Member Q&A with Sameer Vishwanathan

In December 2018 Createscape opened the Groove Room, home to our new Office Pods. These semi-private offices from a modified greenhouse design that can easily fit one or two coworkers. The walls are made out of poly-carbonate material, which affords a level of privacy for members who work in the pods, but because they’re not sound-resistant, you also don’t feel fully sealed off from other members. Sameer Vishwanathan was Createscape’s first office pod member. He was also our first member who works in the quantitative finance sector. Find out from Sameer what it’s like to work in an office pod and what a quantitative finance expert is. 

interview_sameer.jpg

So, based on your email signature, I gather you’re the owner of New Emerald, a recruiting company for quantitative finance professionals? What does that mean?

Yes, that’s correct. 

Quantitative finance typically refers to work that combines finance, mathematics and computer science. For instance, a company might use mathematical ideas and software to come up with novel ways to trade on the stock market to make money. Now, they generally need a good amount of money to trade. You may need to borrow that amount one or more large investors. A hedge fund is an example of a type of company that might do this. 

New Emerald’s clients are hedge funds. The work they do is considered to be in the quantitative finance realm. And New Emerald recruits for these hedge funds. In other words, New Emerald finds the people that can do the mathematical and computer science work.  

A few things to note: the term “finance” in quantitative finance almost always refers to the financial markets (and not insurance, personal finance or retail banking). “Mathematics” refers to anything quantitative, and not just mathematics, per se. So one may apply principles from physics, electrical engineering, or any of the other hard sciences to the work they do in quantitative finance. And, computer science comes into play because there’s a lot of software and hardware in the mix to “make it all work.” 

I generally think of mathematics and computer science as the foundation, and the finance piece sits on top of that to collectively make it quantitative finance.  

At what age does a young child think to him or herself, “I want to grow up and recruit quantitative finance experts!”

“I want to grow up and recruit quantitative finance experts,” said no child ever. And, I didn’t either. 

After grad school, I was a techie for several years at startups in Austin and Chicago. But I reached a point in my life where I wanted autonomy over my work, the strategy of the company and my life. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about recruiting, but rather, the various elements I wanted in my professional and personal life -- New Emerald has surely afforded me that. 

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing but it has been very fulfilling. And I highly recommend everyone run their own gig at least once. Even if the company eventually fails, the experience and lessons learned will most likely constitute success. 

What type of jobs does a quantitative finance expert do? 

Generally speaking, there are three kinds of roles—research, software engineering and infrastructure. 

Researchers use their background (usually a hard sciences PhD) to come up with new trading ideas. They also test these ideas to ensure they are viable before actually trading them “live” using their clients’ money. 

Software engineers use their background (often computer science) to build the software that enables trading and the various functions that go along with running a trading company. Also, several companies automate their trading and this would be impossible without the use of software. 

Infrastructure roles entail architecting and maintaining the systems (software and hardware) that support research and software development. Several clients engage in something called high-frequency trading and they use specialized hardware and software to “trade very rapidly” (simplistically speaking). 

quantitative_finance.jpeg

Are you also a quantitative finance expert? 

No, I am surely not a quantitative finance expert. Honestly, I couldn’t do the deep quantitative research, or build the trading software or design the infrastructure needed for running a quantitative hedge fund. 

But I have a good handle on the space from a business perspective and on recognizing when someone has the skills to succeed in it. The most important component of my role is actually building a network of really strong, capable people. This usually takes a lot of time and patience, and entails doing what’s best for the human, even if it means sacrificing revenue for New Emerald. In the long run, that has always been worth it. 

Do you have any jobs for a writer? (Asking for a friend : )

Every so often, there will be a technical writing role at a client but not any writing roles otherwise, unfortunately. There may be a one-off project such as writing copy for a new website. What is the friend’s specialty? (Editor’s note: “My friend” writes website copy, blog posts, case studies, thought leadership papers, and other types of content.)

So you joined Createscape in December 2018, how did you hear about us?

Well, I toured CS way before I became a member. I actually don’t remember how I heard about CS, but it was probably something I saw online. 

You were our first Office Pod member. Tell us what it’s like working in an office pod. 

It is pretty good. It affords me privacy but also allows me to get out and see/mingle with other people. That’s what I wanted and it was surprisingly hard to find in Austin.  

When I’m giving a tour, I describe the office pod as a “semi private office.” Would you agree with that? 

Yes, that’s accurate. 

Do you take naps in your pod? Be honest! (I would. But I also take naps out in the open. I don’t need privacy when I’m tired.)

I have thought about getting a little bed in there, truth be told. Napping is good for the soul (and, for business). Maybe Createscape can get some nap pods that anyone can use. There will be some maintenance but may be worth it. And, CS might be the first in Austin to offer something like that.  

What is non-work Sameer like? What do you do for fun? 

My wife and I have a toddler and we spend a lot of time with her. But apart from that, I like to meditate, read (mainly books on Buddhism), play soccer and do Olympic lifting on my setup in my garage. 

What is the last TV show you binged? What is the next TV show you plan to binge? (Or if not TV, what about movies?)

I don’t generally binge on any TV shows, although I did so with Bodyguard a while back. 

I am pretty serious about meditation and mindfulness, so I actually often end up watching or listening to talks online. Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu is a Canadian monk and his YouTube channel is splendid. It isn’t religious, as one might imagine--just a lot of good advice on meditation and life.  

When Createscape members run into you in the kitchen, what should they say or ask if they want to start a conversation? 

I will talk to anyone, anytime, regardless of what they say. But, for someone at a loss for words, a simple “Hi” is great. :)