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Citadel's 19 year-old engineering prodigy left school to compete in robotics

It's not easy to get a job at Citadel: only 0.5% of applicants to Citadel, the hedge fund, and Citadel Securities, the electronic trading firm, are accepted for internships. Completing high school is not a precondition of acceptance, though. 

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Michael Khaykin, a software engineer on Citadel's electronic trading engineering team in New York, decided high school wasn't the best use of his time.  

"I left middle school in eighth grade to compete in robotics competitions," Khaykin tells us. "I was training for eight to ten hours a day, and my team and I ended up tying for the first place in the world. That was when I realized that I had a true passion for robotics and computing and that high school wouldn't be right for me. I went straight to community college and started at Berkeley as a junior when I was 17."  

Now aged  only 19 , Khaykin graduated in electronic engineering from the University of Berkeley last year. It was while he was at Berkeley that Khaykin interned at NASA. It was also while he was at Berkeley that Khaykin discovered the existence of Citadel. "When I started at Berkeley, I spoke with some students and alumni about internships. Citadel repeatedly came up as the most prestigious and competitive firm to get into, and that led me to apply," he says. 

During his NASA internship, Khayin realized that government work can be slow: "We were exploring a new type of communication system, and I was on a team focused on the process of going in and out of the atmosphere. It was a research project, and ultimately we were producing a paper on the topic," he says. By comparison, when Khaykin interned at Citadel last summer, he says could "literally see the impact" of his algorithm being implemented.

Khaykin's internship algorithm was all about "compressions," which he describes as "taking multiple trades and representing them as a single trade." It sounds simple, but isn't. "I realized that at Citadel, I'd be working on solutions that would go into production even as an intern, and the fast feedback the market provides has been exciting," he says.

Khaykin doesn't have a five-year career plan. "Five years seems a long way away, so right now I don't have specific plans for the long term," he tells us. "But I'm super happy here. I’ve never felt bored and have been really stimulated by the work."

He also happens to have a TikTok Channel. There, Khaykin offers non-Citadel specific advice on getting into electronic trading jobs, disproves notions that engineers and traders work ultra long hours, and shows his Citadel sneakers. 

Although Khaykin has been questioned in comments on TikTok about giving up the "best years of his life" to work when he could be studying or hanging out, he also says he has no intention of studying a PhD. "Having the flexibility that comes along with teaching myself in my own environment has worked well for me, whereas school is more constrained," he says.

Khaykin hasn't given up on robotics altogether, though: he's invented a robot that waves its arm to prevent an automated sensor switching his light out. If other software engineers want to teach themselves, Khaykin advises tackling something like C++. "It's harder to write good C++ than to write code in other languages, but if you're a talented C++ programmer you will find that you are able to pick up other languages fairly easily."  

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor
  • hk
    hk123
    21 June 2024

    WOW SO WONDERFUL ✨

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