Tools of the trade: How 7 fintech pros discovered their passion, and the trends they’re watching

by Alton Zenon III
June 28, 2019

Where there is risk there is also reward, and the financial trading industry is one place that fully embodies that sentiment. But for many, the rewards can be much greater than merely seeing monetary gain. Life in this fast-paced sphere is unique, and its qualities do a lot to stoke the interests and work styles of the huge number of professionals who choose to live on or near the trading room floor. 

We heard from seven team members at Chicago companies spanning all aspects of tech-based trade to hear about what encouraged them to pursue a career in the industry and what they see as the next big wave that will wash over it. 

 

DRW team members at a table chatting

DRW is a diversified principal trading firm that uses technology, risk management and quantitative research to identify and capture trading opportunities around the world. Systems Engineer Michelle Dickson said the continuous evolution of industry tools keeps her engaged and excited. 

 

What drew you to the world of trading as opposed to any other industry?

I’ve worked in a variety of industries but have always enjoyed the fast-paced nature of the trading industry and its willingness to embrace new technologies. All of the technology that supports the lifecycle of a trade is being updated and improved constantly. I spent time working directly with traders while on our application support team and saw the lifecycle of a trade firsthand. It’s a true technological masterpiece to see all the different components at play.
 
There is also a healthy sense of urgency in this industry. As an engineer, you’re always working hard to ensure everything is running smoothly and that you’re fixing a problem before the end user ever notices. All of these factors create a huge opportunity for continuous learning in the industry.

Keeping current on various technology trends is crucial to our success, and cloud technologies are no exception.”

 

What are some trends in the trading world you’re keeping an eye on?
 
Just a few years ago, many trading firms only used on-premise solutions for their software and infrastructure. However, cloud-based technologies have evolved so much that trading firms and exchanges alike have begun migrating certain things to the cloud given its high scalability, reliability and improved security. So there is no longer a strict on-premise-only mentality these days. This shift has provided a number of interesting learning opportunities for our teams, as it encourages us to solve problems in a whole new way. Keeping current on various technology trends is crucial to our success, and cloud technologies are no exception.

 

Women from PEAK6 team in group photo

PEAK6 is an investment firm, comprised of a number of operationally specific businesses, that uses proprietary technology to help clients capitalize on every opportunity available to them. Director of Engineering Parvez Shaikh said he enjoys the competitive and creative aspects of chasing success in trading. 

 

What drew you to the world of trading as opposed to any other industry?

I worked in the telecom industry for over five years before I jumped into the financial landscape. The trading industry offers the opportunity to get the best of one’s technical, analytical and problem-solving abilities in a fast-paced environment. Every day is filled with new challenges and provides the chance to develop novel technological solutions to cater to the ever-changing market conditions. It is a platform that promotes creativity to come up with solutions to the complex problems the trading domain presents.

I enjoy being in the sweet spot that lies between creative trading and the expensive technological investments.”

 

What are some of the trends that you are keeping an eye on?

In the last decade, I have seen an increasing shift toward low-touch and electronic trading. I have been with low-latency trading shops and have witnessed the arms race in companies being able to react quickly to the market changes. Beating the competition means ever-increasing investments in software and even more in hardware. I enjoy being in the sweet spot that lies between creative trading and the expensive technological investments in the increasingly efficient and tighter markets. 

 

Wolverine Trading team in kitchen chatting

Wolverine Trading is a financial institution made up of a number of businesses that include proprietary trading, asset management, order execution services and technology solutions providers. Software Engineer Albert Hidalgo said trading drew him in because he could see the immediate impact of his work in the quickly moving industry.

 

What drew you to the world of trading as opposed to any other industry?

I love problem solving and enjoy being able to fully utilize the knobs and levers of systems I am working with to optimize performance. Having worked on embedded systems for a few years out of school, I was looking for something more fast-paced, where I could maintain focus on high performance and experience an immediate business impact from my work in a competitive environment. I wanted to stay in the Midwest, so Chicago was a natural target, and I am happy to have found Wolverine Trading.

I also like to browse open-source projects and presentations given by tech companies outside of the trading world to gain perspective.”

 

What are some trends in the trading world you’re keeping an eye on?

From a technology perspective, I like to stay up to date with new technical approaches and standards both in and out of the trading industry. We primarily use C++, so organized gatherings and conventions such as CppCon and local tech talks are things I’ll regularly check on. I also like to browse open-source projects and presentations given by tech companies outside of the trading world to gain perspective on new ideas and how they might be useful in the trading world. Last but not least, crypto is clearly a hot trend that I'm sure everyone is keeping an eye on.

 

Optiver Head of IT Operations Casey Kisselburg working at a whiteboard

Optiver’s specialties are pricing, execution and risk management, and it uses its own capital to provide liquidity to financial markets. Head of IT Operations Casey Kisselburg said he found his professional home in trading based on his love of creative yet logical problem solving. 

 

What drew you to the world of trading as opposed to any other industry?

My professional passion is in applying creativity and scientific rigor to abstract and ambiguous problems. The world of trading is the best fit I’ve found to pursue that passion. While I run a technology team, I don’t consider myself chiefly a technologist. I’m energized not by solving technical problems, but by seeing the business move forward when we do. And we look for competitive engineers who share our pragmatic business focus.

I’m energized not by solving technical problems, but by seeing the business move forward when we do.”

 

What are some trends in the trading world you’re keeping an eye on?

I see more and more firms focusing on modernizing their technical operations. The ability to iterate quickly and safely is a competitive advantage the trading world is increasingly leveraging. However, the devil is in the details. Blindly applying site reliability engineering as it evolves at companies like Google, won’t build an advantage in trading.

 

Hudson River Trading team working in large conference room

Hudson River Trading and its team of programmers, mathematicians and physicists build algorithms used to conduct millions of trades a day on the platform. Lead Ops Developer Doug Yee said speed is important in the industry, but it’s not the only thing necessary for success.

 

What drew you to the world of trading as opposed to any other industry?

The trading industry is unique in that it merges the ability to work on interesting problems with a very quick feedback cycle. Combine those two factors with the privilege of working with intellectually curious, low-ego colleagues, and it’s a real joy.

The trading industry is unique in that it merges the ability to work on interesting problems with a very quick feedback cycle.”

 

What are some trends in the trading world you’re keeping an eye on?

The industry has always been competitive, but in a sense, the meta game is changing — it’s not enough just to be very fast. Every day, we work together to make our systems more efficient, our technology more cutting-edge and our research smarter.

 

TopstepTrader team at outdoor event

TopstepTrader provides traders of all levels with a proving ground — letting users hone their skills in a simulator before offering them real capital to trade on the platform. Chief Vision Officer Michael Patak said a comedy from the earlier '80s sparked his interest in working as a trader.

 

What drew you to the world of trading as opposed to any other industry?

Trading Spaces. The end of that movie when Eddie Murphy and Dan Akroyd make $394 million shorting frozen orange juice futures was a revelation. At that moment I realized, perhaps naively, that time was irrelevant when it came to making money. Where I grew up in Nebraska, you worked on the farm for $5 per hour, and if you wanted more money, you worked more hours. The idea that you could make millions without working 100 lifetimes, or starting out filthy rich, was completely foreign to me. I knew I wanted part of that action, so I headed to Chicago, opened a brokerage account and quickly learned a little humility.

I envision there will soon be platforms that can react and communicate with traders in real-time based on their individual needs.”

 

What are some trends in the trading world you’re keeping an eye on?

I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the gamification of trading education. You see companies like Duolingo doing incredible things with gamified language learning — I don’t see why the same approach can’t be applied to trading. Much like language, trading is all about understanding patterns and reading human behavior. I envision there will soon be platforms that can react and communicate with traders in real-time based on their individual needs. What if a system could sense when a user was beginning to trade with too much emotion and prevent them from going on ‘tilt’? We are all about providing a safe experience for our traders, so we see this as a major opportunity going forward.

 

Geneva Trading team in group photo

Geneva Trading, an international proprietary trading firm, offers its users risk management, market enhancement, technology innovation and alpha generation solutions. Senior Software Developer Stephen Murphy said he is looking forward to seeing technology that enhances digital currencies and visualizes how trades impact the industry. 

 

What drew you to the world of trading as opposed to any other industry?

As a young engineer, I got my first exposure to the trading world and I was hooked on the energetic pace and the boundless challenges. Few industries provide the environment and encouragement to relentlessly innovate on solutions for such complex and highly technical problems. Software and hardware engineers, user interface experts and quantitative researchers all converge and collaborate to deliver these pioneering and time sensitive solutions.

As a young engineer, I got my first exposure to the trading world and I was hooked on the energetic pace and the boundless challenges..”

 

What are some trends in the trading world you’re keeping an eye on?

While existing exchanges continue to consolidate and expand their products and volumes, cryptocurrency exchanges remain highly fragmented. The product presents a fertile and volatile investment vehicle when valued correctly, but new solutions are needed to resolve inferior trade matching technologies and poor data dissemination issues.

In addition, exciting new strategies are being designed to leverage the recent advances in hardware performance. From the 3D visualization of relationships between exchanges and products to server-side hosted graphics processing units running complex algorithms, the trading industry offers tremendous opportunities to innovate across many disciplines.

 

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