Quant hedge fund: "We want to hire the top 0.1%"

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If you're a quant in the finance space, you're probably already very familiar with hedge fund WorldQuant. Spun out of Millennium Management in 2007 and founded by Igor Tulchinsky, it's at the forefront of quantitative trading methods. Big names cluster there: last year, Gary Chropuvka, the former head of quantitative investment strategies at Goldman Sachs joined as president, and Google scientist Yoram Singer joined to work on AI driven trading signals.

Speaking yesterday at this week's AI in data science and trading event, WorldQuant's chief technology officer, David Rukshin, said the company employs over 400 quants globally. WorldQuant has always operated a distributed office model - even before the pandemic, a lot of its staff were based far away from leading financial hubs. This made it easier for WorldQuant to switch to a work from home model when the virus struck. "My team has staff in over 10 locations," said Rukshin. "We are really looking for talent wherever we can find it." 

While WorldQuant is agnostic about the location of its hires, however, it's not prepared to compromise on the quality of its talent. The proliferation of quant training programs is making it harder to unearth the really good people, complained Rukshin. WorldQuant wants to hire "the top tenth of the top 1%," he said. - "The people who will change the world for you."

Rajesh Krishnamachari, the global head of data science at Bank of America in New York, suggested to Rukshin that if anything, the quality of graduates coming out of university's quant programs today is falling. "Twenty years ago, the expertise of new graduates was very strong in areas like algorithms," said Krishnamachari. "Now, we hire these data scientists and they do a little bit of computer science, a little bit of maths, a little bit of finance. Their understanding of computer science seems to be lower than we saw a generation back." 

Rukshin concurred. Very few of today's students really understand how computers work, he said. "These students are coming with different sets of experiences and skills. Maybe understanding how the innards of computers work isn't necessary to be productive now that there are a lot of tools....But sometimes I wonder who is going to generate the next generation of tools." He presumably wasn't referring to the WorldQuant university founded by Tulchinsky, which this week was recognized by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC).

Rukshin didn't say so, but WorldQuant undoubtedly receives many tens of thousands of applications a year, so how can you convince him that you're in the top 0.001%? Curiosity will help. You need to understand how things work and why things work from "first principles" said Rukshin. 

It will help, too, to show that you understand the long term impact and viability of the technology you're working on. "The challenge in finance is that a lot of opportunities can be misleading," said Rukshin. "You need to be balanced between delivering agile solutions and not building up unnecessary technical debt that will drag on and be an anchor for you." This can be mean pushing-back against investment staff who request initiatives that aren't viable. "Sometimes, you have someone who says, 'I can make a billion dollars if you do this,'" said Rukshin, citing a situation where someone asked for billions of files in a system. "There needs to be a healthy back and forth." 

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Photo by Scott Rodgerson on Unsplash

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