Tell us a bit more about yourself and the work you currently do.
My name is Marija Puljić. I’m a Croatian currently living in Amsterdam. I work as a research intern at Webb Traders, carrying out research as part of my Master’s in Computational Science. My focus is on a comparative analysis of two stochastic volatility models. These are models used in finance to evaluate derivative securities such as options. My goal is to investigate these models, see how well they perform, and see how well they can replicate market option prices and actual stock price and volatility that we find in the stock market. Ultimately, the objective is to determine which model can best be used in the real world to mitigate risk.
You are already in the deep end with financial modelling. But let’s take it back a little, what initially brought you to finance? What sparked your interest?
I’ve always been fascinated by numbers and equations. I knew growing up that I wanted to harness their power, I just didn’t know to what end. In high school I started participating in math competitions. This led to me to enrol in an undergraduate degree in mathematics. As I progressed throughout my studies, I started wondering what type of career a math degree would lead me to. I kind of stumbled upon finance, driven by the stereotypical image of the trader crunching numbers on a big screen. It seemed like an exciting and fast paced environment. The idea of dealing with the unknown and using mathematics to turn the unknown into probability was particularly interesting to me.
Throughout my undergraduate degree, I also developed a passion for programming. Seeking to ally both programming and finance, I then applied to the Masters in Computational Science at the University of Amsterdam. So far, it has been pretty much what I was hoping for. I now have the opportunity to intern with Webb Traders as I finish my dissertation work.
“I kind of stumbled upon finance, driven by the stereotypical image of the trader crunching numbers on a big screen. It seemed like an exciting and fast paced environment. The idea of dealing with the unknown and using mathematics to turn the unknown into probability was particularly interesting to me.”
It seems you really found the intersection between markets and technology. Tell me a bit more about the tech side. What have you been learning in your degree in computational science?
Indeed, my goal was to find a way to connect both my interests in finance and tech. This is what computational science offers me. As for the tech itself, my interest lies within algorithms. I love the fact you can make the computer do basically anything you want by creating the right algorithm. Add to that the knowledge that a computer can crunch numbers with a speed and accuracy that no human can match, and you’ve got a pretty potent tool at your disposal. I believe it’s possible to utilize programming to make something great out of it.
Could you detail what kind of career this will eventually lead you to?
In my case, I am quite interested in option pricing. I hope to keep working on models that are specifically related to that. In other words, I would be working on creating programs that attempt to model and to some extent predict the movement of the stock market. The idea is to get an as close as possible rendition of a real-life stock market volatility through modelling.
Specifically, the role my kind of research leads to is the ‘’Quantitative Analyst’’ role. As a quant analyst, I would also be working closely with quantitative traders. My mandate would be to carry out research, analyse the results, and give insights to the traders so they in turn can use these findings for use in the market.
Let’s zoom in on your current internship at Webb Traders. Tell us more about the organization, its internal culture, and what led you to work for them.
In truth, I came to Webb Traders by chance. As I was advancing through my masters, I asked a professor who I respect and is very accomplished in my field of interest if he could guide me towards an organization that did the kind of research I focus on. He pointed me in the direction of Webb Traders, a firm that is encourages the rise of a new generation of researchers. Webb Traders provides a great environment for carrying out the kind of research you are interested in. The culture is very focused on cooperation and teamwork. Everyone is very friendly, and our common competitive spirit is channelled in finding solutions to problems together.
I feel lucky to have an environment like this to start my career in.
“Webb Traders provides a great environment for carrying out the kind of research you are interested in. The culture is very focused on cooperation and teamwork. Everyone is very friendly, and our common competitive spirit is channelled in finding solutions to problems together.”
With your interest in both technology and finance, you decided to work in two fields that have traditionally been heavily staffed by men. How does it feel to be a woman studying and working in financial modelling?
There’s been a lot of progress over the years. Firms are more open to hiring women. It’s still a male dominated field, but big barriers to women participation, I feel, are much less present today. Coming here, I never felt judged or looked down upon because of the fact I’m a woman.
Nevertheless, I think there still aren’t enough women in the field. If the community was more gender balanced, I believe it would be more inviting for everyone. So, for anyone interested in this field, I would encourage you to try and join. It’s an interesting and challenging field that many can benefit from.
What advice would you give to someone starting their studies and looking up to someone like you. Would you have done anything differently?
That’s a tall order for someone just starting their career! I still need some advice myself. But the bottom line is that if you have a passion and focus, if you are willing to give it enough time, anything is possible.
On a more practical level, look for internships. In my case, this internship at Webb Traders has been quite beneficial in letting me see the actual applicability of my research. In university, the theory can quickly become rather abstract. Internships help you see the way things really operate, and also remind you that what you learn in school is in fact quite useful!
“It’s still a male dominated field, but big barriers to women participation, I feel, are much less present today. Coming here, I never felt judged or looked down upon because of the fact I’m a woman.”
What are three skills you think are particularly useful to have when working in the industry?
I would say focus is particularly important. We deal with numbers and equations. It’s important not to make mistakes. If you can hone in on the task at hand without letting the rest of the world distract you, you will have a leg up on others.
Another important trait is determination. You will likely get stuck on difficult problems at work. Perseverance will be key to getting through them. There’s always a solution, but sometimes, you just need to give it more time.
Finally, an eagerness to learn, and to always be ready to volunteer. This is an ever-changing field, where you need to stay informed of new ideas and findings. You always need to keep progressing in order not to fall behind.
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