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Home  > Article

Rising Stars: An Unexpected Career in Energy Trading

By Erdin Beshimov

Linda says she never imagined she'd be an energy trader. It's not an obvious jump from majoring in biochemical sciences to analyzing potential drivers of power prices in the electricity market, but the courage to pursue your dreams does pay off.

 
Name: Linda Zheng
School: Harvard University
Major: Biochemical Sciences
Years Out of College: 2-5
Title: Analyst
Company: DC Energy
 
First Steps

"If someone had asked me a few years ago what I wanted to do in my first job, you can bet that 'energy trading' were two words not in my answer. Yet, in retrospect, the past 18 months at a quantitative trading firm have culminated in one of the best entry-level experiences I could have asked for. They equipped me with in-depth understanding about a key industry and allowed me to strengthen my weaknesses while building a new skill set.

In your first job search, two crucial questions to ask yourself are: one, what type of experience do you want, and two, what kind of skills do you wish to build? Finding an industry that best fits your interests is important, but equally critical is finding a place where your day-to-day tasks enable you to gain different skills from those you already have, helping you to round out your abilities for the future."

Challenges Faced

"For someone who had very little prior training in the fields of economics or energy, it was a challenge to acquire simultaneously a basic understanding of futures trading and concepts specific to the electricity markets. Furthermore, the large amount of data available in this field necessitates automated analytic tools that require skills such as computer programming, an area in which I have not had much experience. Luckily, I benefited from the supportive culture of my small firm and found my coworkers to be immensely helpful. We are a fairly young company and self-education is very much encouraged. No one expects you to have all the answers, merely that you proactively seek out resources to educate yourself when there are questions you don't understand. Given how quickly markets can change in this relatively nascent industry, people are generally open and excited about new ideas, and as a result, supportive of those who add outside knowledge to their firm's intellectual capital base."

My Experience

"While one of the advantages of working in a fast-paced, dynamic industry is that your days are never routine, there are specific modules that define your day-to-day tasks. I work closely with three to four people on a highly interactive team, focused on understanding a specific regional market. As the one who is responsible for valuation on my team, I spend a great deal of time looking for and analyzing potential drivers of power prices in the electricity market. I am given a significant amount of freedom to explore my ideas, and the only requirements are that my decisions and assumptions are substantiated with quantitative proof and focused on the areas that provide the highest leverage to the portfolio and the firm.

It is exciting when you realize that your analyses and decisions will dictate your entire team's portfolio, and you feel a strong sense of responsibility and accomplishment as a result. More importantly, as a financial participant in the energy market, you are delving into the heart of questions regarding why energy prices fluctuate widely and how these markets can be made more efficient. Now is a crucial time to be involved in the energy industry, and understanding its financial drivers will only become more pivotal in the future."

Did I Ever Think I'd End Up Here?

"When I tell people that I trade energy futures for a living, the fact that I majored in biochemistry during college often comes as a surprise. More often than not, people commonly assume that quantitative analysts or traders have backgrounds in economics or applied mathematics when, in fact, even small firms have employees from widely diverse experiences. From chemistry Ph.D.s to social studies majors, from government to economics concentrators, our analysts are chosen not based on their specific training in college, but on their raw quantitative and problem-solving talents.

How you chose to apply your intellectual curiosity during college should not and does not preclude you from industries to which you have had no previous exposure. Don't be afraid to follow your interests. I certainly did not expect to be in this industry as a senior in college, but at the end of the day, companies will base their evaluations more on your unique set of abilities than on your specific training in school."

Advice for Others

"Don't be afraid to make mistakes, especially when you are starting out in your career. ?It may seem like an obvious, perhaps even trite, piece of advice, but it is a very important one. It is common for new employees to be shy or timid when they are starting out in their entry-level jobs. I know I was. And it does seem reasonable: you are not as experienced as those around you, and you don't want to make a fool of yourself when you first arrive. However, in entrepreneurial industries such as energy trading, it is often those brave enough to take chances and pursue their intellectual curiosity who become successful and satisfied, however implausible their ideas may have seemed initially. The price for making mistakes only increases as you progress further in your career, so if you are going to follow that hunch, or have that 'crazy' idea that just might work, follow it now. It may end up as one of the best ideas you, or anyone at your firm, has ever had."











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