Damien Loh has been a foreign exchange trader since he graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Computer Science in 2002. He talks about what it's like to work through a trading day in a world that rarely sleeps. "The learning curve remains steep and it's a true meritocracy," he says of trading. "A good trader gets promoted and compensated commensurately without much politics interfering with that process."
What made you choose trading as a career?
I learned about trading when investment banks came to my school to give speeches. I wanted to be in a job that allowed me to learn something beyond what I had learned in skill, yet allowed me to apply what I studied.
Can you describe a typical day?
I arrive in the morning at 6:45, when markets in London are starting to move again with New York just coming in. I have to quote prices non stop, risk manage and look for new trading ideas simultaneously. I don't stop to catch my breath until noon, when I eat lunch at my table while staring at the screens. As London leaves for the day, markets become quiet and there is more time for me to read research and figure out my profit and loss for the day. I leave work at 5:30 and it starts all over again the next day.
What do you like most about trading?
The learning curve remains steep and it's a true meritocracy: A good trader gets promoted and compensated commensurately without much politics interfering with the process. I also like how it requires a person to synthesize their knowledge and skills in many disciplines (for example, geopolitical knowledge, statistics and programming) into one job.
What skills and qualities do you need?
You need an excellent work ethic. You also need to be both book smart and street smart. Excellent communication skills are a must - A lot of money is lost from miscommunication. And you need to be able to handle long-term bouts of stress.
Any words of advice for the aspiring trader?
Traders spend a lot of time with their colleagues, so besides having the usual requisites of being smart, having a good work ethic, etc., students should highlight an interesting fact about themselves in their resumes. Don't put the usual hobbies like poker or watching movies. For example, I wrote how I was flying planes before driving and that sparked more conversations than anything else on my resume.