Kash Balachandran (JP Morgan Chase) leads inspiring, wide-ranging discussion

Align Personal and Professional Goals Advises CISE Industry Roundtable Speaker Dr. Balachandran 

Kash Balachandran, Vice President at JP Morgan Chase, Central Risk, Cash Equities

Kash Balachandran, Vice President at JP Morgan Chase, Central Risk, Cash Equities, was the invited speaker for the Fall 2019 CISE Industry Roundtable at Boston University. With over a decade of experience in Mathematics and its applications, Kash applies modern data science techniques to help solve real-world problems arising in financial markets.  He received his BA in Mathematics and Physics from Cornell University in 2006, and his PhD from Duke University in Mathematics in 2011.  Until 2014, his postdoctoral fellow was at Boston University in the statistical analysis of network data, after which he joined Morgan Stanley’s FX e-trading desk helping formulate the bank’s quantitative market making and execution strategies before becoming head of execution in 2017.  In 2018, he transitioned into cash equities at JP Morgan as a systematic trader where he remains today.

At the CISE roundtable, Kash was introduced by his former BU advisor, Eric Kolaczyk, Director, Hariri Institute for Computing at Boston University, Professor of Statistics, Data Science Faculty Fellow, and CISE faculty affiliate.  Kash led an inspiring, wide-ranging discussion spanning data science trends and issues, from transitioning from academia to industry, to the importance of aligning personal and professional goals, and insightful recommendations for career building.

As a quantitative trader, analyst, and developer at JP Morgan Chase, Kash is involved in every stage of the trading lifecycle, from quantitatively formulating objective functions and the best approach to solve them, to performing the real-time implementation and post-trade analysis. At the roundtable, he presented emerging trends and issues in financial data science sector, and emphasized that automation and machine learning are not substituting people, but rather that big data and the speed of processing are reshaping novel trading strategies that are being leveraged by people.

For students interested in pursuing careers in industry, Kash had three recommendations, the first of which was to “identify five concrete things that you want in the next 3-5 years”. Kash explained that although hobbies can be entertaining, sometimes it takes real-world experience to figure out if hobbies are what you want permanently. Secondly, he recommended that students understand the sector that they are in and identify opportunities that provide the most exposure to meet their goal. Lastly, Kash emphasized the importance of determining not only accomplishments but transferrable skills that make you different. He added that teaching, public speaking, and organizational skills can set you apart from your competition.

Kash also recommended that students “always try different things because you never know where it might lead and it keeps you interesting.” For him – it was while he was taking a finance course during  the financial crisis of 2008 that tuned him into finance.

R&D with good business alignment is very important for students interviewing with companies, says Kash. To ensure students are well aligned with the business, they need to look at whether a potential employer appreciates technology. “A good machine learning algorithm is only as good at the data quality that you put into it.  At the end of an interview, ask the interviewer: where is your data coming from? How do you validate it?”

He added, “Black box methods are becoming more common but getting good results from F tests are not how the world works. Candidates with experience in data munging and platform maintenance show they are willing to get hands dirty and solve problems.”  Students should ensure they are aligned with prospective employers: “If you’re interested in systems engineering and the company isn’t – it’s probably not the best fit.”

Kash also advocated finding the right mentors and maintaining those relationships throughout your career.  “I never would have gone to BU and done my postdoc research had I not met Eric (Kolaczyk) at a complex networks SAMSI program. I did my best work with him.” Kash says he pursued the postdoc because he loves to apply math to different, interesting areas, and a postdoc allows you to look at very high-level problems. “Eric gave me a year of my life to explore and be creative.  I got to choose what and when I wanted to do work on. It was incredible.”

Kash fielded numerous questions from students.  Responding to the question of whether or not a postdoctoral track was a good path to industry, he recommended introspection.  “You need to ask yourself what about a postdoctoral track interests you.  Publications are good ways to structure your mind and communicate; do you love publishing? If you are interested in industry, identify why. A startup can give you the creativity of a postdoc, but it can be stressful because you have to deliver.”

Aligning personal and professional goals was a key part of the talk.  “What do you love about what you do? Making money is not the answer.  Do what makes you feel good, then find the factors that give you exposure to it.”

Center for Information & Systems Engineering (CISE) Industry Roundtables are a forum to connect CISE students with CISE alumni to facilitate sharing information, insights, and experiences about post-graduation experiences and opportunities in an informal, dynamic atmosphere. Learn more about CISE Industry Roundtables here.

By Eliza Shaw, CISE Staff