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Working at Optiver

Buying. Selling. And everything in between.

February 10, 2021

The trader is a character often shrouded in mystery – a quantitative problem-solver that shies away from people. However, in reality, the best traders are often down-to-earth people who live a balanced life.

Meet Gidon: one of Optiver’s finest traders. He joined Optiver 8 years ago after completing a Master’s degree in Computer science from the University of New South Wales. This 31-year-old Australian joined Optiver Sydney in 2013 and relocated to our Shanghai office in 2015 where he is now a senior trader. Gidon shares a bit about his career journey with us.

Q: You majored in Physics and did a masters in computer science. How did you end up in Trading?

When I was young, I was interested in mathematics and dreamed of being a scientist. But then I found out that a career as a scientist was not what you would imagine. I would work for others forever, and possibly only 10 other people in the world would understand my research. So I switched to computer science, which I thought had more real world application.

I found I was good at programming and thought I would start my career at a big tech company like Microsoft or Google. One lucky day I showed up at a careers’ fair in Sydney. I found that most employers boasted about their salary and benefits – but Optiver was different! At the Optiver stall, the recruiters would play card games with the graduates and offered a mental math test. This seemed really cool! Despite not knowing anything about ‘futures’ or ‘options’ I interviewed with the company and the rest is history.

Q: What does a top trading firm expect from their traders?

The most important thing is responsibility. You get a lot of responsibility from day one, which is an amazing opportunity, and the more senior you are, the more ownership you have. This matters especially when things go wrong.

Secondly, being open minded. We never follow theories blindly. We accept ideas from others and change our minds when the facts change. In all things, we don’t make excuses

Finally: being diligent and independent. We have difficult problems to solve, and need to have the drive to solve them

Q: How do you spend your day?

We arrive at 8, and spend the next hour preparing for the trading day. We discuss the events overnight and prepare our systems to trade optimally for the next day. Then at 9am the market opens – and we make sure our hundreds of strategies are all performing well, monitoring our six screens constantly. The market shuts at 3pm, and we spend the rest of the time improving our strategies, discussing new ideas, and steering the direction of technical development.

Q: What makes this interesting?

It is extremely fulfilling to develop a strategy, implement it, and make it work right away. After all this time, I still cannot believe I have the opportunity to solve such difficult problems and be a highly competitive trader in the market. How many others can say they have such good fortune?

Q: You focus on low-latency trading. Are you still interested in long term planning?

Any return comes from long term planning.

Q: What kind of personality is right for Quantitative traders?

Smart, creative, good at analysis. He or she must be a good team player, a confident decision maker under pressure and self-driven – willing to brave endless challenges.

Q: How do you deal with the normal, if not inevitable mood swings? How do you alleviate pressure?

As a trader, you learn quickly to not be consumed by your moods. When you are doing well, when you are doing poorly, you cannot lose sight of the bigger goals.

We try to balance our lives so we can stay focused on work. This means having an active social life and regular exercise.

Q: Are you a frequent traveller?

Gidon: One of the best things about living in Shanghai is the proximity to the amazing destinations that China has to offer. I have visited every province, including Xinjiang and Tibet, and over 100 cities. I especially enjoy long rail trips – I can relax and improve my focus when I get back to work.

I tend to plan to travel randomly, sometimes buying a ticket on Friday morning to a place I have not yet been and heading there after work. For example: last autumn I was diving in the Philippines one week, off to Beijing to see a friend the next, and the next week in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Coronavirus restrictions have changed this, but hopefully in the future we can travel again.

Q: How do you spend your free time on workdays?

Optiver is a results-oriented firm that does not value working overtime. People here focus on being efficient and working as a team – as long as you have achieved your goals, no one cares how long you spend at your desk. After work, I tend to work out at the gym for one hour – after all, a discounted gym membership is one of the perks Optiver offers all its employees.

I also allocate time for my personal hobbies. For example, I have learned to play the piano since coming to China. I also work as an amateur (free) guide showing people around the old and new parts of the city.

There is so much to discover. For example, I recently found a book that explained the names of the streets perpendicular to the Bund: Guangdong Lu, Fuzhou Lu, Hankou Lu, Jiujiang Lu, Nanjing Lu, Beijing Lu. Seems random, right? But in English, its alphabetical: Canton, Fuzhou, Hankou, Jiujiang, Nanjing, Peking. How amazing is that?

I joined Optiver when I was 23. People should be adventurous when they are young. I hope I am living up to this.

Q: Do you have any advice for new traders

Gidon: Everyone makes stupid mistakes and loses money. The important thing is to be honest about it, tell your team what you have done, and work to make sure the same mistake never happens again.

Closing Remarks

The Australian wearing a broad smile is a calm, disciplined trader and an insightful city explorer. He labels himself as adventurous and ambitious. Perhaps this is what it takes to be a top trader.

During the interview, he shared some of the pictures he has taken on his trips.