Is a Slang programming job at Goldman Sachs a technology career-killer?

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Slang Goldman Sachs

If you work for Goldman Sachs, Slang is more than just the signifier of an informal word or phrase: it's the bank's very own programming language, devised by some of its most brilliant strats over two decades ago. However, depending upon who you speak to, Slang (short for Securities Language) is also a reason why working for the firm is a) incredibly interesting or b) a very quick way of ensuring you will never work anywhere but GS ever again.

Before you become a Slang programmer, it's therefore worth knowing exactly what you're getting yourself into.

"Slang is a single-threaded language that relates to SecDB, Goldman's risk and pricing system, which is effectively Goldman's object store," says one former Slang programmer who left Goldman last year. "Slang is sort of similar to Python," he adds. "- It's certainly no more difficult to learn." Because Slang was created specifically for use at Goldman, it comes with lots of features that have been designed for the firm's needs - like a proprietary calculating processing system called "Graph."

Some Goldman programmers say they love Slang. "I use Slang every day," says one developer working on the systems the firm uses to process its trades. "I would say I'm a specialist Slang developer. I love using Slang - the principles are aligned to Python, so I would say it's helped me as a technologist. I don't think it's been limiting at all."

Not everyone agrees. "Slang is like Python, but worse," claims a technology recruiter, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's not transferable. If you've been working in Slang and you leave Goldman Sachs, you have a lot less chance of getting a job somewhere else than someone who's been working in Java or Python."

Another ex-Goldman developer who now works for a rival U.S. bank also cautions against becoming a Slang specialist. "I coded in it for a few years, but in my opinion it's very career limiting and no one should do it for long. - You can take your Slang knowledge and work on the Athena or Quartz systems at J.P. Morgan or Bank of America, but those opportunities are quite limited."

One ex-Goldman Sachs trading technology developer who recently left the firm, says GS is alert to Slang's limitations and has been moving to Java as a result. "I started out coding in Slang, but the company as a whole has been embracing Java because Slang drives away young people who would rather work on mainstream technologies," he says. Goldman insiders confirm that the core booking and trading engine at the bank still runs on Slang but that new applications and interfaces are increasingly programmed in Java with hooks into Slang as necessary. "Java is integrated with Slang in what we call Java Slang integration - the integration is for using Java for what it's good for (multi threading, integration with other languages)," he says.

This might be why Goldman is current advertising only 29 jobs with Slang in their descriptions, compared to nearly 80 jobs with Java and 70 with Scala. However, with anything from 15m to 40m lines of Slang code already in operation, Goldman can't move away from its proprietary language completely. The 29 Slang-related jobs  the firm is currently advertising cover everything from data engineering to credit trading and post-operations regulatory reporting.

Some of the best technology and quantitative finance jobs at Goldman (in the "strats" team) still rely upon Slang though.  "If you work in the strats team there's tons of Slang about," says the trading developer. "They're very used to it and they like it." Ultimately, then you will need to make a choice: do you want to spend your career at Goldman Sachs, or do you not?

"Whether you become a specialist Slang coder depends on whether you see yourself building a career within GS or not," says one technology analyst at the firm. "If you want to stay at Goldman, becoming a specialist in Slang is not career-limiting at all because they really value expertise in this area. It is a great asset to have if you want to advance your career here or even to move within different departments. - For example, I know a lot of people in tech that moved to front office strats because they had great knowledge of coding in Slang."

If you think you might want to leave Goldman, he says it's a different matter: "It's not so easy to sell your Slang experience elsewhere."

Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: sbutcher@efinancialcareers.com

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