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The Trading Mesh

HFT Careers and How to Get Into High Frequency Trading

Mon, 16 May 2011 08:43:00 GMT           

Dominic ConnorAn Interview with Dominic Connor

In this interview for the High Frequency Trading Review, Mike O’Hara talks to renowned quant finance recruiter (or in his own words “quant pimp”) Dominic Connor, who together with Paul Wilmott, runs P&D Quant Recruitment. Dominic provides some valuable HFT career guidance for those who are looking to get into the game.

High Frequency Trading Review: Dominic, can you tell us a little about your own background?

Dominic Connor: I’m a headhunter, before that I was at Old Mutual, working on fixed income trading systems, which I did for seven years. Earlier I did a stint at IBM Labs (arguing with Microsoft) and I did my degree in Maths and Computer Science.

I still get to do some other interesting stuff, I teach C++ on the Certificate in Quantitative Finance (CQF), which means I still actually get to do some real programming!

HFTR: Here at the HFT Review, we often get questions from readers asking about HFT careers, the most common one being “how do I get into high frequency trading?” So how does one get into HFT?

DC: Getting in is quite difficult. It’s almost like the default thing that people aim for, because high frequency trading is of course very “sexy”. It’s easily the single most common thing that people coming in to this line of work want to do, which means that the supply and demand is awful for them.

Unfortunately however, pretty much no-one in the world is actually trained to be an algo trader. University College London (UCL) may be unique in offering a course in it. In fact, one of the things I’m doing is trying to find out how good it is.

HFTR: So when you deal with  entry-level candidates, what sort of background do they typically have and what kinds of  skills or backgrounds do employers ask for?

DC: 99% of people who go into this line of work at entry level have done physics or electronic engineering, some of them are computer scientists, there are a few economists.

With high frequency trading firms, a high percentage of the people they hire for actual trading jobs, as opposed to the support jobs,  don’t have any financial education whatsoever. I had a marvelous conversation with one guy I rang up who was working on modeling the formation of galaxies. I told him that banks are really interested in people who model the formation of galaxies, they like that, which bemused him a bit! Obviously he had to do a bit of background reading, but when he’d done that he was more or less literate on finance.

High frequency trading firms particularly like people coming from CERN, partly because one of the things they do at CERN is to work with these enormous, incredibly hard to understand, amounts of data. So their view is that anyone who can understand that must be smart and good at understanding numbers. Also, to get to be a scientist at CERN, you’ve beaten and climbed over the bodies of a lot of very smart people who wanted that job, so merely getting there is almost like a qualification in itself.

They also like signal processing people, artificial intelligence (AI), image processing, speech recognition, that kind of thing.

HFTR: What about industries like pharma and bio-tech for example? Isn’t there a lot of AI and genetic algorithm work going on in those fields that can be related back to finance, and HFT in particular?

 

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