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A lowly college student trying to become a algorithmic trader

I have been lurking around quantopian for a while now; originally I was going to learn python quietly but stumbled upon and got inspired by this post. I thought that I would do something similar seeing as the op hasn't posted in a while.

A little background about myself:

  • I am a student at a midwest college who is interested in finance. I have done fairly well prop trading stocks and bonds for a while now and thought that I would give algorithmic trading a shot. I have always been interested in finance, but just recently decided that this might be something I want to pursue after graduation.

  • I know a decent about of fundamental (DCFs) and technical analysis (bollinger bands, MAs, etc), along with some matlab, but barely any coding let alone python. (For matlab I read both of Ernest Chan's books and will try to replicate all of his strategies which are written in matlab in python.)

  • I am open to all investing styles. My personal investing style is buy and hold for at least a year so I don't get taxed at ridiculous rates. As I am young, I tend to have less risk aversion.

I finished the code academy course and I have recently started reading python for data analysis (, but I'm only on the second chapter and I am helplessly lost. Any suggestions on what to read/how to improve my python/pandas skills are greatly appreciated. Something along the lines of Ernest Chan's books would be preferred. I have searched for similar books to no avail, maybe I will write one to help other novices when I become proficient enough.

My goals are to eventually start live trading and do well enough that I could possibly do it professionally after graduation. I have dedicated around 3 hours to learning python everyday (I'm about a week in). I welcome all advice, criticism, etc...

Let the journey begin

13 responses

Awesome! Let the journey begin indeed, I'm also a college student learning on the fly, it's been extremely intellectually stimulating (confusing) so far. As you might have realized, the biggest hurdle in the beginning is getting comfortable reading and writing code. The only way over that hurdle is to read and write code, 3 hours a day will get you there.

Since you have already done the code academy tutorials, I would highly suggest moving on to some problem oriented learning. My favorite programming puzzle sites are Project Euler and checkIO, I always find that I learn the most when the answers are not handed to me. Learning to program is as much about learning how to find answers and read documentation as it is writing code. Tackling the problems on those sites will have you learning at a much faster pace than any walk-though tutorials.

As far as learning the Quantopian specific stuff goes, start with simpler strategies that can be implemented without needing to import tons of 3rd party libraries. Moving averages, evenly weighted portfolios, and any concepts that you already fundamentally understand. No need to jump into the deep end with a mathematically complex strategy. Cloning algos and re-writing them into your own language will help you understand the strategy and discover your workflow. I don't have any specific books to suggest, I tend to read more papers than books, has hundreds of leads, most of them are over my head still, but it's a learning process.

The community here is the best resource you have, write a post whenever you hit a wall, more than likely that wall has been run into several times before. Most importantly, don't forget to keep it interesting, we learn the most when we're having fun.


Python is probably the easiest language to learn since BASIC. There are plenty of resources out there for learning more, and to use it with Quantopian you don't really need to know any of the advanced stuff anyway. You might check Github out to see what opensource Python projects are out there, since that can be a really good way to learn how to approach writing stuff idiomatically. Also check out Stack Overflow.

I recommend taking some MOOCs on sites like Coursera or edX. Look up 'Computational Investing Part 1' on Coursera. It only started a couple weeks ago and will cover pandas/numpy stuff as the (optional) assignments are in Python.

Hi Harold,

I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum from you...I'm learning python and the other data analysis languages as a second career after 30 years in the fashion industry as a pattern maker and production manager. My husband has been trading part time for almost as long and we are working together now: I'm learning to code/backtest the strategies that he's been formulating for years, by hand. This is our retirement project.

I have a minor background in web development (HTML, CSS MySQL and JQuery) as I built and maintained a website for my company, so the structure of python etc., was not difficult for me. I just found this tutorial on YouTube that helped fill in the blanks and tie things together. If you are attempting to learn python etc., from a book and random online lessons, it may come in handy: Introduction to Programming using Python

I was having issues with some of my functions not working and search as I might I couldn't find the answer, because I was asking the wrong question. My problem had to do with scope and namespaces and Unit 06, videos 2 - 4 of this series explains scope so easily and it solved two problems I had with one of my functions.

I haven't read the book you are using but I did buy Python for Data Analysis by Wes McKinney, the author of Pandas, and I've found it very useful and easy to understand.

I just started my 'journey' in August and so far it's been intriguing. I've had to dust off some dormant math skills that I haven't had a need for in decades. Fortunately, I have 2 business majors (my two girls) under my roof, so if I get stuck I just pick their brains for help :)

best regards,

Hi all,

I am in the same boat, I have been trading for a few years before college but now want to get into the data analysis and quant stuff. I have found O'reilly books to be extremely helpful, especially the basic Learning Python. As far as the getting comfortable with code the only way around it is through doing it, which sucks around a class and work schedule. GitHub and Stack overflow have been extremely helpful though, at least in my experience. Hopefully we can all learn together to make each other better

You could take an intro python course on coursera: After you get the swing of things, SentDex has some really interested in this tutorials on youtube. Here's video 1 in Math and Stock indicators, using Python:

Awesome, thanks for the information

Nice this tread im a medical software engineer at MGH who has a background in physics. I did a minor in financial statistics at the Technical University of Eindhoven and was always wondering if i could do some more courses to expand a more hands on approach on the subject. The information here is enough for me to start working on this! I wish you all a lot of luck on getting the hang of it and i hope we will be able to help each other on ever expanding complex matters.

I would like to end this post with a reference to a dutch documentary with features Haim Bodek, a well known algo maker. Please watch it it will only increase your intrest in the subject and give you a lot more sense of the power of financial algo's.

True Gary but the fundamentals between high frequency and low frequency are basically the same, if you don't talk about arbitrage trading.

Learning python, the ins-&-outs of quantopian & working on developing your first algorithmic trading strategy all at the same time seems to be more of a 2nd full-time job than something you can pick up in your free time! Thanks for all the useful posts you have all already given use on this thread.

I find it extremely difficult to just buy and hold knowing that trading companies at making a little bit off the top of my investment every single day. I recently read swing trading for dummies and it gave me a solid understanding on how to put together several technical indicators to implement a swing trading strategy. I'm considering implementing a basic swing trading strategy based on ADX that would determine whether to apply trending or range based indicators.

Not sure if I want this to become something more serious career wise or just be able to develop a strategy that attempts to mirror the market but protects me agaisnt the next crash.

Anyone have recommendations on a good read for someone in my scenario?

Thanks in advance!

Austin, if you're looking for good books on the topic, take a look at this thread for recommendations:

Good luck!


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i use George Seprovitz method

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I second the coursera recommendations. GREAT courses taught from zero knowledge up to a masters level by actual professors. Not only can you learn python but there are many financial/computational engineering courses that make a perfect supplement to algo development.
Also 100% free
Another helpful website is this way is the shortcut to programming a successful algo. You wont fully understand all the methods but you will know how to use them