Golkin took the leap from Wall Street to tech, deciding to stay in New York City.
Golkin took the leap from Wall Street to tech, deciding to stay in New York City.

Greg Golkin went to work on Wall Street straight out of Wharton in
2006. A sharp-as-a-tack Upper East Side native, Golkin, 30,
knew that if he worked hard, success and wealth were his for the
taking.

But after tours at investment firms and hedge funds, he jumped ship to
the uneasy waters of tech.

“After years of advising and investing in interesting companies, I had
an irresistible urge to build something,” he said.

Golkin’s path symbolizes both Mayors Bloomberg and De Blasio’s hopes
for the new direction of New York entreprenuership after the financial
crisis. Greg left banking in June of 2008 and then spent three years
at a hedge fund before teaming up with his college buddy,
an engineer, to create an education start-up, Thinkbinder. He says
working for a start-up has very little in common with working on Wall
Street.

“In finance, I was part of large, well-oiled machines,” he said. “The
business models of these companies are strong and clear, and everyone
in the food chain represents a defined cog. A startup, on the other
hand, is more like controlled chaos, with every employee shouldering
multiple evolving roles and responsibilities while trying to ignore
the constant threat of failure.”

Golkin’s start-up developed educational tools like online study groups and resources for organizing class materials. It was acquired last year by Echo360, a Virginia-based
education tools company back by Steve Case of AOL. Greg now works
under Echo360 as Head of Platform Innovation, and his engineer buddy
moved over as well.

Everyone from the mayor to real estate brokers to business leaders
says tech is taking its place as a leading sector in the city’s
economy. But the constant threat of failure that plagues the average
tech pioneer hangs over the whole city as well. The state comptroller
estimates that there are 100,000 tech jobs in New York, though
estimates from a joint study from Citigroup and Google put the number
at more than twice that.

Tech has yet to influence the city in the style of Wall Street.
Its city stars have yet to throw down the big money that feeds city
institutions. New York does not yet have its hospital wings named
after tech giants, like UCSF’s after Marc Benioff , the founder of
salesforce.com. Tech enterprenuers are not yet political players in
the city, though the Financial Times reported in October that Google
had surpassed Goldman Sachs in political donations.

Still, Golkin says it’s a more exciting place to be.

“I think the energy is more palpable in NYC tech than on Wall Street
because techies are generally unified by passion–specifically, for
bringing ideas into the world–while financiers have more varied
motives.”

Tech and Wall Street jobs are not totally fluid, but the city’s tech hopes may rest closer to Wall Street than either sector imagines. Both Wall Street and tech are after the most skilled computer programmers, traditionally centered in Silicon Valley, and both in New York have an interest in attracting them to the city. Wall Street firms are now recruiting heavily for programmers and computer scientists as quantitative analysis rises. Goldman Sachs’ technology division is now its largest, the Times reported Friday, and its number of programmer-banker hybrids has grown almost by half in the last five years.

Banks and big tech tried to lure Sharif Corinaldi, 36, after he finished a PhD in physics at Berkeley this year focused on machine learning and artificial intelligence. Pre-crash, Corinaldi worked at Bear Stearns straight out of undergraduate computer science at Brown, then decided he wanted to learn more math. When he didn’t get a spot a top hedge fund spot, he decided to model on his own.

“I’d rather work on my own, I find it to be easier for my tastes,” he said. He says he is driven by money, but also by the capacity to work independently. “There’s a bunch of things I could be working on,” he said, “but I chose this because I think it’s probably the easiest and most efficient way to make enough money to stop working without being, you know, like a teacher, like real work.”

The sheer critical mass of Silicon Valley’s culture and talent has
yet to flower here, but New York’s strongest offering to techies may still be Wall Street gold. Wall Street salaries are still higher than tech companies.

Golkin says he needs a vibrant scene to thrive in
start-up land, and to some extent misses out not being in Silicon
Valley.

“I am certainly in the camp that believes that a startup needs to be
in the right ecosystem to be successful,” he said. “Founders need the
support that is provided by networking, chance meetings, and a culture
of creativity.”

Greg’s leap has paid off. But he is still in the minority among business school and Ivy League graduates, who still head to finance at a higher rate than tech.

“The idea of career risk-taking is not as natural in New York,” Golkin
said, “and I would credit that to Wall Street, where employees know
that if they keep working hard, wealth and success awaits.”