Wall Street twentysomethings are playing the most sophisticated, dynamic, immersive game in the world. Here's how it works -- and why your job might soon turn into a massive multiplayer experience.
It's just past noon on a Friday and I'm on the fourth floor of a skyscraper in lower Manhattan watching numbers rise and fall. The place is teeming with them--numbers by the screenful, screens everywhere you look -- but I've been told to pay attention to just one in particular, and what's really important is that I'm supposed to say something if it goes above 1,238. I'm not yet sure why.
I'm here to watch my roommate work. I realize that might sound insipid, but my passive curiosity about his job -- he trades complex equity derivatives for a "bulge bracket" bank -- has metastasized over this past year into something closer to devastating envy as I've seen him come home, day after day, buoyant and satisfied. I need to know what the hell goes on down here. I need to find out why, of all the fledgling professionals I know, he seems to be the only one genuinely delighted to go into the office every day.
Quickly you get the sense that something strange happens in this room. There must be three hundred people within eyeshot, all but a handful of them healthy, handsome, well-dressed men in their mid-twenties or early thirties. (My friend points at various colleagues around the room: "Triathlete; runs marathons; hardcore cyclist; marathons; marathons..."). They look less like they're working -- reading e-mails, say, or putting together a slide deck -- than calmly responding to a crisis. Maybe it's because they're wearing headsets and their heads are darting from screen to screen the way lizards' do and their keyboards are unusually colorful and they're talking fast like Aaron Sorkin characters in an incomprehensible argot as streaming real-time line charts flicker loudly in their faces. It's like a mission control center.