GSA Capital: Learning from the women who have made it to the top in tech



Pia-Ramona Wojtinnek, Head of Strategy at GSA Capital discusses the importance of diversity in technology and why the quant trading firm is committed to building an inclusive workforce.

I joined GSA as a quant researcher nearly a decade ago, straight out of my PhD in Computer Science at Oxford. In that role, I researched and implemented quantitative equity trading models – first as part of a team improving existing models and later as a portfolio manager, running my own model with equity positions totalling several hundred million dollars.

After a few years, I decided I wanted to move towards a business role and took a couple of years out to study for an Executive MBA at Bayes Business School. I re-joined GSA in 2021 and now fully work on business strategy.

What is GSA’s approach to creating a diverse workforce?

We believe that creating a more diverse workforce (not just for ourselves, but more broadly) means taking responsibility at all stages – from the grassroots, supporting school children laying their foundations, all the way to ensuring fair recruitment processes and an inclusive work environment at GSA. For grassroots, we work with Future Frontiers to coach children from underprivileged backgrounds, and we sponsor a STEM academic in residence for the London Academy of Excellence. For those in further education, we strongly believe in and support internships, and we especially boost diversity in our internships through partnering with programmes including 10,000 black interns and Girls Are INvestors (GAIN).

One of the challenges we still see with creating diverse workforces is that candidates don’t apply in the first place due to misconceptions of how working in a specific industry or place may be (especially in the financial sector). Internships are key in getting candidates to experience it first-hand, with little risk, amongst plenty of other advantages such as building confidence and raising their profile. We often build long-term relationships, including students returning for a second internship or a full-time position. We also believe that visibility of role models and open sharing from diverse groups to diverse groups is hugely important, so being able to share via forums such as SheCanCode or our talks at universities is an important pillar of our approach.

When it comes to hiring for full-time positions, we are keen to make sure that qualified talent who would find a career with us fulfilling actually applies. Given a large fraction of candidates come through recruiters – who play a key role in introducing the industry, firm and role – we set additional recruiter incentives for candidates from under-represented categories (such as female software engineers) that join our interview process. From there, our interviews for tech and quant roles are highly technical and create an even playing field, but they also give candidates a good exposure to our culture. I remember very well from my own interviews how my interviewers seemed like the same crop of people I’d felt so comfortable with at university, and that I’d really enjoy puzzling over problems with them – not what I had expected from finance at all!

How does GSA create an inclusive and supportive environment?

Much of GSA’s inclusive environment is down to our culture, which has always centered on flat hierarchies, mutual respect and trust. Part of this comes from the approachability of the leadership team, who share the same technical DNA as the rest of our staff and very much still love working on challenging problems, learning new skills, and getting into the weeds of trading strategies. The members of the firm’s management committee and other senior partners aren’t shut away in fancy oak-panelled offices but sit out on the trading floor right amongst us all.

Cracking hard problems is not just about finding smart people. You need to have a continuous openness to different ideas, and the right mix of experience and fresh eyes – be that from people straight out of education or experienced professionals. And passion, too. It’s very clear everyone is here not just because they are very good at what they do, but also because they care about it – across all teams and levels of experience. The mix of different people here creates an inclusive atmosphere of mutual respect: you listen to and value what people have to say and you put your trust in them, just as they do in you. You really would stick out like a sore thumb here if you didn’t.

Given we know we have great people, we really look after them over the long term, too. Part of that is fostering internal mobility, across different teams, because we know people like growing in different directions, and we know they’ll often be brilliant, bringing experience from one part of the business to another. We have many examples of people starting out in software development and moving into quant trading, people moving across different tech teams, and from operations into tech teams. We also have a mentorship programme which again very much follows our flat hierarchy – you may well end up being mentored by the CEO or the firm’s founder as a junior..

What first sparked your interest in working in tech?

I studied a bunch of things as an undergrad – from Maths to Medieval German Language. Funnily, Computer Science was a compulsory minor subject to Maths that I wasn’t thrilled at all I needed to take. That changed rapidly, so much so that in the end that’s what I did my PhD in. I enjoyed how applied and multi-purpose computer science is: in my second year as an undergrad, I worked as a junior researcher on a project that used optimal large-network drawing to analyse how a revolution in 1847 had spread, and that opened my eyes: not only was the technical question inherently interesting,

I could actually code up a solution that solved the problem and it could be applied to a huge breadth of problems in various areas. I liked the people the most, and thought I always want to be surrounded by applied geeks.

How much do you think the situation for tech talent has changed since you joined?

A huge amount, and in many ways. To give just one example, the use of data-driven and machine learning-based approaches has exploded across industries. A decade ago, when I left academia, ML was still relatively niche – now there are dedicated Master’s programmes. The term ‘data science’ was virtually unheard of (albeit people were still doing data science – they just weren’t calling it that!). These changes are exciting, and the high demand on the industry side creates huge amounts of opportunity, and an ability to apply your skills to a wide range of areas.

High demand also has driven up salaries significantly and tilted power towards talent, meaning companies need to compete even more on culture and perks, on top of pay. On the flip-side, as some of the skills are becoming more commoditised, the competition for the top spots is much higher and it’s extremely hard to stand out from the pack.

Beyond the explosion of attractive opportunities, it’s also much cooler these days to say you’re in tech and spend your day coding when asked at a party. People’s image of what you do, and why it’s interesting and impactful has shifted – not least with the prevalence of technical people building and leading successful companies. Which feels good.

What advice would you give yourself just starting out?

Do internships throughout your university time. I didn’t do any and then neither had an idea what I wanted to do nor what would suit me. I was also feeling insecure and unsure of how I would do in the industry. It was pretty much sheer luck that I immediately ended up in an environment I love – after following up with a couple of recruiters who approached me – and I’m still at the same place a decade later, my career has grown with me.

Had I done internships, then not only would I have relied less on luck, but I would have also transitioned with a lot more confidence and less worry and stress! That’s a goo
d one, too – don’t worry so much and just get on with it – it’ll all be fine (and everyone else is just making it up as they go along, too!)

Discover more about a career at GSA Capital




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