Pravar Kataria (CS1)
Interned at Jane Street
Domain: Quantitative Trading
Hello, and welcome to the 2nd Year Intern series by the Board for Student Publications at IIT Delhi. Today, we are pleased to interview Pravar Kataria, who interned at Jane Street after his second year. Pravar, please start by giving us a brief introduction of yourself and your intern experience.
I'm Pravar, a third-year student majoring in Computer Science at IIT Delhi. During my second year, I interned at Jane Street (as a quantitative trader), and this year, I'll be interning at Optiver in the same profile. This role is focused on trading and less on the software side of things, so it was similar to that of a researcher. While traders also perform research tasks, researchers primarily focus on research. There's a blurred line between the two roles, and I'd say my role was more like a hybrid of both.
How did you learn about the internship opportunity at Jane Street and the application process?
I learned about the opportunity through OCS, where Jane Street was one of the companies that came for second-year internships. Additionally, some of my friends had mentioned Jane Street and its reputation. I also checked YouTube, Quora, Glassdoor, and similar sites to understand the quant interview process. I was fascinated by the idea that it involved solving puzzles, which I enjoyed, so I started preparing for it informally.
Could you share your experiences on the interview day? Was it online or in person?
The interview process was online. However, there's an interesting backstory to it. There were two batches of students before the final interview. The first batch had to go through a written examination screening, and the second batch could directly appear for the interview. I wasn't directly selected for the interview; I had to take the test first. I initially thought my chances were slim, given the rigorous process. But to my surprise, I got selected for the interview. There were three interviews before the final one, and there was also an examination. On the day of the final interview, I was in Chandigarh for a competition, and I wasn't aware that the interview was scheduled for that day. Only in the morning did I receive a call from OCS, telling me I had missed the interview. I was both infuriated and surprised. I immediately contacted OCS and Jane Street to explain the situation. Eventually, they decided to take my interview online, and I got selected.
After overcoming that hurdle and being selected, did you experience any nervousness or doubts about the internship or the process? Were you ever unprepared, considering you got into Jane Street after your second year?
Surprisingly, I wasn't very nervous initially. I felt confident because I was genuinely interested in the field. However, once I joined Jane Street, especially in the first week, I realised there was much to learn. Many of my colleagues were more experienced, and I initially felt like I was lagging. However, I managed to catch up and I learned that age wasn't a significant factor. Most of what I needed to know was learnable, and I gradually bridged the gap.
Looking at the entire interview process and your journey, what was your most significant takeaway or learning experience?
One of the most clichéd but essential takeaways is perseverance. Keep pushing through challenges, no matter what. The second, more practical for me, was to remain calm no matter the situation. Many times, things may not go your way, but panicking will only make it worse. Staying composed is often the better option.
During your academic journey at IIT Delhi, did you take any specific courses or develop skills in the third and fourth semesters that you found helpful during your internship?
I didn't take any courses directly related to finance or the “subject material” of Jane Street. However, I did take two courses that I believe indirectly contributed to my passion and knowledge. One was microeconomics, which provided a math-y introduction to economics and acted as a bridge to the finance field. The other was data structures and discrete mathematics, which involved puzzle-solving and critical thinking—valuable skills.
There's a common belief that competitive coding is crucial for landing quantitative trading internships. How important do you think competitive coding is for the interview process and the internship?
Competitive coding doesn't directly correlate with quantitative trading but indirectly contributes. Competitive coding improves your problem-solving skills, which are valuable in trading. While some Indian high-frequency trading firms consider competitive coding ratings, it's not a strict requirement. It's more about being skilled in solving puzzles and critical thinking, which competitive coding can enhance.
You were also involved in the Economics Club. Did your involvement with the club help you in any way during your internship, or did it provide you with beneficial insights related to finance and economics?
While I can't point to any instances wherein my involvement was of any “direct” help, being a part of the Economics Club did introduce me to finance and made it less intimidating. It gave me the chance to interact with peers who were interested in economics and finance. Additionally, some seniors in the club had interned at quant firms, and their experiences provided peer support and insights. Overall, being involved with the club indirectly contributed to my interest in economics and finance.
Many students believe they need to learn OCaml to get into Jane Street. Can you clarify the importance of OCaml and whether knowing it before applying is necessary? On a related note, what are some other preconceived notions you had that were debunked?
It's not necessary to learn OCaml before applying. I didn't know about OCaml before my application and interview. Jane Street doesn't expect second-year interns to know OCaml; you'll learn on the job. They hire you primarily for your problem-solving and mathematical skills. Having a good background in functional programming can help you pick it up faster, but it's not a prerequisite.
I had heard previously that knowledge of financial markets was necessary, but it isn't; you only need some basics, and you'll gradually transition. I expected the process to be stressful but fun, which turned out to be true.
Could you please explain the social, emotional and cultural challenges you faced in Hong Kong?
Certainly. The challenges I encountered were threefold:
There was a cultural shock. It's not that I didn't like their food; it was just challenging to adapt to a different cuisine. Language wasn't a big issue as most people there spoke English.
None of my friends were with me initially, and it made me feel somewhat alone without emotional support.
Staying alone and managing daily chores like cooking and cleaning added to the challenge.
In the internship, the initial weeks were tough as I had no prior knowledge of the financial world and the required Python Libraries, and I had to catch up quickly.
Quantitative internships are often considered very work-intensive. How would you describe the workload and the pressure during your internship, and how was the work culture at Jane Street?
Jane Street had a relatively flat organisational structure. While there were certain preferences for task allocation, there wasn't a clear hierarchy. This flat structure helped newcomers feel included. The people, including full-time employees, were friendly and supportive. Initially, they did seem intimidating due to their extensive knowledge, but later they eventually proved very approachable.
The internship was indeed challenging, especially in the beginning. While there weren't any extremely urgent deadlines, the workload was heavy due to the steep learning curve. It was my first internship, and I had to grasp many new concepts quickly. However, it wasn't overly competitive in the sense of competing with other interns' working hours.
The recommended working hours were from 8:30 AM to 6:30 PM, but I'm not a morning person, so I'd start around 9 AM. The day typically included project work, some time for games, and meetings with mentors. Lunch breaks were provided, but the workday was quite intensive.
Can you guide us through the breakdown of your eight-week internship, including any training, projects and programs?
The first week primarily involved training in financial markets and a Python workshop covering essential data analysis libraries like Pandas. From the second week onwards, there were two projects and some games related to trading. The last two weeks focused on mock trading, where we had to design trading algorithms or create computer programs for trading. The projects were centred around financial markets, typically involving data analysis and finding correlations. I had two project mentors who were specific to the projects and didn't monitor other aspects of my performance. Additionally, there was a general supervisor who oversaw the entire internship.
What advice would you give to students who aspire to intern at Jane Street or similar firms in the quant finance domain?
First, understand what quantitative finance involves. Try to develop a genuine interest in it because it's a demanding field. If you're interested, start reading about it. You can start with books like "Options, Futures, and Other Derivatives" by John C. Hull. For Indian HFTs and quant firms, I'd recommend preparing with resources like "Heard on the Street", "Xinfeng Zhou", and "Brainstellar". These books provide valuable insights and help you tackle problem-solving. Specific preparation may be required for international firms like Jane Street as they ask for more elaborate puzzles. However, these interviews are enjoyable and worth the effort.
Second, practise problem-solving and develop strong mathematical skills. This is crucial because you'll be solving complex problems daily.
Third, stay persistent and keep applying. Even if you face rejections initially, don't lose hope. I met multiple rejections, but I finally made it.
Lastly, stay composed during interviews. The interview process at quant firms can be tough and intimidating. However, remember that it's a two-way process; you're also assessing whether the firm is a good fit for you.
In hindsight, what advice would you give someone preparing for a quant internship?
Try to gain some broad financial knowledge and understand buzzwords. You could also learn some marketing terminologies. You can also learn about Python Pandas. I don't know if this is general advice or specific to Jane Street, so do ask your seniors who've interned there.
When you get there, don't be shy and ask many questions. Make some friends who can guide you. Don't hesitate to chat with your mentor; they understand it is new for you and won't hesitate to help you.