November 11, 2021
Posted on 14 November 2022
Are you a junior engineer interested in the domain of Low Latency development, but not sure where to start? Read on…
Source Control surveyed 100 experienced engineers in the Low Latency space in the hope of building a consensus about how those new to the space can advance their careers faster.
We also spoke to industry expert Peter Lawrey, who gives some great advice on progressing your career, the areas you should focus on, and the mindset you need to grow your career.
“Low latency begs the question: if you can speed up a program by 10,000x, why don't people do it more often? Usually, it's because there is no need to, but don't fall into the mistake of assuming it's not possible, just because you haven't seen it.” - Peter Lawrey
Our survey found that there were three main reasons why junior engineers should look to move into this lucrative sector.
Over 80% of participants said that the technical challenges in low latency are a key draw for engineers looking to move into the space. Overall, the survey shows that Low Latency is a demanding space, but is also an interesting and lucrative challenge for those with the right mindset.
It’s no surprise that salary is listed as a key motivator. Engineers in London with just 1 year of Low Latency domain experience can expect to achieve a starting salary of between £60,000 - £80,000 based on current market rates, with this rising well beyond £100,000 after just a few more years, partly as a result of the concentration of roles within Financial Services, and because of the niche domain and shortage of talent in the space.
When you enter a low latency job, you’ll be working towards a career with incredible job satisfaction that both challenges and engages you.
As you create a path for yourself and set new goals, what size of company should you look to grow your career with?
The overwhelming majority of our survey respondents were in agreement that a small company (between 50-100 people) would be the best place for development for a junior engineer, in fields such as High-Frequency Trading and Investment Banking and Exchanges.
This is despite the fact that most engineers find themselves moving into the space via the Graduate schemes of larger investment banks and institutional finance!
For Peter Lawrey, developing your career in lower latency is all about having the right mindset that reflects the needs and opportunities of an organisation:
“Low latency systems require technical solutions where performance matters. In fintech, for example, you can help the business make more money, rather than just find ways to reduce cost.”
He recommends analysing the performance of your system and trying to make it more consistent. Also, Peter says that junior engineers can learn valuable lessons from the practices of senior engineers:
"Senior developers tend to measure by how many lines and libraries they removed. Low latency systems go fast by doing less, so it’s about taking out all the things applications don't need to be doing (accidental complexity) that now only makes it faster but more maintainable".
For Peter Lawrey, developing the speed of your systems is key:
"In low latency systems, you have interaction between humans and computers. Instead you want it so fast a computer wouldn't know the difference" - this is usually less than 200 *microseconds* minimum, and is far faster in ultra low latency systems.
We asked our audience of 100 low latency engineers which skills junior engineers should prioritise, and found that C++ was the most popular area for people to focus on when looking to further their careers, which is no surprise as C++ remains the dominant language within Low Latency.
However, Java comes in as a fairly close second with many institutions selecting the language for its adaptability and larger talent pool, as reported by StackOverflow.
Areas such as concurrency and multithreading were listed as key concepts for junior engineers to focus on, largely due to their complexity and importance within Low Latency systems.
Despite the fact that there is huge demand for Low Latency talent, the number of opportunities for an entry-to-mid-level role in the domain are relatively rare.
Due to a gap in supply versus demand, your experience and desire to progress could land you in a position higher up the career ladder than you might expect.
As such, with any niche technical area, displaying an interest in the space and providing examples of your own extra-curricular study will set you apart from the crowd.
Working with a specialist recruiter who can point you towards the opportunities within smaller organisations that give you more responsibilities from the outset is a great way to progress your career quickly.
Finally, we’ll leave you with some words of advice from Peter on progressing your career.
“Junior developers tend to measure productivity by how many lines of code or libraries they added. Senior developers tend to measure by how many lines and libraries they removed. Low latency systems go fast by doing less, so it is about taking out all the things applications don't need to be doing (accidental complexity) that now only makes it faster but more maintainable.”
If you’re looking for more information around developing your career in the low latency space, here’s some useful resources for you:
Vanilla Java from Peter Lawrey
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