Emanuel Derman Reviews “How I Became a Quant”

Interestingly, right after my book was published, John Wiley, publisher of many finance-related books, released How I Became a Quant: Insights from 25 of Wall Street’s Elite, which is a compilation of 24 interview-style autobiographies (one of the interviews, chapter 19, covers two guys).

I’ve taken a quick look at the book but didn’t think it was useful. Most of these guys are unknown (of course, that doesn’t mean they are not successful or are not rich – after all, few quants are famous, even when one talks about fame within the finance industry itself). They all seem to be a generation older than someone like myself (at least they talk that way). And none is Asian, like me.

On that last point, I was glad to read that Emanuel Derman, a well-known physicist-turned-quant who’s the director of Columbia University’s financial engineering program, agrees with my view in his review of the book in the August 22, 2007 issue of the Wall Street Journal (p. D10). Indeed, he kind of also agrees with my second point, that these guys belong to an older generation, the "early quants" (to which Dr. Derman also belongs). Furthermore, he points out bluntly that by his definition, "several of the 25 memoirists … are not true quants." Ouch!

Dr. Derman also makes the following observations:


  • "Wall Street is no more competitive than academia." (a quote attributed to Neil Chriss)
  • "Life in finance is often more collegial than college life itself — and more stimulating." I don’t agree with that, but it’s likely because I’m not as rich as these guys (and Dr. Derman) are.
  • "Quants do get more respect these days, because their imperfect models can generate profits when used with a knowledge of their limitations." Amen to that.
  • "Nevertheless, most quants, unless they have their own operations, are still second-class citizens on Wall Street rather than its superstars." So very true — something I also point out in my own book (chapter 1).

I do not recommend the book because I don’t think the stories of the quants featured are going to help young aspiring would-be quants get into the industry. To be honest, few people can truly identify with these guys. Plus, how can the two compiler-authors leave out Dr. Derman?

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