I got a great job at a Hong Kong crypto fund. Here’s why I turned it down

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I’m a senior developer in Hong Kong and have spent the past 12 years working for several global banks in the city. Late last year I was getting bored in my role working on trading systems at a US bank and I started looking around for something new. I eventually moved on (to another US bank in 2017) but not before I’d received a job offer from…a crypto hedge fund.

The technical side of the crypto job was great because it involved designing a platform from scratch. Greenfield tech work is always more interesting, in my opinion. While I’ve been working on pretty leading-edge equity systems for the last few years in banking, all these platforms were already built before I started.

I turned down the crypto developer role not because I thought working in a controversial sector like crypto would tarnish my CV (I could have easily got back into banking) but because the firm was offering me less money. In Hong Kong, it’s easy for good developers to move between banks and pick up a pay rise of at least 15% (I got 20% last year), so shifting roles even on the same salary is practically unheard of.

The crypto fund made vague promises about large future bonuses, but not even being able to match my salary was a deal breaker for me (I’m in my 30s now and am getting more risk adverse).

I will say, however, that I was impressed with the ‘relaxed’ culture of the company, which I picked up on even in the way the interview process was structured.

When big banks hire developers, they typically get you to do several complicated time-limited coding tests in their office or online. In both cases you are supervised by a senior developer and might have less than an hour to solve a problem, so the whole process is pressurised and unpleasant.

The crypto hedge fund gave me four days to come up with a coding solution at home, and the problem I was given was easy. I had to write a program that could connect to an exchange, and then get market data, manipulate it, and send buy and sell orders. It was pretty simple logic for an experienced developer like me and I was under virtually no time constraints.

From a tech perspective, the crypto firm did this to find out whether or not I could write nice, clean code without any distractions. But the interviewers also didn’t heap pressure on me because they wanted to come across as unthreatening – they wanted me to like them to increase the chances of me accepting a job offer.

Crypto funds (like all startups) don’t have large hiring budgets like banks do, so they can’t afford to stress out candidates during the hiring process. They have to play their trump card: ‘working here is more relaxed, so you’ll enjoy it more’. The firm also took a short time to make a hiring decision and only did one coding test. Again, that’s because it can’t afford to be as fussy as a bank if it’s not paying as much.

I wouldn’t completely rule out joining a crypto hedge fund in the future if the sector takes off, but I think developers like me generally need a strong push factor to leave a bank (e.g. you hate your job or it’s under threat of redundancy) to make this move at the moment.

Astrid Fong (not her real name) has been a Hong Kong-based developer for 12 years and currently works for a US bank, which she joined in 2017.

Image credit: egal, Getty

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