of us to have an 8 course Chinese meal and drinks. They treated me like an equal, asked me where I was studying, what I was studying- etc. I made friends with a vice president who was visiting from Japan who had a house here in Irvine. After the dinner, he took us to one of the fanciest bars in the area, a place called Sevva. Smack in the middle of the financial district, high rise buildings surrounded us. He ordered multiple rounds of drinks for the 20 of us (the legal drinking age in Hong Kong is 18, I’m not breaking any laws! :)) my colleagues and I got a little… for a lack of a better word… wasted. That’s when I became close friends with my British colleague, a really smart guy that wrote some of the machine-learning based automatic trading algorithms (MSET) in Japan. He was invited to work on the Strats team a year ago, he was juggling work and starting his own two side businesses. Finally, my “mentor” at MS was a very intelligent Frenchman, he taught me bash, Q and how to use Perforce, as well as helped me with personal issues I had while I was working. I had a rather complex living arrangement, and for a weekend had nowhere to stay, he helped me arrange firm housing and gave me time to leave during the day to go deal with that.
I had an amazing time working for Morgan Stanley- the team, the atmosphere, the amzing offices and the amazing pay 😉 It was a lot of fun and taught me a lot of new tech as well as a lot about finance.