For Jackie Chen, there is no such thing as a typical day.
As recent graduate the Tepper School’s Master of Computational Finance program, she might pick apart code for a pricing tool to figure out how it ticks. Enjoying life in New York City, she might unwind by trying a new restaurant or indulging an interest in cooking by shopping at a farmer’s market. Or, as a newlywed, she might spend time with her husband reflecting on their fairytale wedding in Hawaii.
After graduation, Jackie returned to Deutsche Asset Management, now as a member of a synthetic CDO group. She also interned at Deutsche Bank, where she worked in cash management researching structured finance vehicles in the short-term fixed income markets which involved analyzing credit, liquidity, and structural risks.
Because she knew she would be immersed in work once she started her new job, Jackie took four months after graduation to enjoy her wedding and honeymoon — then dove headfirst into her career.
“You can hit the ground running as soon as you graduate,” she says. “I don’t necessarily enjoy programming, but in the financial engineering industry, it’s a really important skill to have. It’s one thing to be able to theoretically understand a model, and there’s definitely a good dose of theory in the program. But you have to know how to implement it as well, and that means being able to program.”
Originally from Toronto, Jackie earned her undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from the University of Waterloo, but never worked in engineering at all. Instead, she entered a market risk management group in the global analytics division of a bank as part of a work-study program in her fourth year of college.
She was hired on the strength of her math and programming skills, but notes, “I knew nothing about finance when I was in engineering. I don’t think I even knew what a bond was.”
She went on to work at an asset management firm in Toronto as a money-market trader, which piqued her interest in pursuing an advanced degree.
“It’s a shop that’s based off fundamentals, primarily,” Jackie says. “And coming from a physical science background, where you’re taught to think more analytically, I guess led to the pursuit of how finance would mesh with that.”
Jackie found the MSCF program at the Tepper School to be “very practical,” though it wasn’t until she enrolled that she learned just how applicable it would be to the job market. Computational finance graduates are the talk of Wall Street, making Jackie a hot commodity even before she left school.
“It wasn’t until I started the program that I realized how the industry is really evolving, and products are becoming so complex that having this quantitative background is really helpful,” she says. “When you look at a lot of the models these days, especially in the derivatives area, it involves a lot of math. There’s no getting around it — everybody in the group I’m working with has some math background.”
Despite working in the relatively conservative world of finance, Jackie has always had an adventurous streak. Not long after earning her undergraduate degree, she moved to Taiwan and taught English for four months to get in touch with her cultural roots. She also used to snowboard, though she put that on hold when she started her master’s program.
No surprise, then, when asked what her long-term career plans might be, Jackie is noncommittal: “As long as I’m learning and contributing where I’m working, I’m going to wait and see what the future holds.”