13th February 2018

A Day in the Life of a City Trader, and the unexpected route to get there!

Tom Furnival, Alumnus 2002-2009

Hello, my name is Tom. I was at High Storrs from 2002—2009 and took my A Levels in Maths, Chemistry & Physics. After my undergraduate degree in Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, I did a PhD in Materials Science, which I finished early last year. My PhD research was all about the behaviour of materials, but on a really small scale. I looked right down to the scale of individual atoms using an electron microscope. I now work as a trader in the City in London for a US-based financial company, and I’ve been asked to describe a typical day in the office:


Off goes my alarm! Financial markets open early, and there’s plenty of preparation to be done before, so there’s just time for a quick breakfast before leaving for the office.


Arrive at the office. First task (after grabbing the all-important coffee) is to call the overnight traders in our head office in Chicago to find out if anything important has happened since yesterday. Global financial markets are open around the clock, and there’s often a lot to keep track of.

All of our trading is actually done by computers, since they can react to news far quicker than you or I possibly could. In fact, in the time it takes you to blink (about 300 milliseconds), a computer in New York can send a signal to London and back again three times! This requires a lot of advanced technology, and part of my job involves making sure this all runs like clockwork.


I also keep a close eye on the news and make a note of major events that might affect markets. No two days are the same, and it’s important to keep on top of political issues around the world – especially whilst Donald Trump’s Twitter account is still active…

07:00 – 08:00

Markets in Europe open, so the team closely monitor all our software and hardware, and tackle any technical issues that might arise.

The rest of the morning is spent researching new ideas and improving our existing software. This part of my job is very similar to my PhD research, combining a lot of applied maths, statistics and computer science to develop new algorithms, which I then test many times to make sure they’re just right before allowing them to make a trade with real money.


It’s early morning in the US, and traders are starting to arrive at their desks in Chicago. I discuss important events of the morning over the phone, before taking a quick break for lunch and getting back to my longer-term research projects for the rest of the afternoon.


Step away briefly from my research to monitor the US markets opening on Wall Street, which can sometimes be busy as US traders take in the overnight news.


European markets close, so we carefully reduce our exposure to the market (we don’t want to lose money by prices going up or down while we’re out of the office!) and switch everything off.


All done for the day, so I either head home to get some much-needed rest, arrange to see friends for a catch-up after work, or make the most of all the exciting things London has to offer!

My choice of A Levels and undergraduate degree has certainly prepared me well for my current job, and I find myself using many of the skills from A Level Maths almost every day. If you’re thinking of a career in science, engineering or technology, the most important piece of advice I can offer is to consider learning a programming language. Good coding skills are highly sought-after by lots of top employers, and can really help make your CV stand out! Websites like www.codecademy.com are a great place to get started.

If you’d like to know more about what I do now, or about my time at Cambridge and my PhD, please aks the school how to get in touch.

Tagged Alumni