A journey from IIITB to Columbia University


Ahmad Shayaan

22-year-old Ahmad Shayaan is walking on air. The final year Integrated MTech (IMTech) student from International Institute of Information Technology Bengaluru (IIITB), boasts of not one, but five offers from top five US universities to pursue a career in Financial Engineering. Ahmad has acceptance letters for an MSc in Financial Engineering from Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University and University of California, Los Angeles; and for an MSc plus Ph.D. degree from University of California, Berkeley and University of Washington. The IIITB lad has zeroed in on Columbia University (CU).

“CU has one of the best financial engineering faculties along with robust curriculum. Moreover, it is well-placed location-wise too,” says Ahmad.

A medley of mathematics, statistics, computer science and finance, Ahmad says that Financial Engineering is his dream course, as it combines both – his passion and interest. “The job of a financial engineer is to extract data from finance industry and use this information to take informed decision, such as pricing assets, buying and selling assets and managing & accessing risk. Finance has always interested me, and I am fascinated with data science,” says Ahmad, who hails from Bhopal. 

While, the soon-to-be IIITB graduate was sceptical about getting admission in any of the top-notch universities, Ahmad feels that it was his ‘brutally’ honest profile and behavioural skill that helped him get the edge over others. “In my interviews, I was honest about not having a degree in finance. However, I had all the technical skills and ability to pursue this course. Interviews were mostly focused on behavioural aspects and were conducted by psychologists to assess reaction in difficult situations. While technical part of the interviews can be aced by being thorough with projects, one must work on behavioural aspects. IIITB has many such courses, for example, Technical Communication. If you aspire to get into a world-class university, these courses should be taken seriously,” says Ahmad.  

According to Ahmad, the IMTech course offered by IIITB matches the curriculum offered by first-string technical universities across the globe. “CMU and CU requested for my IMTech course description during the interview process and they were impressed with the curriculum. I was happy to be told that the course we learn at IIITB is very similar to what they teach,” said the proud student who will receive his IMTech degree on July 7, 2019 and will join CU in September this year. 

Wrapping up in style

Ahmad, as part of his IMTech program, is currently working on thesis titled ‘Reinforcement learning for long-term financial portfolio management’. The project involves use of reinforcement learning, a machine learning paradigm, to stimulate human learning process. “The model in reinforcement learning, called agent, interacts with the environment and the environment sends it a signal. The signal can either be a positive reward or a negative reward. In this case, the agent would be interacting with Indian equity market and its trading decisions will include ‘buy’, ‘sell’ or ‘hold the investment’. We have selected ten assets for investment and the agent would invest in the assets and learn if it should buy more, sell more or hold it, depending on how the stock market is behaving,” he signed off.