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From Mathematical Olympiads to Optiver: Ana’s Journey

Ana’s transition from participating in prestigious Mathematical Olympiads to the fast-paced trading floors of Optiver is a remarkable tale of passion meeting profession. With a strong foundation in Computer Science and an innate love for solving puzzles, Ana found herself in the world of finance, a field she hadn’t originally considered.

Her involvement in various Mathematical Olympiads, including as a contestant and later as a team and organiser, not only demonstrates her commitment to the discipline but also highlights her role in mentoring young women in STEM.

In this post we’ll explore Ana’s journey, offering a closer look at how her background in mathematics has shaped her career in trading, the challenges she’s navigated, and her advice for aspiring young women in these fields.

Q: Could you tell us about your journey from taking part in various Olympiads to becoming a graduate trader at Optiver?
I’ve always loved maths and the excitement of solving complex problems. In high school, I joined a number of Olympiads like the European Girls’ Mathematical Olympiad (EGMO), the Middle European Mathematical Olympiad (MEMO), and the International Olympiad in Linguistics (IOL), and in university, I took part as a mentor or team leader.

Finance as a career wasn’t on my radar at first, but after being introduced to quantitative finance at university career fairs it clicked—it was like the problem-solving I loved but with a real-world application. My first encounter with Optiver was at the EGMO in 2020, where they were sponsors. Optiver stood out to me as a place that was exciting and fun to work at, offering a different view of finance that went beyond the traditional image I had.

This mix of being able to work in an environment that valued mathematical expertise and still participate in Olympiads was appealing. That’s what led me to intern here and, eventually, sign on as a Trader in 2023.

Q: How have you continued your involvement with Mathematical Olympiads while working at Optiver?
Staying connected to the Olympiad scene has been great. It’s one thing to compete in EGMO, MEMO, and International Linguistics Olympiad (IOL) during high school, but it’s another to keep that part of your life active into your professional career. At Optiver, it was super cool to find out that not only were they sponsoring such events, but Optiver also organised qualifiers and selected teams to join the Dutch Mathematical Olympiad for Companies.

Being part of the Problem Selection Committee for EGMO 2024 and organizing EGMO 2023, plus getting involved in IMO 2024 as a Coordinator, has been a way for me to give back and stay engaged with the mathematics community.

Q: What does your current role at Optiver involve, and what are some highlights?
In my role as a trader, every day brings something new, which makes the job very exciting. There’s constant communication and collaboration with really smart people, from other traders to other teams in the business. The job also demands staying up to date with worldwide events, which ensures we’re not working in a bubble and dynamic.

I particularly enjoy the estimations of different probabilities, discussions about possible scenarios and expected value calculations. Game theory is especially interesting because it’s something we use a lot in mathematics and it’s really cool to see that applied in real life.

Q: How have the skills from mathematics competitions helped in your trading role?
The skills I developed through participating in mathematical competitions have been essential to my role as a trader. The analytical skills, especially in areas like probability and strategic thinking, are something I use every day. The ability to think quickly and creatively, to think outside the box under time pressure, and the ability to spot patterns are skills that have proven invaluable for the fast-paced decisions you have to make as a trader.

I also developed a keen interest in Combinatorics. That has proven particularly relevant in trading, where understanding probabilities and various combinations is really important.

Q: Have you encountered challenges as a woman in a male-dominated trading industry?
Fortunately, at Optiver I haven’t been treated any differently because of my gender. However, being more visible as a woman in this field sometimes makes me feel more noticeable, which can add a bit of pressure and make me think twice before sharing ideas.

This is a challenge I’m working through, but the people at Optiver are here to help you succeed and are open to listening to your concerns, I feel supported here.

Q: How do you think we can change perceptions and break down barriers in this traditionally male-dominated field?
For me, changing perceptions and dismantling barriers in such a male-dominated industry starts with visibility—having role models who show young women what’s possible.

We need to ensure there are no misconceptions or stereotypes making girls think they can’t be (at least!) as good as men in these fields. By challenging these outdated ideas and highlighting the achievements of women, we can inspire confidence in the next generation. It’s about creating a supportive environment where young women see themselves represented and believe in their potential to achieve great things.

Q: What advice do you have for young women interested in mathematics and trading?
My advice for girls and young women would be to remember that by entering fields like STEM and trading, we can help shift the balance. We have the opportunity to be role models for the next generation, showing that gender should not define anyone’s career path in these areas. Embrace your passion for mathematics and sciences, and we can be part of the change towards a more balanced and inclusive environment.

Inspired by Ana’s story?
Check out the link below for more career opportunities at Optiver.

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