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The Citadel Securities software engineering intern who only began coding at university

It's not easy to get one of the hyper-competitive jobs at hedge fund Citadel or electronic market making firm Citadel Securities: only 0.5% of people applying for internships are accepted. But Hasan Altaf got a software engineering internship at Citadel Securities last summer, despite being a comparative latecomer to coding.

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"A lot of people start coding when they are really young, but I didn’t start until my first year at university," says Altaf, who majored in computer science and business at the University of British Columbia. "I came into university wanting to focus on fundamental finance, but after joining a finance club and making an equity research report running discounted cash flow models, I decided I liked math a lot more. That really sparked my interest in software engineering."

Altaf got into Citadel Securities via one of the firm's "Terminal Events" in his second year at university. These are global online games-based programming competitions for university students studying software engineering and data science. "The tower defense-style game involved programming skills and strategy," Altaf explains. "We had a board, and we had to think about where to place walls, towers, and other resources to get inside our opponents' territory."

Success in the game led to the internship, which in turn led to Altaf joining Citadel Securities' Miami office full-time in September 2023. "I'm on the team that deals with distributed computing," Altaf says of his current role. "We provide the computing power that helps quant researchers work effectively when training models or running simulations. My team members and I focus on designing a large-scale distributed system and making it as efficient as possible."

 Fundamentally, it's an enormous scheduling problem: "Citadel Securities works at an immense scale with quant researchers running massive models."

Even during his Citadel Securities internship last summer, Altaf says he was given responsibility for a "high impact, mission-critical" project involving data source management and the migration of data sources across regions.  

Despite being relatively new to coding, Altaf hasn't had any issues as part of the software engineering team. It probably helps that before joining Citadel, he completed software engineering internships at both Meta and Databricks, but if you don't understand something at Citadel Securities, he says you can always ask for help. "The culture is very open. We work together, have access to leadership and connectivity to market outcomes.”

As a case in point, during his internship project, Altaf had a one to one meeting with Citadel Securities' CTO Joshua Woods. Woods imparted both technical and career advice. "The main thing I took away from our meeting was the importance of applying a lens of commerciality to everything we do," says Altaf. "It's easy to get caught up in shiny software, but you need to consider the business impact and how what you’re doing advances the firm."

If you're coming to coding late in the game, Altaf has the following advice for getting started:

  • Learn the concepts, not the syntax. "It’s easy to get hyper-fixated on learning syntax. Focus on foundational programming and computer science knowledge; the languages will follow."

  • A language like Python is a very powerful first language because you can build something small very quickly and can also dive deeper into more complex use cases such as machine learning and web services.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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