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Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-18 19:06
Hi, I'm currently an undergrad student finishing up a finance degree at a small liberal arts school in the midwest...and due to a few things that I wish I could change, I will be ending up with a very average GPA (low end of the 3.x scale) as well as very little in terms of actual knowledge being gained in the field I am interested in.

I have spent an extremely large amount of time self-studying, reading and researching as much as possible, perhaps to the detriment of my actual studies in school. I have read quite a few books, I'm working through calc again, will be going after diff. equations, stat mechanics, and computer science basics next. I'm also trying to teach myself Python, C++, and JS. Finally, I am of course using my meager network to the best of my abilities.

My ultimate goal is to either work at a prop shop or a hedge fund...that's why I got into finance in the first place. Right now however, I'm not sure how to bridge the gap. I will never get hired anywhere, even as a trader trainee most likely, with my current resume/educational history. I feel as if the only option is grad school. However I am doubtful if I could even get into a decent MFE program given my background. I feel like self-teaching is all I really have at the moment. I would love to go back to school at a university that really has an excellent stats/math department, and get prepared for this. However, financially this is not a viable option at all. I have tried to do some research on prep courses although I feel like everything I've found has basically been uncredited, ungraded, and doesn't even really count for anything at all.

I guess my question is, what is the best next step for someone in my situation? I am currently looking at getting into a few prop shop training programs that are not heavily quant-focused, however I am worried that my academic background will ding me before I even have a chance to show them what I know. Should I just skip the whole industry for now and try to get more education under my belt? Or should I fight to break in however I can? Thanks so much in advance.

briant57


Total Posts: 98
Joined: Feb 2009
 
Posted: 2014-02-18 21:04
Put an email address in your profile

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-18 22:40
Will do, thanks.

leftic


Total Posts: 86
Joined: Jun 2007
 
Posted: 2014-02-19 14:19
Hate to be the jerk here, but: What evidence do you have that you'd be good at the job? By the objective measures you mention, I see zero. Do you have any idea how good your competition is? They're so awesome it makes me cry a bit that they're going into finance and not curing cancer. But, free market in labor, what can you do?

But you have the burning desire you say? Guess what, so do they. And the math skills and the programming skills and the brainpower and the awesomeness at problem solving and work ethic and they're just great kids personally too. They're the best brains our species produces. Every junior that starts on my desk is way better than me at basically everything. The only important advantage I have is chronological, but even that is only a function of delta log t, not delta t, so it too disappears over time.

That's who you're up against, both in the job market, and once you're unlucky enough to get a job, in the real market. One of the important skills in trading is to accurately and critically assess one's own knowledge and ability, and more importantly one's lack of knowledge and ability. You have only my word that the above is true, but let's say it is. Is trading at some quant HF or prop shop really the right place for you?

In summary: do yourself a favor and go cure cancer already.

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-19 18:25
I understand, and I've thought about all that. I'm not necessarily looking to be a quant, just a trader. In fact ending up on a macro desk someday would make me very happy. I want to do this because it's one of the few things in life that I've been interested in for a long time and have a passion for. The way I see it, I'm going to do eventually, wether I get paid for it or not. I've got quite a bit of study material on signal processing, machine learning, as well as quantitative analysis and financial math. I'm willing to put in as much or more work than anyone else in order to get where I want to be. I know many probably say that, but I'm not really sure how else to describe it. If all that comes of this is that I end up at a decent prop firm, I will be satisfied, because after that it's up to me in order to continue to be successful.

I understand what you're saying, I do. But, I'm not trying to work at RenTech or even D.E. Shaw...I know that will likely always be an absolute impossibility. What I am trying to do is better myself in a way that would allow me to get through the interview process at a place like Jane Street, Spot, or DRW at some point. Or perhaps Citadel. I know it's a long shot but frankly everything worth doing in life is.

What it comes down to for me is whether I should try to just teach myself over the course of time while perhaps working at much less competitive prop shop, using my free time to better myself, and try to push my way up the ladder slowly over time, or save up and work my ass off to kill the GRE and get into a good grad program. Those are basically the choices, as I see it.

leftic


Total Posts: 86
Joined: Jun 2007
 
Posted: 2014-02-19 19:35
If those are truly your only two choices [which I've indicated is narrowing your universe way too much] then definitely don't do the former. Bad or mediocre prop firms are utterly poison in every relevant respect. IMHO of course.

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-19 20:39
Short-term, unfortunately I feel they are. I mean, sure I could try to work in a completely different industry...but I don't really want to. I've got many interests in life, but unfortunately only a couple will allow me to make a living. This is one of them. There's a few firms in Chicago (close to me compared to NYC) that seem to be not impossible to get into, but yet still have decent culture and know how to train and treat their employees. I'm doing quite a bit of research on this right now but as always good info is hard to find.

So I guess too if anyone happens to read this and knows a thing or two about prop firms in Chicago, that would be helpful as well. There's always the top firms (JS, Spot, DRW, Optiver), but there seems to be a few that maybe aren't quite at the same level, yet aren't complete chop shops.

Menascyn


Total Posts: 23
Joined: Jan 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 01:54
I hope you liked my email

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 02:19
I did very much. Face looked familiar but I couldn't quite place it...should I feel bad for not recognizing it?

Menascyn


Total Posts: 23
Joined: Jan 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 03:10
Candice Swanepoel, so yes.

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 04:04
Not going to lie, haven't quite kept up with the current crop of VS models lately. I'm still a fan of who they had back in the very early 2000s. The good old days.

To attempt to inject some on-topic content here...I'd love to know if anyone can speak to potential "pigeon-holing" that can result from an MFE, if any. I feel as if at this point, unless I am able to get very lucky with my networking efforts, I will likely have to either 1. settle for something completely unrelated just to make money in the near term, or 2. try to get into a decent shop that pays a good salary, has a decent training program, and has a decent culture. I'd rather do 2, and I'm looking at that possibility right now. Either way, neither is necessarily a pathway into an HF, although grad school might be. As I said before, I don't necessarily want to become a quant per se (although I would like to pursue it perhaps), I am however looking to put something on my resume that says I have the mathematical skills needed to succeed at any trading firm or HF down the road. Is this a realistic way of looking at it? Thanks in advance.

NeroTulip


Total Posts: 997
Joined: May 2004
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 04:56
I like the attitude. Look, as Leftic said, the odds are against you, but don't let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do. My advice at this point would be that coding ability trumps Ivy League education anytime. If you are good at c++, java, R, Matlab, and/or Python, you can make yourself useful on a quant or trading desk, and nobody cares about where you learnt to code if you can show that you can code. If you can help people with their problems, 1. they will pay you for it, and 2. you will learn about what they do. So try to work with people who know something and who you will be happy to help every day, the rest will take care of itself.

Inflatable trader

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 07:25
Thanks a lot, I appreciate the advice. I know it's a tough road...that doesn't bother me. I've been through a lot worse. You actually answered something that I've always wondered for a while...ability vs. pedigree. I've got Matlab on my computer right now, so I'm going to try to learn that, C++/C# (mostly for Quant Connect), continue to develop my Python skills, and then Java too.

Kind of a related question, would these skills be useful for getting into a decent grad program as well? I am planning on studying quite a bit for the math section of the GRE (other sections are no problem at all) in order to hopefully knock it out of the park. Do they look at what you can do already when screening candidates?

Aleph


Total Posts: 78
Joined: Jul 2006
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 10:47
I'm going to give you advice even though you said, 'I'm not necessarily looking to be a quant, *just* a trader.' (emphasis obviously mine)

I have daily arguments with people about the meaning of the word 'trader' and I call myself a 'trader' rather than a quant/dev whatever because I like to make that point.

Anyway....Real advice time(tm):

Get noticed on something other than academics, which actually, is better than a good academic record anyway - a ton of kids have a 4.0 from MIT, very few have...say...played in the World Series of Poker, or have some high score on Kaggle, or are one of the contributors on some language's standards committee, or run some hack-a-thon to help starving kids have better GPS or some such nonsense.

Look, you're not good at academics; that's not where your edge is so don't go trying to compete there more. Figure out where your edge is and push that as hard as you can...at least that's what 'just a trader' would do.






AIC


Total Posts: 167
Joined: Apr 2008
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 11:18
I have worked at one of the Chicago prop shops you mentioned. Sure some traders are very technical and there is plenty of brain power, however for certain broker driven markets the amiable guys from the Midwest trump Ivy league high GPAs.

One of the most successful and largest traders (my former boss) for listed rates options I know has a similar background to yours. Sure he got there early but not everything we do is rocket science. He is good at reading markets, works hard at developing relationships and is upfront with people he works with. Sometimes those abilities trump knowing the intricacies of the latest machine learning algorithm. Shop your resume to relatively good Chicago companies. You might get a shot at an internship. Work really hard then and maybe you get a shot as a junior trader. If not its a big world with lots of other interesting things to do.

Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose- Master Yoda

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-20 20:08
@Aleph,

Thanks I appreciate the advice. That's a good point...I guess the distinction I draw in my head is that there seems to be guys that do purely analysis, but have no effect on P/L, they don't actually trade. That's not what I want to get into...although of course you still might do all that and trade, that would be the goal I think.

Great points, and I would mostly agree with you. I would like to say that I don't consider myself poor at academics per se, I was an excellent student in HS, I do great on standardized tests, my college performance was mostly due to my own lack of passion when I found out that 95% of what I was "studying" was useless, redundant, and uninteresting to the Nth degree. I guess you could say I took Good Will Hunting a little too seriously. But I get what you mean. I would mostly agree. I think I would do well in a program I was actually interested in, but who knows. I am definitely planning on developing my skills as much as I can on my own time. It is just hard because of course I don't know these things so I'm not the best person to teach me...I feel like I would benefit from having someone who knows better guide me along the way. But you have to make do at some point, I guess.

@AIC,

Thanks, I appreciate it. One thing that intimidates the hell out of me, and maybe rightfully so, is that many shops are upfront about "requiring" someone with a high GPA from a prestigious school. In addition, they definitely seem to prefer people with heavy math/CS/maybe even physics backgrounds. Which makes sense to me. So I feel as if it might be a waste of time to even attempt it. Of course, what do I have to lose. I guess it can't hurt...can it?

Really, truly appreciate all the advice in this thread.

leftic


Total Posts: 86
Joined: Jun 2007
 
Posted: 2014-02-21 17:13
A decent chunk of being good at trading is being willing to slog through useless redundant and uninteresting things like cleaning data and reading prospecti with a magnifying glass. If you never trained yourself to be able to do so on demand for a guaranteed result (degree with good GPA), how are you magically going to manage it for a stochastic result (making money on a trade)?

Good GPAs from good schools don't just signal intelligence. They also signal the ability to suck it up and do drudgery when it's called for. Which is a skill that needs to be trained just as much as learning Python. "I'll do it when it matters" doesn't cut it.

gill


Total Posts: 190
Joined: Nov 2004
 
Posted: 2014-02-21 18:26
I know a guy who went to a third tier school in a third world country. Today he is in charge of few trading desks in a big bank.
Obviously, he was not only capable but also lucky. But it does not mean that you have to be unlucky.

The other lady i used to know went to a third tier school and were hired by a big bank as a glorified secretary more or less. But she knew very well who to play the game and how to get along with the right people in the bank-- she were promoted each year and became MD before her 30st b-day. And guess what a couple of guys with PhD from top tier schools and longer career experience were reporting to her... c'est la vie

AIC


Total Posts: 167
Joined: Apr 2008
 
Posted: 2014-02-21 19:50
@leftic. I do agree that high GPAs do signal intelligence and hard work. Those are great qualities for certain kind of trades. However certain other trades are more similar to playing poker or football. Talent, observation, teamwork, lack of needing to be right to feed a fragile ego are better indicators for success. High GPA might actually be a contra indicator for success. That is why I believe in the apprenticeship process of trading. The likes of Rotter/ Baldwin/ Woodriff probably did really badly according to the good student metric. Just for fair disclosure: I was a stellar hs student, mediocre university student (at an ivy) so maybe that is why I protect this position. Not being a good student for a few years perhaps shocked me out of really bad life habits and make me a diligent trader because I never want to repeat my mistakes.

Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose- Master Yoda

v510R


Total Posts: 99
Joined: Aug 2013
 
Posted: 2014-02-21 20:59
I think we can all agree that there isn't going to be one metric (GPA, test scores, work experience, etc) that will correlate 100% with success in any field. To me, the value in this discussion is that you get some insight into the different weights that different people assign to different aspects of a person's resume.

As an entry level candidate, you don't really have a track record, so people are going to use what you DO have as a gauge for what they can expect from you in the future. If all you have on your resume is a sub-par GPA and a few words about how passionate you are, you're basically saying "I didn't do a good job in the past, but trust me, this time is going to be different." To make a financial analogy, as an entry level candidate, academic history is like credit. You don't have actual money (since you haven't had a job yet), but you do have your GPA that says, effectively, "I am likely to repay the money you spend training me. This statement is backed by XYZ School."

If your GPA is sub-par, that means you don't have much credit. In that case, you need to make up the difference with actual currency. So if you want to have any hope of differentiating yourself, you need to SHOW people how passionate you are, rather than simply telling them how passionate you are. Change the above to "I didn't do a good job in the past, because I wasn't passionate about the work. But look at these projects I've contributed to / odd-jobs I've done / miracles I've performed in a field that I AM passionate about." Demonstrate what you have to offer.

That obviously isn't going to cut it at every company, but if it makes you feel any better: I don't even have a degree, my GPA from the time I did spend in college (a "non-target") was worse than yours, I didn't do any math, science, or computer coursework, and I've still been able to get interviews at a few reputable prop firms. Of course, I haven't been hired by any of them (YET), so take the above with a grain of salt!

leftic


Total Posts: 86
Joined: Jun 2007
 
Posted: 2014-02-22 07:08
@AIC: I disagree with you less than my posts might make it seem. I just find the "I did badly in school because it was boring" indicative of habits like self-justification and inability to critically self-examine that are really bad for trading. I note, by way of similar disclosure, that I too went to non-first tier schools and came at trading from an unusual and gambly angle.

There's also the capacity issue: if you have the capacity to interview 3 people per day and you receive 100 applications per day, who are you going to interview? This goes back to a point someone made earlier which I liked a lot: 2nd tier school with meh grades and a cover letter that reads like it was written by Jordan Belfort? Zzzz. Same resume with a line that says you're the 3rd ranked Arimaa player in the world? Now I'm very interested. If you were getting bad grades in school, tell me it was because you were doing something awesome with that time not spent studying.

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-02-23 03:20
Apologize in advance for the length, just was having some thoughts about how to reply to all the posts that have been made, and I have a few points I wanted to clarify about myself. The last paragraph is most relevant to my original questions if you don't feel like reading all this.

Lots of great points being made above. To clarify a point I made early on and perhaps unclearly, there were a few things that contributed to my GPA being lower than my excellent HS record and ACT score would have indicated. Some out of my control, some not. I had a very similar experience to AIC....I had spent my whole life attempting to be perfect, and for 4 years I decided that I wasn't going to do that. I still worked hard, although perhaps not as hard as I could have. The reason for my relatively average grades in terms of distribution was not due to a fair number of poor grades intermingled with good grades, it's mostly due to a bunch of As, and a decent amount of Bs that could have been As if I had likely put in just a bit more effort.

However, I can say this...95% of everything I've ever learned in my life has not been in class or from any school-sponsored activity...rather it has been from my own studying, reading, learning, and living. I tend to be a fairly rationalistic person...If I see that I have exhausted the usefulness of a particular activity, I have a hard time keeping on with it past the point of usefulness. At least academically. For example, I do not believe for one second that I will be any worse off in my life because I received a B in my Religions of Southeast Asia class, despite in the near term suffering due to the statistical impact it had on my GPA. That may be the wrong attitude to have...but I can tell you that my knowledge (which is what we are supposed to go to school for after all, isn't it?) of the subjects in that class likely outpaces anyone I was in the class with. I learned as much as I was interested in, not just for regurgitation, but for retention. I don't really see the point of going about anything any other way.

This is why I look back and wish I had studied something much more relevant to my interests, at least for my main course of study. As I've said before, I have a wide array of interests, hobbies, passions, and generally want to know everything about everything. But being graded on those things seems so shallow and trivial compared to the actual process of learning these things. I have never been good at memorization and regurgitation. That's why I almost always retain everything I teach myself, whereas I feel forced "learning" in 99% of the classes I've ever taken in my life has been largely useless.

I do admit it is my fault for not knowing better what my course of study should have been before hand, although I think I could also be forgiven for thinking (without much guidance from anyone ultimately) that in order to get an entry-level job in the financial industry, you should go to school and study finance. Turns out that's not quite how it works, strictly speaking. At the same time, I can't regret any of my experiences, because I am who I am now because of them. Things might be better for me now if things had happened differently, but I can't say for sure. And it wouldn't matter if I could. So, I feel that looking forward and not backward is the best way to..uh...move forward.

Wow...that was longer than I thought it would be. Again, thanks for the advice so far. I feel that talking about things, presenting ideas and making arguments for why you think what you do is very, very helpful. Helps me anyway. More to the original topic of this thread, I recently spoke with the professor in charge (for now) of the MFE program at UChicago, and he was extremely helpful. We spoke about the prep course, which sounds like a great idea, but of course there are some things I'd have to do in order to get down there and take advantage of that.

So again, I feel like I'm sort of left with the same basic thing I started with, although in a much more well-defined context. I feel like the answer I'm getting from many of the replies here is that skills trump pedigree, at some point. However, there are a lot to choose from - after all, just looking at the amount of reading material I've amassed in pursuit of this plan of action (over 200 books), I feel a bit overwhelmed, and that I have to pare it down to a manageable start. Nobody can ever know everything, although I feel like sometimes I have to in order to even have a shot.

To finally get to some kind of ultimate point in this post, I guess my main question would be...regardless of whether or not I purse an additional degree, there's definitely a set of skills that I should have as someone looking to get into a trading program at a decent, respectable prop/market-making firm. If collectively, you could all agree on what this set might include, I would be extremely grateful. As I mentioned, I'm studying Python...for the second time. Really regretting not keeping it up the first time. I've also got quite a bit of actual MFE textbooks, so I feel that's a no-brainer. But it quickly starts to spiral...I've got material on differential geometry, machine learning, neural networks, diff. equations, statistical mechanics, as well as quite a bit on more "regular" stats and probability. Of course, some books to brush up on calc, as well as quite a bit of mental math and general problem-solving material. Even have Hull (of course) as well as CFA study books. Like I said...quite a bit. If there was just a few things I should focus on in order to maximize my ROI in terms of max appeal to HR staff vs. hours spent studying, what would you recommend?

Once again, I apologize for the length. Thanks so much in advance. You all have been very helpful, and I appreciate it.

prfj


Total Posts: 10
Joined: Dec 2011
 
Posted: 2014-03-06 16:10
Another point: Know how to communicate in a clear and concise manner ;-) I hope some people will take the time to read through your post and reply more constructively though.

Peter Muller's Keyboard


Total Posts: 11
Joined: Feb 2014
 
Posted: 2014-03-06 20:24
Haha I figured someone would say that. I generally do - but I just felt I had to get some points across in that post. That's why I put the disclaimer at the top ;)

buddyforall


Total Posts: 37
Joined: Jul 2008
 
Posted: 2014-08-24 21:58
People want to project their own inability/lack of motivation on to you. Getting admitted in UG level at Ivy League has a lot to do with the financial background/educational level of parents. My suggestion would be to take any job that challenges you technically - for example a C++ programming job, a role involving data analytics etc - and pays you a sum of money that allows you to save atleast 10k-20k USD/ year. Work for 2 years , clear CFA Level 1 or FRM. From here you can follow any of the following paths

Path A - Apply to Top 10 MFE. You may get an offer from programs in the range 5-10 such as Baruch/UIUC.

Path B - Use you Use your technical experience and financial certification to get into Finance. Work 2-3 years here, try to progess/complete CFA program. Now you can get admitted to Berkely, CMU, NYU.
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