“The first language here is English. The second language is Python."
Man Group, the London-based investment management firm, is big on Python. Really big on Python.
“The first language at Man is English. The second language at Man is Python,” said Eric Burl, the fund’s head of discretionary (human-run) trading. Speaking at the LSE Alternative Investments Conference, Burl said that although systematic trading has long required Python expertise, people working across less automated strategies now need to know the language too.
“You need to know Python even to operate on the discretionary side now,” he said. “We’re bringing in a lot more quantitative and systematic processes, to make decision-making for those portfolio managers easier, more effective, so they can add more value for the clients.”
Man’s love affair with Python isn’t new. The firm has run hackathons – 10-hour code-writing marathons – with the express purpose of discovering talented Python developers.
Why is Python so important to Man’s systems? As Gary Collier, CTO of subsidiary Man Alpha Technology, told us, the language is the hedge fund’s very lifeblood. “All the exploratory analysis, getting data, testing of hypotheses and building of trading models is done using Python. None of our quant research is done using spreadsheets: all our researchers are all working in the Python environment.”
Burl said that “you need to know Python on the quantitative side to even operate on the discretionary side. That’s a big shift from when I started out, and I can’t see that direction of travel changing.”
He was quick to mention however that not all roles at Man require Python. “You don’t have to be a Python programmer to work as a legal counsel,” he said. “There are plenty of jobs at AHL where you don’t.”
AHL is the quant-focused subsidiary of Man, and people in investment roles there are steeped in programming. “If you want to work at AHL, you have to have a PhD, in hard science – maths, physics, or something like that. It’s hard to see how get a place in research without having that because of the competition both internally and in the market,” Burl says.
Burl’s own education, however, ended with a bachelor’s in management. “I don’t have a master’s, or a PhD, and I went to a pretty average school,” he confessed, adding that he attended the University of Nottingham after ruling out a career in football following a knee injury.
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