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Ask HN: Help a Hacker Out
263 points by lesterfremn on Feb 28, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 93 comments
As the result of a series of unfortunate misfires and suboptimal decisions I've found myself in the unenviable position of being unemployed and living back home with my mom in Des Moines, Iowa. While it may sound like a setup for a romantic comedy, the fact that a plucky and attractive female has yet to make an apparence has made it painfully clear that it's not going to be that kind of a movie. So, before the cement dries on what was intended to be a very short-term situation and I find myself greeting shoppers at Walmart, I've decided to buy a one-way ticket to SF where there seems to be plenty of opportunity for the likes of me. The only problem is that I don't have a job, an interview, or even any connections I can leverage.

But if you need help solving hard problems, I'm your guy. I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics from the University of Chicago and a masters in Mathematics from Iowa State. I know C++ and Python ok and I've worked as a derivatives quant, a high-frequency trader and even tried my hand at poker for a while. I'm open to short or long-term consulting projects as well as full-time employment. I'm particularly interested in working on challenging problems dealing with algorithms and big data, but I'm up for jumping back into HFT if there's a decent opportunity. Hell, I'll even tutor linear algebra or basket weaving if that's where this adventure needs to begin.

In short, I'm a smart guy coming to SF and I need an opportunity. Please help a hacker out.

I own a company that currently indexes/sorts/sells different algo-based trending information to hedge funds. We also do big-data management for a few of them as well (think processing/storing 4 million messages/second). I'd be interested in some consulting and possibly a full-time position. We have excellent programmers/mathematicians now, but always like to bring on someone with some experience/new things to bring to the table. If you actually worked as a trader, we could get you on our prop floor with some stability track record. Respond here to gauge your interest, and I'll shoot you an email. Thanks!

Current (and past) experience in this field, if you're looking for someone to do some contracting I'd be interested in hearing more about what you guys do. I'm local. yoblin -at- gmail dot com

Great - will do.

With current experience building trading applications and coming to SF in a week, I'd be interested to talk to you.

Please. kozjob (at) Yahoo (dot) com.

Will do - thank you.

I hate to be "that guy" but how on earth with such experience and credentials you resort to HN to find a job? Does not compute.

Finding a job is almost just as difficult as hiring, even if the person is credentialed and the company has many open positions. If you don't know exactly what you are looking for or what you may be good at, theres a good chance you might spin your wheels.

This is pretty common in the tech industry as I've come to realize. The issue is that many people can be good at programming, and hell, they might even have open source projects or even shipped applications to show for it. But put them in a software engineering interview where they have to walk through a basic dynamic programming or data structures problem and they will probably stumble. This situation is even more likely for interdisciplinary individuals where they don't have typical degrees for their field of interest.

So, point being, it takes a while to find a good fit. One where your skills expectations are agreeable for both sides. I don't see advertising on HN an issue, since we are the target market for this type of situation, but so long as it doesn't become a job board.

I don't see advertising on HN an issue, since we are the target market for this type of situation, but so long as it doesn't become a job board.

Someone started a "Who's looking" thread a month or two ago. It would be nice to see that become a regular fixture alongside the "Who's Hiring" thread.

This is where a good headhunter is worth their weight in gold, they can make matches neither party could do on their own.

As someone else who's looking at SV from the outside and in a somewhat-similar situation, I can tell you that the temptation to turn to HN is strong. I've asked for (and received!) advice here in the past and I'm very grateful for it.

I don't have the OP's history, my own isn't nearly as impressive, but I can certainly relate. I'm sure he could find a job in Iowa, just as I've had no trouble finding jobs in my current location, but the draw of Silicon Valley is high though from the outside can appear more difficult to enter than perhaps is the case.

Better here where like-minded folks hang out (at least, they will have HN News in common), than some random recruiter who have no inkling what either party is looking for

Perhaps I'm reading it too literally but it seems more like a desperate appeal than a first choice. Apologies if it's a humor detection bug.

Doesn't seem desperate at all. He's doing the Willie Sutton thing: go to where the jobs are!

Especially in Iowa... Not that many tech places hiring. Luckily the best place that I know of is Des Moines, where the OP is at.

I don't think it's difficult to get overlooked. Not everyone has built up solid connections in the industry that can vouch for them. If no one can vouch for you and you don't have an eye-catching resume (ie recognizable school or company), you end up competing against the other unknowns. At that point, it becomes more difficult for the employer to recognize a good potential candidate from a bad one.

Especially if you want to work on premise. I can understand if you want to get a remote job; that's really hard. Not freelance, but really a fulltime remote job with all benefits without coming into the office more than twice / year or something. No matter how brilliant you are. I think that's a big miss for employers; because they want to have the sense of 'control', they want all people present. Sure in some cases it helps to have the team sitting in one place, but in my experience remote employees are far more productive (as they have something to prove) and work harder than on-premise.

Sorry; offtopic, just a pet-peeve with 'modern employers' :)

What's a better place to look for a job than Hacker News?

I just shot you an email, but this seems like a reasonable place to note that my employer (Twitter) is hiring like mad, and we definitely have some big data to work with:


Hmmm... I applied at Twitter and got the coding problem done right. I also contributed to one of Twitter's open source projects, "Snowflake." Either you got to have a great story like this Iowa guy, or hiring at Twitter is broken. :-( This might be my next HN post: "How I Interviewed Great at Twitter but a bad coder got my job."

Maybe the fact that you didn't get hired has something to do with you coming off as a total asshole. What exactly makes you think the OP is a "bad coder"?

Maybe you should write a post titled, "How Twitter Failed to Fulfill My Sense of Entitlement".

Was a grammar test involved, perhaps?

Come to Texas. We have cheap cost of living and baller-as-hell problems to work on, whether you want games or graphics or oil & gas.

Yeah, I'm thinking about that. I really like the idea of going to Austin but the reason I'm thinking of SF is because the software / data scene there is off the charts. A friend of mine told me yesterday it's like what Paris 1910 was for painters.

So, looking over at Houston there are all kinds of crazy datasets for both energy exploitation and energy trading. There's a thriving if quiet startup community, and a local private university of some note in applied math (Rice). It's pretty unpretentious, but that's the city--we are all about the bidness.

Besides, it's a chance to crunch numbers for something other than selling ads and cat pictures. :)

Would you happen to know how to find these companies? I know of a few (FlightAware, for instance) but figuring out who's doing what in Houston isn't as easy as the Bay Area. I've been trying to get in touch with some companies in Houston (I graduate in May) and I'd much appreciate it if you could point me in the right direction!

If you decide on Austin, lemme know. I know some folks at a privately owned high frequency trading firm that I believe are hiring, or numerous startups in the area depending on what exactly you're looking for.

Is this RGM? I've had some contact with them already but I don't know of any other HFT in Austin. I'd be interested to know of others.

Yeah, it's rgm. I'm good friends with 2-3 developers, friends with 1-2 and friends with their network guy and one of the sysadmins. All are really happy and enjoying it, and none of them are "like working for bigco" folks.

Twosigma has an office out of Houston (I recruited a bit for them (no placements) a few years ago). You sound like a good fit.


Honestly more of a technologist HFT company vs financial (stuffy) firm (details in email I shot ya).

You can do HFT in Austin - http://www.rgmadvisors.com/

Edit: I see the discussion has passed me by. I'll add that I'm really enjoying working at RGM, and would definitely recommend it for anyone who does not have a strong preference toward living in SF or NY.

I can't help you out with many connections, all the people I know are barley getting started with their careers, but there are tons of startups and tech companies in the Austin and Houston area.

One of my good friends started working as an engineer for Texas Instruments (in Dallas) and loved it until he had offer he couldn't refuse from a Silicon Valley company and moved out to California.

What did he do for TI? I have had my eye on them for a few months, since it would just be a move across the parking lot for me.

UChicago math undergrad? I have complete confidence you won’t be acting this role for long...

You should reach out to people from your class (and years around it) that ended up in SF. Check out RethinkDB for example - part of their team is UChicago. Lollihop is another one.

I saw a presentation by the Founder of Dwolla which suggested they were working on some interesting monetary software. Located right in Des Moines : http://blog.dwolla.com/another-ramp-looking-for-more-team-me...

I'm in SF, I own a company that writes scripts to moderate internet access at mobile RV parks. We use some Python and sharepoint. I think you would be a great match to work well in the office with my other 2 guys. Keep an eye out for an email.

Python + Sharepoint to moderate internet access? Wow....why?

I'm actually super curious. It seems like an incredibly odd stack for an incredibly odd application.

Python probably does the moderation. Sharepoint is for dead simple communication of info to the user community.

Your quant skills (and humor) sound like a great match for http://quantopian.com. If you signup for the alpha using the kozjob email you shared below, and we'll let you through. If you like what you see, drop us a line, maybe there's more we can do together.

Good luck! I hope you'll make a follow-up post to tell us how it all went at some later point.

That's a great point, I'll do that.

I forgot my email address (I'm the OP)

kozjob at yahoo.com

You should throw it in your profile. Most people will look there first (rather than through the comment thread).

Ok. I updated it.

You'll actually need to put it in the "about" field, since the email field isn't public.

Got it, thanks.

I'm curious about your experience in the HFT field. Have you ever considered starting your own trading shop?

If this isn't something you feel comfortable discussing in public, feel free to email me — address in my profile. I don't have a job to offer you right now, but would like to talk. When you get to SF, lunch or beer on me.

Hey gcv,

What do you mean, exactly, by starting a trading shop? If you mean becoming a broker dealer, that will require certificates and capital - and lots of it! :P

I was thinking more along the lines of proprietary trading. There is no regulatory oversight for risking your own money, and the amounts required to get started are reasonably modest. See, e.g., http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/9s9d7/iama_100_automat...

Ahh - agreed. Getting around PDT for $2,500 and having incredibly cheap leverage makes for an interesting market (though one bad trade and your done - you have to put it all on the line with such a small account)! Though if you do not have that much capital, jumping into futures/options trading against the best in the world - you will get your head chopped off. The far shot of a reality such as the one on reddit is not a good one to try to reproduce. I definitely recommend he read "Fooled by Randomness" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. While it's obviously a biased book (even just taking into account the title) - it does shed some light on the subject.

Regarding "Fooled by Randomness". I haven't read the book, but assume it's brought up in the inherent randomness of the markets, and people's ability to try to rationalize said randomness.

Trying to understand the market is surely a shortcut to crazy town, and certainly trying to rationalize it is a poor mechanism to profit. But it's clearly evident that the market isn't uniformly random, and that there exists exploitable patterns in the market that are reliably (to a degree) profitable over certain time periods.

I think the thesis of "Fooled by Randomness" is best taken advantage of by understanding that you need to recognize the pattern, and exploit it directly, rather than trying to extrapolate meaning and use that directly.

The market is clearly a truly chaotic system, but you just need to take advantage of patterns that are statistically relevant and profitable.

Edit: After additional contemplation, I'm not sure I actually agree with what I just said.

haha - interesting edit that you have!

I currently have been making money the last 3 years by trading futures. It's been consistent, however, my co-founder of our fund has been trading for 20 years, lost his family, lost all his money, his house, everything. He was working at dominos when I took a little risk to give him some cash to trade, and boy was it a good decision. You could even say then, that the fooled by randomness theory exists - I was _really_ lucky to have found him and he was _really_ lucky to have been able to succeed. Regardless, it is possible. For every successful trader I personally know, I can give you 10 that majorly failed. It's human nature to want to try it - to be in (arguably) the most competitive business in the world. I offer my advice on where to start for free, but jumping into HFT in the really big markets is where people get crushed. Our current trading system can read a quote, send an order, and get confirmation about 2,000 times before you can blink! With that said, there are a lot of places (penny stocks, spread strategies, smaller equities) where you can thrive, and not have to trade against big machines. I will post to hackernews one day with an overview of his story and what we do

It seems that doing HFT without being in a datacenter close to the exchanges is a loosing strategy, since at these frequencies, a delay of milliseconds can make a huge difference. Do you agree with this assessment?

100% absolutely - here is a really good TED talk that puts things in perspective (sorry if it's a repost, but it's definitely worth your time to watch) : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TDaFwnOiKVE

For just momo or momentum traders that deal in extremely liquid trading instruments, microseconds can even make a difference. Our current feed from a US equity exchange is about 220 microseconds or .22 miliseconds - and we are on the "slow" side of things. The guys that actually read, process, send transactions usually go as far as using FPGAs even (some of the bigger firms)

That said - there are still lots of places in the market where opportunities exist!

Thanks, I'll watch the talk with I get a spare moment.

Regarding the existing opportunities, It's interesting imagining a situation where opportunities did not exist, seemingly the market would either become completely random, and driven by luck, or remarkably stable. Most interestingly it crazy to imagine a market that has been optimized to complete stability. I wonder if that's the natural progression of things.

I think in a big rhythmic cycle, that may be true. I have friends that are fund managers that say, now, the market is completely and totally efficient, and that people making money are just "lucky" - both are interesting and somewhat valid! If 10,000 funds trade, there will be some profitable one (even though there were SO few in 2008). It's an interesting study, even if you aren't a trader

You should read it. It's excellent.

I hope you get the girl.

I'm a student at Iowa State and know of plenty of opportunities in the Des Moines area. Have you looked around Des Moines? Seems like the insurance companies (or maybe even a big startup like Dwolla) would have a use for someone with a Math masters.

I agree with this. I think you can get a job in insurance companies on your hometown. Good luck!

My team is looking for mathematicians to help solve huge problems in the world of YouTube/online video. I just sent you a message.

what are you working on? I'm not looking for work, just have a fascination with the space. are you guys stealth mode?

I love seeing interest in our space. The audience on YouTube is massive. The current mode of measuring this audience is just the tip of the iceberg. We believe there is much to be learned in dissecting this audience and how they connect with online video.

Good luck dude!.Being a fellow job seeker myself I can understand how hard it is to find any decent job without connections or an ivy league degree even when you have decent skills.

Also I see you have some writing skills too.You can be a great asset for companies who are trying to get some good content on their blogs and gain traction.

How about Google? Happy to start the process for you if you send me an email (my-hn-username AT google.com).

Great, email your way.

Make sure you check out Addepar - they're developing a wealth management platform that seems like a good thing for you to work on given your experience. Only negative is that you'd have to learn Java, but it's a small price to pay to get involved with an up-and-comer.

Come to Startup Weekend Des Moines before you go! This weekend, March 2-4: http://dsm.startupweekend.org/

Also, you should try Dwolla, who are awesome, committed to building the Des Moines hacker ecosystem.

EDIT: Emailed to offer help.

Post a link to this story on G+ to give you more exposure. Plenty of folks from the valley hang out there as well. Good luck!

Thanks, I appreciate it.

I love the positive response this is getting! Sometimes I fall back into thinking HN is just another list of news, but a real sense of community pops up at a moment like this. Good luck finding work lesterfremn!

Yeah, suprised me quite a bit really. Thanks.

I don't have close to what you have as a background but I've been able to get interest in my resume and just landed a position in sf, I havev the fortune of having family out there so maybe that helped, but you should be able to get a lot of interest I would think... Have you been applying like crazy and networking on linkedin, etc, posting resumes?

Id be happy to help in any way I can, my email is rick_developer at gmx dot com

"I'm particularly interested in working on challenging problems dealing with algorithms and big data"

Give one of our competitions a shot - http://kaggle.com/. They're a good way to experiment with algorithms and machine learning on well-defined problems, and collaborate with people who have similar interests. Also, we love hiring people who win competitions.

Let me start by saying welcome to San Francisco!

We've got lots of opportunities for smart guys like you and we love C++ here at Room77.

We may not have the "big data" opportunities like Twitter has but we have a big dream, to build the best hotel shopping site in the world and we've got amazing VCs and people backing us and we have a lot of interesting problems to solve.

Your quant and derivatives background is especially interesting since we have a new project that's basically custom made for someone who wants to build a highly algo-driven engine.

Send me an email roger[at]room77.com if you're interested in finding out more or just shoot us your resume here and complete a few of our problems https://www.room77.com/jobs/se_resume_form.html?p=SWE&s=...

Hello from the fourth floor!

Actually I am in Long Beach now but usually I am upstairs.

Email sent, thanks.

Put your github, stackoverflow, blog, research papers, web apps etc in your profile, and possibly work the confidence index up, and let folks know your'e avail for remote work now

I know C++ and Python ok

(never took math classes at U of C, but spent lots of time in Eckhart library)

The more you know the more you understand how less you know :)

unknown unknowns – things we do not know we don't know

Yup Rumsfeld knew blind spots

We're seeking a smart guy/Python/big data engineer. Please send your resume (or other evidence of ability) to jobs(at)proximiant(dot)com. Proximiant is developing a touch-and-go digital receipt service.

Wow, you sound really optimistic (and who shouldn't be? You'll slay SF!)

Good luck man :-)

Contact me, email is in profile.

Email on the way.

Good luck man, fellow Iowan myself.

Hope this goes through for you, goodluck!


Hit me up when you're in SF; we can reminisce about Eckhart Hall.

Crusty old building. Smart people.

There was this intense Indian professor who had this air about him that was sort of condescending but more just dismissive. Ie, there was some pretty intense sttt he would routinely characterize as trivial or obvious.

The thing was, you were never sure whether he was trolling you or not. At a party or some event, supposedly somebody asked him what his research interest was. They were probably expecting to hear something like knot theory or PDE or whatever, but his research interest was "Mathematics", which I guess makes sense because that's what he worked on.

He liked teaching undergraduates but the department only let him do it once every four years or so, as the memories faded from the last time he did it. The year he taught the honors analysis class, it started in the fall with something like 32 students (and all of them by invitation at that) and ended with 6. And so the six survivors printed up T-shirts for having completed the course and wore them to the spring semester final. He's handing out the final and sees the shirts and says something like, "Don't be too confident about that."

Ok, there's really only a couple of stories I know of Eckhart hall but I should mention them before this gets too stale.

Most or every weekday, the faculty and other interested parties meet for tea at about 4PM in the tea room across from the library.

I was taking abstract algebra at the time and the professor was a fairly recent Phd. And, most or all UC undergraduates learn some familiarity with the categorical imperatives of Immanuel Kant. Somehow, the subject came up whether or not the idea of category theory (or at least the name) is in some way derivative of the categorical imperative.

The inventor of category theory was Saunders Mac Lane who was on the faculty. At tea one day our teacher asked Mr Mac Lane if there was any relationship between category theory and the categorical imperative.

Oddly enough the answer was yes, in an oblique way. This story would be quite a bit better if I remembered some idea of what the relationship was but unfortunately I don't. In any case it seemed pretty cool at the time.

Why not take the Steve Jobs route and walk into a company's office and refuse to leave until they offer you a job. Square is in downtown San Fran.

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