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Traders Who Can’t Code May Become Extinct, Goldman’s Tech Pioneer Warns

Sonali Basak

(Bloomberg) -- Just how important will the ability to write computer code be to a successful career on Wall Street?

According to R. Martin Chavez, an architect of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s effort to transform itself with technology, “It’s like writing an English sentence.”

As Chavez prepares to leave the company, the onetime commodities staffer who rose to posts overseeing technology and ultimately trading is reflecting on his “26-year adventure” in the industry. “The short, short description of it is making money, capital and risk programmable,” he said in a Bloomberg Television interview to be broadcast Friday. “There are certainly many kinds of manual activities that computers are just better at.”

Chavez, 55, outlined strengths that can help humans stay relevant, such as their relationship skills and ability to assess risks. Yet he predicted that longstanding career dichotomies on Wall Street, like trader versus engineer, will go away. To keep working, people will need both of those skills. Even money is going digital, a shift that goes far beyond cryptocurrencies, he said, pointing to the success of Stripe Inc. as an example of creating new ways to move funds.

Stripe, for its part, has become one of the most valuable companies in Silicon Valley.

Mom’s Advice

Once Chavez leaves the bank at the end of the year, he plans to focus on “programmable money” and spend time thinking about and investing in “programmable life.”

In many ways, his career to date illustrates Wall Street’s own evolution. He was early in combining traditional banking activities and engineering, honing skills in the 1990s that companies are now vying to bring into their top ranks.

He was also openly gay at Goldman Sachs at a time when it was virtually unheard of. And he’s Latino, a group particularly underrepresented across Wall Street’s leadership.

His mother used to tell him that he would have to work twice as hard to be successful -- which he called “excellent, excellent advice.” Ironically, something that helped him in his career, he said, was being able to speak Spanish in his job.

His mom also coached him not to get wound up by what other people say. He said the lesson he took from one of her mantras, “Que digan misa,” was that “I’m just going to do what I know is right, I’m going to do my thing, and trust that it’s going to work out.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sonali Basak in New York at sbasak7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael J. Moore at mmoore55@bloomberg.net, David Scheer, Steve Dickson

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