We spoke to Erich Schlaikjer, chief technology officer of Cambridge-based hedge fund Cantab Capital Partners and a former MD and European chief technology officer at Goldman Sachs. This is what Erich said.
1. Hi Erich, you describe yourself as a ‘hands on’ programmer – can you explain what this means? What does a hands off programmer look like?
A hands-off programmer looks like a manager, I guess. Or a worm. The phrase indicates that we value actual coding by everyone. Even our CEO writes code.
2. How is the role of a quant developer changing? Is it possible to split out the quant and the development any more – or do you think all quant researchers will need some programming knowledge in future?
I think programming knowledge is the new literacy. Although I still encounter quant candidates who do not code, or who are uninterested in the art of coding, I do not hire them.
3. You studied Latin and Greek. This seems unusual for a quantitative programmer! How did you make the leap?
A lot of classicists tend to be geeks, actually. Something about inflected languages appeals to symbol manipulators. I ended up on Wall Street serendipitously, way back in the 1980s.
4. Which programming languages would you advise aspiring quant programmers to focus on learning now? Are there any new languages that are coming out of the ether?
A love of programming is more important than a particular language. I shy away from zealots of a single language or language style since they tend to be more interested in ideas than in execution, in making money. The most common languages in our business are C++, Java and Python. Niche languages are fun, but a big development effort should pick a platform and stick with it.
5. What are the three key things you look for when you’re hiring for your team of programmers?
I routinely plagiarise Joel Spolsky’s phrase “smart and gets things done”. A third thing? Curiosity.
6. Is it worth doing a Phd? Or it is it ok simply to have a Masters or DEA in a mathematical subject – or even simply the CQF?
I do not have a PhD, so I am sympathetic to those who do not. Some of the great programmers that I have known did not even finish their undergraduate course. That said, most of the scientists at Cantab have PhDs.
7. How can someone impress you in an interview?
I am always impressed when someone tells me something that I did not know. I love hiring people who are smarter than me in some way. Enthusiasm also leaves a good impression.
8. How many people do you expect Cantab to hire next year? What kind of profiles are they likely to have?
Cantab generally hires 3 or 4 people a year. Most of them have a degree in a hard science of some kind.
9. You were previously CTO of the quant strategies group at Goldman Sachs. How did that compare to working in a hedge fund?
Goldman Sachs is a great company with some immensely talented people. I am having a lot more fun now, though. A 40 person firm is more familial than a 30,000 person firm.
10. How do you relax?
I jog, collect old books on Japan, shoot photographs, and travel with my family. Recently I had fun making computer-generated fabric on Spoonflower. At work we have a tradition of geeky purchases like that. And did I mention our pastry officers?