From Wall Street to WordPress

I never thought I would have a “Wall Street” job. For starters I live in Kansas. It’s not exactly the financial industry wheel of fortune you are probably picturing. Secondly, at that time, I knew nothing about how markets worked. Na da. Lastly I am a computer hobbyist turned software developer, not a likely contender when pitted against CS PHDs for coveted high paying jobs at them there high-falutin’ Wall Street firms.

Against all this evidence to the contrary, one such company did hire me for a development position. It so happens they were running a trading system on the east coast from a quaint Kansas City suburb office park. Ever since I have been knee-deep in free market plumbing, doing what I can to keep the leaks to a minimum and the cogs of capitalism turning smoothly. It’s been challenging, rewarding, hair-graying, and one heck of a ride.

Being on a team that develops and operates a licensed US Stock exchange is simultaneously invigorating and horrifying. The stakes are big, the players are bigger, and the more you learn, the more you don’t know. During my five years we converted an ATS (alternative trading system) to an official US exchange, launched a pan-European trading platform, started a US options exchange, started a second US stock exchange, and bought then merged a competing European trading system. All the while carving out serious market share.

We had victories and setbacks, flawless execution and brain-dead mistakes. Pretty much the same things all endeavors undertaken by humans endure. We continued to thrive because of impressively dedicated and brilliant employees. No rock was ever left unturned in the pursuit of process excellence. I’m proud to have contributed in my small way to the underpinnings of what makes trading in a complex system work a little bit better, and I’m truly honored to have done so among such excellent company. Now I’m doing the one thing even more unlikely than landing this job in the first place. Leaving it.

I have no love or hate for Wall Street. It is what it is. The best I can muster after working to maintain its infrastructure is a feeling of bland disdain. Big picture wise moving money from one bank to another at lightening speed is hardly inspiring, technical challenges notwithstanding. The stock market is capitalism stripped bare. It is the business of making money with money, without all the pesky distractions of other industries like producing a useful product or service. I appreciate its purity in this regard, but it rings hollow for me in the meaning department. For as much time as I have spent studying it’s inner workings, I’m surprised to say I won’t miss it. I will miss the damn fine people working behind the scenes to make it run as smoothly as it does.

Now it’s time to mosey on down the road to life’s next adventure. I’m happy to say I have accepted a position with Automattic, and am honestly beside myself with excitement over what challenges lay ahead. I started writing Open Source web applications in PHP before WordPress even existed. Through the years I have continued to contribute to Open Source projects in my spare time, and it remains something I am passionate about. With this career change I feel like my professional life and personal labor of love are merging into one. I’m already dreaming about how it will all play out after the next five years.