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FPGA engineers: the specialists earning $200k salaries in trading

Software engineering might be the most prolific job in financial technology, but it's by no means the only type of engineering role out there. Hardware engineers working on powerful processing units like FPGAs and CPUs are well respected and, at the right firm, can earn a lot of money.

Using FPGAs greatly increase the speed of data processing, turning nanoseconds into picoseconds, but traditional programming languages like Python and C++ won't do the job, you'll need to learn VHDL or Verilog. These are incredibly niche languages: VHDL barely makes it into the TIOBE Index, while Verilog doesn't make it in at all.

A lot of firms rely on third party service providers in this domain. Metamako for example is a subsidiary of $49.2bn valued technology firm Arista Networks, and provides FPGA products to financial services firms. In a 2018 interview, co-founder David Snowdon said, "most of the large high frequency trading companies use Metamako equipment."

There has been a big push to have these hardware engineers working internally, however. On the sell-side, Goldman Sachs pay their FPGA strats highly while on the buy side, Maven Securities, and Optiver see them as integral to their tech operations.

David Snowdon, who first got into the hardware profession by working in the automotive industry on solar car racing, has said "what [FPGA engineers] are really looking at is boiling a problem down to its core." In building hardware that is solely designed for one purpose, they are able to maximize performance. 

Being an FPGA engineer pays. On the H1B visa salary database, FPGA engineers at Citadel Securities and DRW Associates are on $200k salaries in 2023 in Chicago and New Jersey respectively. In London, you can earn £150k ($186.3k) based on open roles at eFinancialCareers. 

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Have a confidential story, tip, or comment you’d like to share? Contact: alex.mcmurray@efinancialcareers.com in the first instance. 

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AUTHORAlex McMurray Reporter

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