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A Recruiter’s View: Much Demand For FPGA Skills in 2013

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2013 looks set to prove a dynamic year for hiring in the low-latency technology sector.  With a growing diversity in the “end user” space,  we here at Harrington Starr – a specialist financial IT recruiter – are predicting significantly increased demand for talent with the best candidates in high demand.  2012 has proved a very interesting year for trading technology with a skills shortage very noticeable in many niche and growing areas.  Low-latency technology has very much fallen into this category with Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) at the kernel.

Innovative systems that give advantage to the growing army of SME trading houses have driven demand and we see a real likelihood that sales professionals, developers, implementation consultants, support staff, business analysts and project managers with specific low latency skills will be the subject of fierce battles by vendors, consultancies and end users alike in 2013.

The need for low latency sales professionals is set to be a growth area as companies that have historically focused on low latency products look to gain market share within the financial services technology space.  Companies that have historically provided FPGA, ASIC and other low latency hardware to industries such as defence, medical, aerospace and even telecoms are building out financial services sales teams to sell products into tier 1 banks, prop shops and other end user environments.

The low latency space is built very heavily on partnerships and Harrington Starr also predicts a number of mergers and acquisitions occurring in 2013, similar to what has been seen in other trading technology providers in 2012.  This will see an impact in the hiring trends as companies look to either trim staff to make businesses appear more profitable or inject new employees into a business to increase wallet share of market.

There is a real skills gap within the financial services sector for the type of profiles that have FPGA experience as these engineers have typically worked in the defence, telecoms and aerospace industries where FPGAs have played a large part for some time.  Given that FPGAs have only recently been adopted within financial services, this has led to a mini-raid on these industries.

On top of this, salaries within the financial services space are proving substantially higher and thus much more appealing to those seeking a career move.  Salaries are typically 25% to 35% higher, alongside bigger bonuses.  Some hiring companies are, however, insisting on prior financial services experience and this is missing out on a significant and highly talented pool of candidates who can quickly cross train into financial technologies.

The real growth in the market has been seen in both the vendors and the end users, particularly by proprietary trading houses. Vendors, who typically partner with one another in order to provide a complete solution, have been building FPGA systems and then adapting them to create bespoke solutions for individual clients.

Proprietary trading houses are looking to build their own solutions in order to continue to give themselves a competitive advantage alongside the trading software that they’ve been using.  They often, however, lack the expertise in order to do so and as such look to the vendor market to find people with both the technical FPGA skills and the financial trading systems knowledge in order to build the FPGA infrastructure for the trading firm.

There have been a couple of high profile examples of FPGA Architects being poached from vendors by prop trading firms and this is likely to continue.  Similarly, the vendor space will expand, with the existing vendors all hiring as they take advantage of the current uptake by the end users with Finance.

We may also see new vendors being created as FPGA engineers from other backgrounds gain the trading experience.  There is already an example of a new financial FPGA firm being created by engineers with less than two years commercial experience out of university because they quickly gained the experience and noticed the lack of vendors currently on the market.

Harrington Starr are also predicting a rise in the need for people with project and programme experience as the uptake of larger scale low latency projects are adopted by end user environments.  The project knowledge coupled with the technical understanding of low latency trading is being touted as a high demand area for 2013.

It certainly looks like an interesting year ahead for both hiring managers and skilled professionals in low latency technology with significant opportunities set to present themselves for the most innovative companies.

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