As a part of our on-going Career Series, we are covering the experiences of several recent alumni who joined various companies and universities after their stay at IIT Bombay. If you are interested in contributing a piece, please feel free to get in touch with us.
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Chief Editors: Anshul Avasthi, Chirag Chadha
Upon graduating from IIT Bombay, Pratyush joined Tower Research Capital, an NY-based firm specializing in quantitative trading. There, he worked as an algorithmic trader, before eventually leaving for Infinity Algorithms, a start-up focussing on High-Frequency trading. Now, he has moved back home to focus on working as a teacher full-time.
What options were available to you when sitting for placements? And why did you choose to take up a job?
Well, all three options were open – an MS-PhD, a B-School and a job. I would have loved to stick with academia, and eventually find a job as a professor. But, the circumstances at the time ensured that I could not. I prepped for B-School but my seniors suggested (correctly so) that it would be better to go for an MBA after a couple of years of work-experience. Hence, I quit preparing for those exams. Since I also had a standing offer from Microsoft, I didn’t really prepare for placements right until the last month. On the 1st of December, I found myself interviewing for companies spanning nearly all sectors.
Why specifically Tower Research Capital?
To be honest, it was not much of a choice. We were practically blind to the details of companies and were willing to join the first company willing to take us at the highest pay. Back then, I was decided I didn’t want to do consulting work, didn’t want to work on MS Excel and didn’t want to wear a tie. So, TRC was an automatic choice.
[pullquote]We were practically blind to the details of companies and were willing to join the first company willing to take us at the highest pay.[/pullquote]
Moreover, Tower Research also promised a lot of programming and trading had always seemed fascinating from a distance. I really enjoyed coding, and am still passionate about it. The decision was pretty much straight forward. To seal the deal, a couple of seniors whom I admire were working there at the time. In general, they seemed a very smart bunch of people.
How was your experience at TRC? Was the job profile different from what you expected a priori?
I was hired in the Quant group, as an algorithmic trader.
If you like to see a lot of money in your bank account, algo trading (& TRC) is for you. There are a lot of opportunities for people in this field and if you are competent, you can easily get high paying jobs even when you decide to switch jobs. One of the best things about Tower was it’s people. They are genuinely smart, exceptionally good at puzzles and logic. Tower’s code base is also very competent and it is one of the leading firms in this field. If you decide to choose Tower, you will be working with the leaders in this field.
[pullquote]Algorithmic Trading does not need people who want to write a lot of programs, they want people who can understand a lot of code and tinker with it.[/pullquote]
Here is a word of caution though, Algorithmic Trading is neither algorithms nor trading. Most of the time an algorithmic trader is not really writing a lot of code, mostly we are training some models on certain securities in certain markets. Algorithmic Trading does not need people who want to write a lot of programs, they want people who can understand a lot of code and tinker with it. Do not join an algo trading firm with the expectations of writing programs nor with the expectation of learning trading, most HFT guys are lousy investors and day-traders.
Things which were different:
1. As I said, I expected to write a lot of programs. It wasn’t anywhere close to my expectations.
2. The work hours. The work hours back then, were, to put it mildly, inhumane. Officially, the work hours were ‘flexible’ and nobody said that you have to work so and so hours, but you can’t take a relaxed schedule if your boss works that hard. The last I heard, they have realized this and started telling people to go home after clocking twelve hours.
3. Pressure. Large bonuses kill creativity. Every time you are working, consciously or subconsciously, you are working for bonuses, one of the worst reasons to work. I underestimated the amount of pressure people face doing HFT. [pullquote]Large bonuses kill creativity.[/pullquote]
4. I expected myself to like HFT. For me, it was a very unsatisfying job, I would teach on weekends at a government school just to get a sense of fulfillment in my life. It is not really a dream job to watch a bunch of numbers flashing on the screen, reflecting the amount of money you are making for the company. It is the cost you pay for the crazy salaries which they offer, I guess.
Why did you make the switch to Infinity Algorithms? How was this different from TRC? Switching to teaching sounds like a very interesting, albeit a very risky option. How and why did you make this choice?
That’s a long story. My parents used to be very ill. I wanted to live with them so that I could support them. Back at TRC, I was also teaching on weekends and found it very satisfying. So when I left Tower Research, I intended to start a school near my hometown. Unfortunately, the plan didn’t work out. I had fallen back to my back up plan, that of coaching. I rolled out advertisements and stuff, but the response wasn’t exactly overwhelming. While it was not bad either, my parents and my (to-be) wife were panicking.
At the same time, I received an offer to work from home from a HFT trading company. Since, my financials started looking bleak, I contacted one of my seniors at TRC asking him for fundae for negotiations. He suggested that I meet these guys from Infinity Algorithms (he later joined us too). So, I met them and even though their pay offer was a bit low. These guys seemed fun and, long story short, I joined them and began working from home. Secondly, one advantage which Infinity had over others was they wanted a system built from scratch, and designing and writing a trading system from bottom-up didn’t sound boring at all. I had a lot more responsibilities and the experience of working at a start up. [pullquote]Infinity Algorithms wanted a system built from scratch and designing and writing a trading system from bottom-up didn’t sound boring at all.[/pullquote]
So, I was doing algorithmic trading for 9-10 hours a day and teaching 3 hours a day. It was a demanding schedule, but I was used to working hours. I maintained this schedule till January this year when I left Infinity Algos. My classes had become stable and I wanted to do something other than HFT.
How is life like now?
I have been teaching, have relearned web programming and am now working on a start up idea in my spare time.
Life is awesome, and has never been better. There is not a single job which is more satisfying than teaching. [pullquote]There is not a single job which is more satisfying than teaching. We can see the value we have added to the lives of our students. No other job offers this. [/pullquote] Even if you do not intend to teach full time, I would really recommend giving it a shot. It made me feel a lot more confident, get to know myself better and made me feel a lot happier, in general. I found that the joy of sharing knowledge is a very fulfilling source of happiness.
Financially, we are getting better. Our work is being appreciated, our clients are recommending us, but most importantly, we can see the value we have added to the lives of our students. No other job offers this. Of course, we are not near what HFT would have paid us, but we have a lot of fun.
Any specific advice that you have for junta sitting for placements?
You have to realize that you guys are making a blind choice. No matter how much anybody asks you to decide intelligently, you simply do not have enough data. The senior recommending his job may or may not be entirely honest, the Pre-Placement Talk may be painting a rosy picture, when there is no substance. [pullquote]The senior recommending his job may or may not be entirely honest, the Pre-Placement Talk may be painting a rosy picture, when there is no substance.[/pullquote] Do not push yourself too much over choosing the path correctly, you cannot. Most of the times, we are not even choosing, we are just wanting to be placed as soon as possible. It is very difficult to fight that feeling, so don’t worry too much about making mistakes. You cannot possibly go drastically wrong. If you find yourselves hating Mondays for too long, you’ll know that it’s the time to switch.
Secondly, whatever you are working on, give it your best. If it’s not worth doing great, it’s not worth doing.
What are your long term plans (in HFT or education or otherwise)?
Long term plans, school – a place where education is as it should be. I love children, I like to see them grow, so I guess I am staying with education for a long time.