Python, C++, and Other Languages That Pay Big in Finance IT

If you’re a technologist at an investment bank, which programming languages will maximize your earning potential? 

The question is slightly facile to the extent that most engineering jobs in banking require developers with proficiency in multiple languages. In addition, many programming languages pay handsomely; this isn’t a case of one or two languages far outpacing others with regard to related compensation. All that being said, in the context of financial IT, technology jobs with direct exposure to trading systems are typically better paid. 

The chart below shows median and 90th percentile salaries for technology jobs that were advertised by leading banks in New York City over the past 12 months. The information was drawn from Burning Glass, which collects and analyzes millions of job postings from across the country.

There are a few things to notice here. First, is that if you work in a front office job in sales or trading or investment banking, the salaries will look pretty low. First-year fixed-income traders and investment bankers are earning salaries of $85,000 in New York this year, straight out of college, and vice presidents (VPs) in investment banking typically get $170,000 in fixed pay at top banks… but even 90th percentile technologists are lucky to get more than $140,000.

With this caveat aside, it’s clear that you probably want to learn C++ to access the highest-paying technology jobs in banks. This makes sense: C++ is popular in high-speed trading systems, and it’s therefore more likely to come up in algorithmic trading and strats jobs than other languages. (It’s also required for trading systems architects, and it’s one of the hardest languages to learn: “The toughest programming language, fit only for the smartest people,” in the words of quant and algo trader Paul Bilokon.)

Surprisingly, perhaps, Python pays almost as well at the 90th percentile, likely as a result of its use in data science jobs. Long an overwhelmingly popular “generalist” language, Python is becoming more ubiquitous within highly specialized arenas such as machine learning and data analytics. Java (which Bilokon describes as C++ for dummies) pays relatively little by comparison.

We’ve added Kdb+ in the chart above, even though it’s a database rather than a language. At the 90th percentile, Burning Glass suggests Kdb+ skills pay well, but that C++ pays better. At the median, Golang pays best of all, but this is probably the result of fewer, more generously-compensated roles rather than lots of jobs.

A modified version of this article originally appeared in eFinancialCareers.