Man AHL’s CEO on why you really must learn to code

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If you want to work in financial services today, it helps to know how to code. Traders working in quantitative and electronic trading roles are increasingly learning to code and financial services organisations are competing for technologists against just about every other industry. Traders of the future will not just gain an advantage by coding - it'll be an essential skill.

Man AHL, the $17.9bn quantitatively-driven hedge fund, is trying to uncover students with coding talent through a competition to create an algorithm to control a player for the BBC Micro game Hexplode. It doesn’t get much more old school than this, but the idea is to unearth programming talent that may have not considered working for a hedge fund previously. The prize is £5k in cash and the chance to win an eight-week internship that could launch a hedge fund career.

“Not everyone at Man AHL needs to know how to code, but as a technology-driven business, many of our employees are either coding professionals, or have some knowledge of coding,” Sandy Rattray, CEO of Man AHL tells us. “Even in roles where coding is not an essential skill, individuals may find it advantageous to learn coding basics in order to do their job better.”

Man AHL uses Python programming language for its systematic models and will be asking participants to use this during the competition.

Man AHL faces a similar issue to many financial services organisations currently – unearthing programmers who may not have thought of working in finance, or finding talent that may have otherwise been screened out by recruitment teams for not hitting other criteria. Increasingly hedge funds and investment banks are running trading competitions to unearth new talent and – in the UK at least – firms like HSBC and Deloitte are introducing ‘name-blind’ recruitment processes to stop unconscious bias.

Rattray himself came from a relatively unconventional background. “I was always interested in technology and had a BBC Micro as a schoolboy” he says. “I studied Natural Sciences and Economics at Cambridge. After university, I decided that I wanted to use my quantitative and coding skills and went to Goldman Sachs to work on their derivatives research team on the trading floors.”

Rattray spent 15 years at Goldman Sachs, where he was latterly a managing director and head of the Fundamental Strategy Group. He joined GLG Partners in 2007 – which was later acquired by Man – and was head of systematic strategies. In 2013, as part of a wide-ranging management shake-up by new CEO Manny Roman, he was named CEO of Man AHL.

Rattray says that working on the sell-side equips you well for a role on the buy-side, but that anyone wishing to make the same move also needs to understand the differences.

“Development of new ideas can take longer, you may have fewer chances to get something right and client relationships are generally longer in duration,” he says. “I realised I wanted to move and spoke to people I knew on the buy side. After 15 years on the sell side, I did not need a headhunter.”

Man AHL is not just recruiting for technology staff. Rattray says that they’re also hiring for researchers, risk analysts, client portfolio managers, sales and trading. If you want to impress him, you need to have a linear career path. It currently employs 83 researchers and 112 people in investment roles.

“I am generally interested in the career decisions that people take,” he says. “Why did they decide to do a particular course or join a specific employer? We commit to employees for the long term, and we are looking for people to do the same to us.”

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