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Hacking Your Education: The Next Generation of Students

Earlier this year I hosted an algorithmic finance Meetup and I met two students who were enrolled as part-time off-campus students. They were taking the bare minimum number of classes required at the university, at the cheapest price they could, and only “spending” those on requirements for their majors. All of their education and enrichment beyond their requirements was through massive open online courses (MOOCs). MOOCs are free non-degree online courses with open global engagement that have exploded in popularity over the last few months. These two students were choosing to build their own education through outside resources both to save money – they said the cost was way less, even though it would take 6 years instead of 4 to earn a degree – and for the material. According to them, the MOOCs had far more options for advanced material. I was blown away by the steel-trap optimization these two students were applying to their own education.

It’s clear that the economic downturn has bred a whole generation of "just-try-to-stop-me" kids, determined to get the knowledge they need for success even if it comes from outside the traditional educational framework. It’s not just this new generation of student that is starting to think this way. Mark Cuban captured it well: "Going to a 4 year school is supposed to be the foundation from which you create a future, not the transaction that crushes everything you had hoped to do because you have more debt than you could possibly pay off in 10 years." As the most recent Internet Trends Report from Mary Meeker highlights, more and more people are turning to MOOCs for their knowledge fix:


With the skyrocketing costs of higher education and the increasing availability of online resources, smart people around the globe are "hacking their education." And there are tons of great ways to do that – a few of our favorite sites are outlined below.

Our hope is that Quantopian can be another resource for smart people interested in quantitative finance, that aren't necessarily taking the traditional quant path of earning a PhD and then committing to several years with a Wall Street firm in the sort of paid apprenticeship that is commonplace. There is a lot of value in that path, but it’s not for everyone. That’s why, along with providing the platform and tools for developing and testing algorithms, we've set up Quantopian as a community. There are tons of great resources online for learning about trading strategies and Python coding (some of these are also included below). What has been missing in the past was a way to get feedback or collaborate on ideas. It’s been awesome to see the interactions in our forum between users – people ask for help, and actually get it!

Mary Meeker’s slide called the rise of MOOCs “education being democratized.” We firmly believe that if you put the right tools in the hands of the right people, they are only limited by their own potential. That is the incredibly exciting promise of MOOCs, and it’s also our aim here at Quantopian in opening up quantitative finance beyond Wall Street. Technology is democratizing classrooms and quantitative finance alike, allowing those that want to be most successful achieve their goals.

If you’re an aspiring quant or simply want to learn more about algorithmic trading, jump in and get your hands dirty. If you’re looking to expand your knowledge of coding (or anything at all) beyond your regular education, check out the websites below. These are just a few of our favorites from the many, many resources out there – but we’d love to hear what other sites or tools you've used to “hack” your own way!

  • Coursera: An education company that partners with the top universities and organizations in the world, Coursera offers courses online for anyone to take – for free. According to its website, Coursera envisions “a future where everyone has access to a world-class education that has so far been available to a select few. [It aims] to empower people with education that will improve their lives, the lives of their families, and the communities they live in.”
  • Upgrade Capital: Students are invited to compete with each other to see who can write the best trading algorithm.  Winners get access to hiring managers at top hedge funds.
  • QuantStart: Website discussing algorithmic trading strategy research, development, backtesting and implementation. Includes excellent lists of other resources for quant career advice, in-depth articles on specific trading topics and C++ and Python implementation.
  • Khan Academy: Khan's unique teaching style spawned a thousand copycats, but his quality of content and breadth of topics keeps his site going strong.  He's the king of providing bite-sized, easily-understood lessons, and providing the positive feedback that keeps you coming back for more.
  • CodeAcademy: One of the several sites out there aimed specifically at teaching coding skills.  Science, technology, engineering, and math skills (STEM) are in particularly high demand, and coding proficiency is a ticket to a STEM job.  For free, at your own pace, you can learn to write code in several different programming languages.

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Another incredible resource I've found is Udacity ( It's a competitor to Coursera and has some great courses in CS. While the number of courses doesn't come close to Coursera's, I'd say the quality of the material is much higher. They have a web development course taught by the co-founder of reddit and an AI class taught by Sebastian Thrun, the Stanford professor and creator of the Google self-driving car (and CEO of Udacity).

Nice Post!

Check out also. It's like Coursera and Udacity, but free, and it's where Harvard, MIT, and several dozen other institutions offer their courses.

Both are excellent options. Thanks for adding them.

Coursera and Khan Academy are absolutely amazing sites. It's great to see courses on Econometrics, Social Network Analysis and Machine Learning.

I fully second the idea of just 'getting your hands dirty'. There are great ways to practice algo trading these days (Quantopian being one of them!) without having to commit any capital.

Michael - Thanks for pointing out Udacity, I hadn't heard of it. I'll give that a look.

fawce - Thanks for the shout out for QuantStart, it's nice to be included among such great company!

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