Why this computer scientist left Two Sigma for a buy-side fintech firm

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Nico Kicillof seemed to have it made. He worked at Microsoft for eight years before landing a top job at quantitative hedge fund giant Two Sigma, where until recently he worked as a vice president of engineering and the head of software development lifecycle. Dream job? Well, maybe not.

Last month, Kicillof decided to leave the quant fund, which ranked third on our list of the hedge funds everyone wants to work for this year, to become managing director and the head of platform engineering at Axioma, a risk management and portfolio construction technology provider. He’ll be working on firm’s data-ingestion and processing pipeline, analytics software and cloud-based products and services.

As well as holding a number of engineering roles at Microsoft and Two Sigma, Kicillof was also a professor of computer science and the deputy head of the department at the University of Buenos Aires for six years. He’s also an entrepreneur at heart who founded three companies.

“I got the software position at Two Sigma [thanks to] a former teaching assistant of mine was working there,” Kicillof says. “They were looking for someone to lead their software development lifecycle for the whole company, manage the team and grow it, and this person who had worked for me at the university was a part of that team, so they contacted me."

Interestingly, the cultures of the two firms aren’t as dissimilar as he thought they’d be.

“Coming from a tech firm, it wasn’t that different in terms of culture, in terms of the profile of people over there,” Kicillof says. “Of course, the business was different, as was the software I developed working on the platform – Two Sigma was very similar to being at a tech company, despite the different business model.

So it wasn’t culture shock. What could have convinced him to leave such a sought-after firm that reportedly pays a lot?

“I’m all about people and helping them grow their careers, encouraging my team to grow professionally and contributing to innovation working at the company,” Kicillof says. “It’s great to work at a smaller company that gives people the chance to grow their scope and have more leeway for innovation without stepping on each other’s toes, not that Two Sigma wasn’t fostering innovation.

“It is a larger company, with more rigid structure, so if you tried to think outside of the box and propose to do something that was not necessarily part of your role, then you’d run the risk of working on something that someone else owns and has been thinking about and had a plan for,” he says. “Here there’s more room to innovate and try new things – I have the ability to come up with my own vision and the opportunity to have more impact on the company, how it operates and providing services to our clients."

Photo credit: AlexLMX/GettyImages

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