A Supernova of Trading Talent Set to Brighten Chicago

University of Chicago’s Midwest Trading Competition already a draw for the next generation of financial professionals.

By Sarah McNabb

On April 12th and 13th the University of Chicago will host its first Midwest Trading Competition at the Gleacher Center in downtown Chicago, drawing graduate and undergraduate finance students from all over the country to compete. The competition includes building and executing trading algorithms based on designated case studies, so the event incorporates both technical development skills (creating the algorithm) and sound decision-making skills (trading execution). In groups of 3-4 students will spend time researching and developing the algorithm leading up to the event and will have their abilities tested when cases go live. The winning team will be determined by a final profit / loss assessment, factoring in any penalties if they break restrictions, such as position and margin requirements.

Spearheading this event is Darrell Zechman, the Program Director at the UChicago Careers in Business: Financial Markets (UCIB: FM). This selective program seeks to provide students interested in mathematical modeling, programming, and other quantitative topics with the tools and experience necessary to pursue a career in trading, financial modeling, or quantitative analysis.

The UCIB: FM program provides weekly workshops directed at the products traded in the markets, technical methods and models that drive market operation, trading ethics, and onsite experience with some of Chicago’s premier proprietary trading firms. To complement these workshops, students in the program have entered many trading competitions, including the CME Commodity Trading Challenge, CQA Quant Investment Challenge, MIT Trading Competition, and most recently the international Rotman Competition in Toronto.

And now Chicago will set the stage for the next competition.

The following is an interview with Mr. Zechman about the vision and significance of this event.

OC: What inspired this event to take shape?

DZ:
At the MIT event in Boston I noticed that many of the sponsoring firms were based here in Chicago.  During one of the breaks we all questioned why a large-scale trading event was not being offered in Chicago – which in my opinion is the heart of the proprietary trading community.  The idea directly paralleled a round-table discussion at the CME earlier in the year, where Senator Durbin led a discussion about attracting and retaining top-talent to Chicago’s robust financial community.

I’d say the idea was always there since UCIB: FM program inception, but the main hurdle was finding a platform to power the event and to differentiate our competition from the other well-run competitions currently in existence. I had a meeting with some local traders to pitch the UCIB: FM program and they said I must get in contact with Hazem Dawani, CEO of OptionsCity. I met with Hazem shortly thereafter and the idea to create an algorithmic trading competition in Chicago was born.

OC: What software functionality features are integral to the operation of this competition?

DZ: One of the key aspects of OptionsCity’s Freeway platform is the ability to simulate different trading environments and to customize the trading case. We will have three trading cases, each representing a different aspect of algorithmic trading. The OptionsCity platform allows us to record and customize the data and then playback can be either sped up or slowed down to represent different types of market environments.

OC: Tell us more about the meat of the challenge — the trading case studies.

DZ: The cases will incorporate technical development skills in the form of algorithm creation, and sound decision-making skills to recognize when the algorithm is not working.  We want this to be an educational experience, where teams competing in groups of 3-4 students will spend time on the research and development side leading up to the event, and then we will test their trading ability when the cases go live. Ultimately, the winner of each case will be determined by final P/L, factoring in any penalties if they break any of the restrictions, such as position limits and margin requirements. The actual trading will likely be one hour per case, but the underlying data will represent longer time periods. Expect to see simulated algorithmic trading in E-mini S&P 500 options on futures, CME Gold & Silver futures, and ETF’s.

OC: And the competitors; who are these young talented students rising to the occasion?

DZ: There will be a mix of both undergraduate and graduate students in attendance. Our goal is to book 25 teams, each comprised of 3-4 students and multiple teams per University are allowed.  We are almost at capacity but still have a few remaining slots available.  As of now, schools represented include California Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Notre Dame, University of Illinois, Johns Hopkins University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, University of Toronto, University of Michigan, and University of Chicago.

All teams will be in the same classroom at the Chicago Booth Gleacher Center.  Having everyone in the same room should add to the excitement and from a logistical standpoint will be a huge benefit.

OC: Who are the judges?

DZ: Students in the UCIB: FM program involved in the case development will ultimately monitor and judge the event.  We will be working closely with OptionsCity throughout the day to confirm everyone is abiding by the rules.

OC: This event will possess major networking value for everyone involved, right?

DZ: The competition will have many prongs – including a welcome networking reception the prior evening with keynote speakers, informational Q&A panel discussions, break-out sessions with sponsoring firms, an awards banquet, and of course the actual trading cases. A big piece of this event will be showcasing talent from across the country and to allow prospective employers to meet with some wonderful students who aspire to gain employment in the trading industry.

While the actual trading cases are certainly a large part of the weekend festivities, the broader goal is to bring together like-minded students from across the country.  My hope is the students will make new contacts, learn from their peers, have the opportunity to meet and network with premier firms, and to showcase not only the University of Chicago, but the city of Chicago itself and all the wonderful opportunities it has to offer in the financial markets industry.

OC: Did this event come to fruition with the aid of other partnerships?

DZ: The event will be powered by OptionsCity Freeway™, and this really is the key to making the event a reality. As part of their prize, the winning team will be invited to participate in OptionsCity’s 2nd Annual Chicago Algorithmic Trading Conference on June 12th to present and discuss their winning strategy.

Other firms currently co-sponsoring the event include IMC Financial Markets, DRW Trading, Wolverine Trading, SBB Research Group, the CME, the CME Foundation, and Spot Trading.

OC: Where would one go to find more information or to register for this event?

DZ: Those who wish to attend or who are interested in being a sponsor of this event can contact me at dzechman@uchicago.edu and teams who wish to participate as competitors can register at our website at https://careeradvancement.uchicago.edu/uchicago-midwest-trading-competition.

We look forward to an amazing event.

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