The air of a college career fair is thick with pressure. Bright-eyed STEM students eagerly shuffle from booth to booth, mentally rehearsing their prepared talking points in the hopes that they can make a strong impression on the daunting array of company representatives.
Many of these students have minimal work experience beyond internships and practical education. Now, they’re competing with the rest of their cohort to connect with the sea of companies vying for their attention. For Graham Lustiber, BC Cho and Kevin Lee, the company that held their attention at their respective career fairs was Hudson River Trading, or HRT.
“Starting at HRT right out of school was the best thing for my career, because HRT invests so much upfront in training.”
“I probably talked to a couple big companies, a couple HFT companies and a couple startups,” said Core Developer Graham Lustiber, recalling his own career fair experience from five years ago. “And the people I talked to at HRT had a very different approach to software engineering that I found interesting. I knew there’d be a lot of performance-driven work.”
“Their booth was neon orange, which catches your eye as soon as you walk in,” added Algorithm Developer BC Cho. “They also have great t-shirts — they’re very soft. I still refresh my collection periodically.”
Hudson River Trading has a special relationship with the college recruitment pipeline — namely, that their goal is to harness and support talent from the moment they’re out of school, helping them grow into managers or senior individual contributors.
“You have a lot of freedom to pick what you want to do,” said Kevin Lee, HRT’s head of research and development. “Managers let you explore and try things, and if you demonstrate you can do them well, they’re happy to let you increase your scope.”
What was a first job out of college became a long-term career investment for Lustiber, Cho and Lee — Cho, the newest of the three, has been with the company for four years. An open culture with little emphasis on title or hierarchy, the opportunity to solve unique problems and team leaders who are promoted from within — and are thus armed with a wealth of technical knowledge — make HRT a unique place to work.
What They Do:
What first drew you to Hudson River Trading?
Head of Research and Development Kevin Lee: I joined the HRT team 10 years ago, and the college recruiting environment was very different back then. There wasn’t as much of a focus on data science, so as someone who studied math and computer science, I felt like my options were to go into software engineering or go get my PhD in math. Then my college roommate told me about HRT, a place where I could use both parts of my studies, and I got really excited.
Core Engineer Lead Graham Lustiber: I joined about five years ago. At that point HRT had a pretty well-developed campus recruiting setup, so I heard about them through that — they had a booth at campus career fairs. I knew I wanted to do high-performance systems engineering because I did it in college. Back then HRT was about 150 people, so a little bigger than a startup — I wouldn’t be putting out fires every day, but I had a much better chance at making an impact than I would at a big company. The HRT team seemed really down to earth while still being passionate about the engineering side of things.
Algorithm Developer, Lead BC Cho: When I was graduating college, I had a lot of misconceptions about finance. I thought the work wouldn’t be very interesting. But I had a friend who encouraged me to apply, and I knew someone who worked on the engineering team. I got to talk to HRT employees about what they were working on and realized there was a lot more interesting work to be done than I thought. I had a really good experience throughout the process. HRT was very patient, followed up regularly and communicated that they really cared.
How did starting HRT right out of school affect your relationship to work?
Lustiber: On the engineering team, the software we’re making is largely for internal use — which means a lot of our problems are very niche. There’s not a solution you can find and drop in to make things work. At school, you have to think about problems from scratch and develop something original, and that thinking translates well to HRT.
Cho: I had a lot to learn when I got here, but that meant I wasn’t primed to think about things in any particular or conventional way. I was learning how HRTers did things, but I was also able to bring in new ideas. Sometimes they went nowhere, but that perspective does make interesting avenues for research.
Lee: I don’t think that starting from right out of school was necessarily beneficial for my role. On the flip side, I would say that starting at HRT right out of school was the best thing for my career, because HRT invests so much upfront in training. It’s a really good place for a recent grad to come in. You don’t necessarily have all the background you need to do quantitative research and code. But going through a structured program — and doing it alongside people who are really smart and trainers who are willing to invest time in you — starts you on a really solid footing.
Tell me about HRT’s horizontal structure. How does it benefit you?
Lustiber: We don’t put much weight on titles. Everyone on the engineering team is a core developer, or a core developer lead if they manage people. Growth comes in the form of being responsible for more projects, owning more parts of the system and driving the direction for more of what HRT is working on. People don’t think about titles or teams, who’s reporting to whom and whatnot; there’s much more of a mentality of “something important needs to get fixed,” or “I have a cool idea, who should I talk to about it?” I’m comfortable pinging anyone at the company about any issue.
“I always feel like I’m surrounded by people who are way smarter than I am, which challenges me and encourages me to keep learning.”
Lee: It helps that we do our training as one big class. When it’s over, people move on to different teams, but they stay friends. During onboarding in our New York office, we tell people to go to the on-site cafeteria during lunch and sit with a random person and introduce themselves; everyone is happy to talk about what they’re working on, which helps facilitate cross-team collaboration. There isn’t really a need to run up the management chain to decide to work on something. If you want to work collaboratively with someone else, you can just do it. That definitely helps us keep an open and collaborative culture as we grow.
Cho: A word that I’ve heard used to describe HRT’s culture is “collegial.” Everyone’s working on problems together, they’re not competing with each other. I’ve felt — and continue to feel — that I’m surrounded by people who are way smarter than I am, which challenges me and encourages me to keep learning. I think there’s definitely a culture of not just producing good work, but producing good people — developing them both technically and as human beings.