In Conversation with CQF Alumni: Sara Goblova

Sara Goblova – AVP, Senior Equity Derivatives Engineer at Barclays

Sara started her finance career as a Graduate Developer for Barclays in 2020 and is now Senior Equity Derivatives Software Engineer. We spoke to Sara about her career highlights, how the CQF added value to her career, and her advice for new professionals.

What kind of work are you doing in your current role at Barclays? 

I am a Senior Software Engineer in equity derivatives and work on several projects in parallel. One is on valuation-based Profit and Loss (PnL) attribution, which is a mechanism to calculate the hypothetical PnL and backtest Value-at-Risk models. The second is the Fundamental Review of the Trading Book. Barclays is based in the UK, so we are subject to the Basel 3.1 requirement standards implementation. These regulatory requirements can be very demanding, but it's a great opportunity to make our systems more efficient and to adopt new technologies. It has helped me to understand the business at a deeper level and to connect with different teams across the company. Finally, I work on production support for our traders in London, New York, and Hong Kong, as part of our regular business flows. 

Why did you decide to pursue your current career path? 

I am from Eastern Slovakia and did not have much exposure to math or computers in high school, although I was interested in these subjects. When I came to Prague to study international business for my bachelor’s degree, I started learning to program on my own and really enjoyed it. I joined Barclays as a graduate developer in 2020 and quickly realized this is exactly what I wanted to do. 

Since you are very immersed in programming now, what would you say about the various languages in use today, Python vs C/C++, for example? 

Python is great to play around with and it has great graphical libraries. You can explore machine learning libraries, you can see graphs, you can plot anything you want. C++ is the language of choice when you want to put things into production if you need to have low discrepancy and fast pricing. So, you probably play with models and tune them using Python, and when you put them into production, you translate them into C++. C++ evolved very much in the past years and currently it is not hard to dig deep into it, for example, you do not have to manage the pointers anymore and there is a vast standard library on hand, which allows you to focus on the business logic.

What do you enjoy most about your current role? 

I like learning something new every day. I want to go deeper into the math side of the business, where I can utilize more of what I have learned in the CQF and am interested in a possible transition to quant development. Barclays supports talented individuals by for example sponsoring the CQF, which allowed me to meet wonderful people who did or are doing their CQF in Barclays Prague and I am proud that there are many smart and enthusiastic people here. It gives us a great opportunity to build a strong quant community in Prague. In the broader financial picture, we don't always know what is around the corner. Every day we move small step by small step and eventually this results in a big step. I like being in an environment that keeps evolving and where you must learn new things, read about trends, and keep pace. 

What are some of the biggest achievements or highlights in your career today? 

One of my biggest achievements is getting my CQF with distinction. Not only did I learn many valuable things about quant finance during the program, but I also started to believe in myself and developed an approach to learning that will help me for years to come. At work, I have been promoted Analyst grade to Assistant Vice President and now have more opportunities to develop further and work from a higher perspective. I enjoy solving hard problems and these are always in abundance. As an example, my CQF final project was new for my cohort. I had to step out of my comfort zone, find available research, and invent solutions. It taught me a lot about time management. We had two months to complete the project, but I wanted to develop a skeleton and then play with it; knowing that some attempts would fail, and I would need to try something different. You fail, then you think about why you failed, then you have more knowledge, and you try again. It's a game and you must enjoy the process. 

What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career to date?

As with many people, the biggest challenge for me is probably myself. We all compare ourselves to other people and, unless we apply this positively, it can cause stress which has no benefit for anyone. Each of us has a completely different path; we grew up in different environments, went to different schools, have different friends, and it all shapes our reality. So, I think the most important thing is to keep learning and to understand that we don't have to be the best at everything. This is why we work in teams because our various strengths complement each other. This is also how we grow, not only in terms of our hard quant skills, but also in terms of our soft skills as we support each other when working on business challenges. 

You earned the Certificate in Quantitative Finance (CQF) in 2023. Where has the CQF added value to your career?

The CQF comprises a massive amount of knowledge. Before I enrolled, I realized it was an excellent opportunity to help me decide if quant finance was the direction I wanted to go in professionally. The CQF enabled me to obtain math knowledge without enrolling in a university program which would have forced me to take time away from work. Through the CQF, I met amazing people, especially the lecturers, who are truly interested in what they teach and always worked to convey complicated subjects in a clear and concise manner. CQF also enriched my network of the like-minded professionals. I regularly attend events organized by CQF Institute and other quant finance professional organizations to follow the trends and perhaps get inspired to conduct my own research.

In your opinion, what are the skillsets that are required to be successful in quantitative finance today and do you think different skills will become more important over the coming years?

It's very important to have strong programming skills and keep up with industry news. It's also important to have strong knowledge of the math and quant finance fundamentals, so, for example, to truly understand models like Black-Scholes, and areas like equity derivatives and fixed income. I think there are many new areas that are appealing now, such as machine learning or quantum computing, so it is essential to be curious and always willing to learn new skills. One of the most valuable personal skills is to become resilient to changes in the market and to the fear of failure. This is very strong asset that requires long-term, daily training. Changes happens constantly and you must be able to adapt to them. 

What would your advice be to someone starting a career in the industry today?

Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions because if you don't ask, and you have erroneous assumptions, you will waste a lot of time. Be willing to take small steps and time in your own self-educational process. Sometimes you will need to read an article multiple times before you fully understand it and each time, it will give you something new. I also recommend finding a good mentor and other people you can learn from in your area of specialization. Finally, once you are more senior yourself, share your knowledge with others who are coming up in their careers. If you had a mentor who helped you learn from their successes and failures, you can help someone else learn from yours. 

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