Ali’s blog

Mostly quant stuff with occasional digressions

Second-rate MFEs

Posted by alifinmath on March 3, 2008

Dominic Connor has an instructive post on a garbage MSQF program at Fordham at his blog. If there is a second-rate program — and indeed, at the moment, there’s a plethora of such, as ill-equipped institutions attempt to cash in on the bonanza — word eventually gets out. The markets are efficient.

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4 Responses to “Second-rate MFEs”

  1. Chris Prouty said

    I think Mr. Connor has an extremely optimistic view of what can be taught in two 14-week semesters. I’ve read some things he asks in interviews with regard to C++ programming, and I can tell you that the idea of taking someone with no programming background and getting them to the level he expects in two semesters is foolishness. What he basically expects is that someone he interviews has a background in computer science and probably a number of years in a strictly coding role.

    Any program that claims it can adequately teach C++ beginning to end in two semesters, to students who may not have any background in computer science, is unleashing a hazardous programmer on the world. The old phrase “knows enough to be dangerous” comes to mind here. Though two semesters is enough to get students to a point where they can type some code, understand the basic principles, and regurgitate answers to some canned questions, it is not enough time to make a seasoned programmer.

    A friend of mine who has been a coder for two decades and is a director at a data service once told me: “I want a programmer with ten years experience because s/he *really is ten times* the programmer of someone with one year experience.” I agree with him completely. The nuances of programming, let alone a specific language, are something that is taught with trial and error and experience, not two semesters of grad school.

    I don’t know anything about Fordham’s program, any promises it made to graduates, or its programming track, but to write off the program because “it doesn’t bother to teach C++,” is ignorant. Fordham may have realized that they can send graduates into the world with a deep understanding of a “lesser” development environment, or they can hallucinate in the belief that they are making math majors into top-shelf C++ coders in nine months.

  2. alifinmath said

    I think an argument can be made for longer programs. What one can teach in a couple of semesters is very limited. There isn’t enough time to cover not just programming but portfolio theory, stochastic, Monte Carlo, numerical analysis, time series analysis, and so on. We don’t produce mechanical engineers after one year of training: why should it be different for financial engineers? Programs that churn out “financial engineers” after one year are going to fall flat on their face. Program directors need to have enough sense to not do this. A one-year program has the ghost of a chance only if the students are absolutely top calibre (at the top of their class from ranking Western universities), if the academic staff is top-notch, and if the courses are meticulously designed.

  3. alifinmath said

    There’s more on this topic at a thread I started on Quantnet (my handle there is “bigbadwolf”): http://www.quantnet.org/forum/showthread.php?t=2421

  4. Chris Prouty said

    I agree with you on the time line. I think the programs can produce top-tier students if the folks coming in already have a good background in math, finance, and comp sci. The programs can serve as a good way to refine that knowledge and focus it in a useful way. Students who come in knowing very little about even one of the above three topics are at a serious disadvantage.

    However, I think if students use their school time not only to take classes, but to do ancillary reading and work on their own, they can leave these programs very well positioned. As you know there is ample material, often available on the web, that can give students a good perspective on the “real world” and actual challenges faced by industry. Students who seek out and digest this information will do well in interviews.

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