Career Advice: How do I exit to HF?

ModalQuant's picture
Rank: Chimp | 9

I've been a lurker on WSO for a while, but this is my first post. A little background first, I suppose. I am currently finishing up my last year of undergraduate in Honors Philosophy and Applied Math at a target (large State School). Coming into college from an immigrant family I didn't know the first thing about breaking into finance. To be honest, I was an academic purist for the longest time and it was only recently that I realized I didn't want to be broke for the rest of my life... While I had some extracurricular experiences geared around mathematical modeling, I actually had 0 professional experience i.e. internships coming into this year. Not only that, but I had actually tried recruiting last year and couldn't land an internship anywhere. Needless to say my job this past summer was shelving books at a campus library.

Some part of me knew that I could still break into finance though. I did some research into prop trading and saw that internships weren't nearly as important for them as they are for BB's, HF's, etc. What stood out to me was the emphasis on technical skills. I knew nothing about trading at this point. So, every day over summer, I audited classes in Financial Math and Numerical Analysis, watched lectures on Data Structures and Algorithms while working and then spent between 4-6 hours practicing mental math, studying brainteasers and teaching myself Measure-theoretic Probability, Stochastic Processes and Statistics. Meanwhile, I had a couple side projects where I priced options on Cryptos and built and Option Price Simulator. Fear of homelessness turned out to be quite the motivator.

Recruiting was the only thing on my mind coming into this year. I ended up interviewing with close to 15 firms; I even had a super day with a quant HF but didn't get the job. I ended up signing an offer with a high frequency MM in NYC. It's almost unbelievable to think that I'll be making six figures (excluding bonus) next year. However, now that I'm finally caught up with my peers, I wanted to start planning out the next few steps of my career.

As I hope my background shows, I'm much more interested in the quantitative/algorithmic side of the markets than the discretionary side. However, I ultimately think of myself more as an investor than as speculator (at least how Graham/Buffett make the distinction) and think that the future of asset management lies in quantitatively driven fundamental analysis (like how Griffith describes Citadel CGE). That being said, I think the modern investor needs exposure to the high frequency side of the markets to understand how the technological arms race affects execution, transaction cost, etc. This is a big part of why I decided to move into prop trading first. However, I eventually want to move to something closer to traditional portfolio management.

My current plan is to start a part time Masters in Data Science at Columbia or NYU a year or two into my job, get some Big Data analytic experience in a non-finance role during gardening leave and then try to lateral to HF afterward. After some time, I would eventually want to get a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence and then decide whether to move to Academia long term or return to the HF space. How feasible do you think this plan is? Any advice on how best to achieve it?

For a little context, unlike other more options-based positions at the firm, my role focuses on ETF's. My boss said there's a lot of freedom in moving between underlying assets - equities, fixed income, commodities, etc. - so I can use this experience to gain a lot of exposure to different instruments. Speaking to my long term goals, I am interested in large macro bets that hedge across asset classes; I think these investments require a breadth of knowledge across instruments. However, from reading WSO forums, I know that moving from prop trading to HF isn't that common, and even then, it's only for those traders who've got a stellar history trading some specific product. How should I factor this in what products I trade in my first job? Currently, I'm most interested in fixed-income products because I think that Trump-Era populist policies (globally, not just domestically) will induce an era of stagflation that will cause interest rates to bloat close to their 1970's level.

Sorry for the super long post, I just wanted to get all my thoughts out there, because I'm really not sure whether I'm going about all this the right way. I don't really have any family/mentors to guide me along this path. Any help would be appreciated.

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Dec 30, 2018
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