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Goldman Sachs wants to pay students $100,000 to tackle Wall Street's technology challenges

Key Points
  • Goldman is taking applications for a new one-year program to tackle "commercially oriented" research topics from machine learning to data visualization and trading strategies.
  • "It's a great way for someone who doesn't know anything about finance and Wall Street to get their hands dirty to see whether this might be for them," said Goldman executive Adam Korn. 
A pedestrian passes in front of 200 West Street, which houses the headquarters of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., in New York.
Scott Eells | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Goldman Sachs is opening up to outsiders as the 150-year-old investment bank tries to become the Google of finance.

The bank is taking applications for a new one-year program that pays computer engineers $100,000 to tackle "commercially oriented" research topics from machine learning to data visualization and trading strategies, Goldman said Wednesday in a web post. While the company wants top students graduating in August to apply to the program, it's open to anyone.

The idea came from Google billionaire Eric Schmidt during a May conference at the bank, according to Goldman executive Adam Korn.

"He told us that the way to attract some of the smartest people in the world, it's not necessarily people from the obvious schools with the obvious backgrounds," Korn told CNBC. "He encouraged us to just see what a bunch of students could do by playing around with" the bank's software platform, he said.

It's part of Goldman's bid to become something like the operating system for financial services. Under Marty Chavez, co-head of Goldman's trading division, the bank has been taking steps to give clients access to its proprietary risk management systems and data. After developing a web application called Marquee, the bank is now ready to take the next step: opening up its code to outside engineers.

Getting their hands dirty

It's not as though Goldman is lacking in this department. Roughly a third of the bank's 36,000-plus employees are engineers of some kind.

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Those accepted into the research program will get access to Goldman's APIs, or software that allows programs to access and work with other programs. The bank is also releasing some of its code to GitHub, a software development platform, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"By making this open, it's a great way for someone who doesn't know anything about finance and Wall Street to get their hands dirty to see whether this might be for them," Korn said.

Examples of what the bank is looking for include tools to browse financial products or a recommendation engine for Goldman research, according to the bank's post.

Risk vs reward

Goldman said those accepted into the program will be contractors, not employees, and won't be working at the bank's offices.

Importantly, the intellectual property created in the project belongs to the investment bank, according to the web post. Those who complete projects will present their work to senior executives. Applications are due by May 31.

By opening up data and programs that were once jealously guarded, Goldman is taking the risk that someone else develops something valuable based on their work. But that's in line with the bank's aspiration of having its systems underpin more of the world's financial software.

"I think that's a risk that we're willing to take to be, you know, the operating system in financial services," Korn said. "We'd rather be the railroad than to try and own every single train that goes on the rails."