"I left my job as a Goldman Sachs MD to work in AI"
It's been a difficult few weeks at Goldman Sachs as the firm slashes bonuses and cuts 3,200 jobs, but David Ha is well above the fray. Ha spent eight years at Goldman and became a managing director and co-head of macro trading in Japan. He quit in 2016.
"I felt kind of bored at Goldman," Ha tells us on a rare trip to London. "I was spending more time managing people than trading and for me it was more of a risk to stay there than to leave. I didn't care about the money anymore; I was idealistic, and I wanted to do something different."
Nearly seven years after walking away from Goldman Sachs, Ha is no longer known for his macro trading skills. In the intervening years, he has morphed into something entirely different. He's too humble to say so, but Ha is now one of the world's top researchers in artificial intelligence (AI).
After working in AI research for Google for six years, Ha joined London-based Stability AI as head of strategy last October. Usually based in Tokyo, he's in the city to meet his new colleagues. He's also on the lookout for recruits.
"We're hiring a business analyst and are looking for someone with experience in an investment bank or top consultancy firm," Ha tells us. "We've been hiring top machine learning engineers and research scientists and now have plans to develop sustainable business models around an open source foundation. Some of the brightest and most technically minded people still come from the banking sector. - Two or three years in IBD is a good training ground."
Investment banking jobs may be a good foundation for something else, but for Ha, AI is where the future is. Stability AI is developing open source deep learning models that can be used to convert text into images (of the kind at the top of this article), and Ha is evangelical about their potential. "Many of us can express ourselves in words, but AI enables a deeper level of abstract communication between people," he says. "It's facilitating a boom in casual human creativity. By keeping these tools open source, we prevent this from being something that only companies or people with the privilege of buying subscriptions can access."
Ha was a first mover in the AI space. He learned about the technology during the long lunch hours on Tokyo trading floors after the financial crisis and began developing machine learning models and blogging about his findings during evenings and weekends. His wife complained about his new obsession, but his future boss at Google read the blog and invited him to work in San Francisco.
Other Goldman MDs may want to take note. "Everyone in banking cares about money, but after a few years at Goldman I'd paid off my mortgage and was able to take a career risk," says Ha. "I never lived an expensive lifestyle. I spent my free time reading and learning. My savings at Goldman enabled me to be idealistic when I left."
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