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The Great Career Debate: Google Versus Goldman

Publication Date: 
October 31, 2013
Kimberly Weisul

Rock Center Fellow Vivek Wadhwa debates the merits of working in technology versus finance in Inc.

Where should our brightest mathematics, engineering and physics students head upon graduation? Vivek Wadhwa and Robert Shiller debate.


They’re the great match-ups of our time. The Yankees versus the Red Sox. Macs versus PCs. And perhaps, Google versus Goldman Sachs.

That last duo was the subject of a debate at The Economist’s Buttonwood conference in in Midtown Manhattan yesterday. Serial entrepreneur, academic, and vice president of innovation and research for Singularity University Vivek Wadhwa took the side of Silicon Valley, with Google as its exemplar. Nobel Laureate and Yale University professor Robert Shiller spoke for Wall Street and in particular Goldman Sachs -- even though the firm was described by the emcee, tongue-in-cheek, as the "giant vampire squid."


In a show of hands before the debate, about two-thirds of the audience were ready to steer that graduate to Googleland, prompting Wadhwa to remark, “I thought this was going to be hostile territory." Shiller quipped, “Are we sure this is The Economist conference?”


Wadhwa began by launching into the myriad recent sins of the financial industry: credit default swaps, a housing bubble, and widespread economic meltdown, for starters. He contrasted those debacles with the many promising initiatives from Google, in addition to its search capabilities: Google Maps; a driver-less, and potentially accident-free, car; and Google Loon, an attempt at bringing broadband internet access to the most remote areas. “Google is changing the dynamics of cities, changing the dynamics of life,” Wadhwa said.


Wadhwa then boldly expanded his argument to encompass pretty much all technology, anywhere. Between robots, nanotechnology, and increased computing power, he said we are on the verge of solving “the grand challenges of humanity.”

“Would you rather have your children engineering the financial system creating more problems for us, or having a chance of saving the world?” he asked. “It’s a binary thing. I can’t believe I’m even having this debate.”


Wadhwa countered that recent financial innovations, such as PayPal and crowdfunding, have been more likely to come from Silicon Valley than Wall Street. He also claimed that the costs of starting a company have become so low that investment bankers are hardly needed to support them. “If we cut the supply of bankers to the financial services industry for the next 30 years we would do just fine, thank you,” he said.

Gregory Ferenstein, a writer for TechCrunch and one of the moderators, then asked if there was any good in the great majority of the finance industry. Wadhwa answered a flat no. Shiller was more nuanced. “It’s a technical system,” he allowed. “And some people who merely trade… they don’t look good at all. But it’s part of a system that overall brings us modern civilization."