Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Humans of Hopkins: Samuel Koyfman

By CATHY WANG | April 11, 2024

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COURTESY OF SAMUEL KOYFMAN

Koyfman’s passions for trading, music and languages have shaped his college journey. 

Samuel Koyfman is a senior studying Applied Math & Statistics and Computer Science. In an interview with The News-Letter, Koyfman described his interest in quantitative trading, music and languages, as well as his experience working as a Quantitative Trading Strategist on the One Delta Trading Strats team.

The News-Letter: How did you become interested in quantitative trading? 

Samuel Koyfman: Trading is very high-frequency. It's like a lens into the psychology of the market — you can see how people are behaving based on a certain event [and] what the statistical and qualitative drivers are. It's a very interesting career, because it gives you a very unique perspective on the rest of finance, and I'm able to use my math skills and my intuitive skills at the same time. When I was interning this summer, I saw the energy of the desk. There's never a dull day. 

N-L: What does the job of a One Delta strategist entail? 

SK: One Delta operates as a market maker for single-name stocks. As a strat, you have a lot of systems to monitor because you're a mixture of a quant, a trader, a researcher and a developer. There's this element of trading because you're making sure the central risk book is under control. Then there's software engineering, where you're making sure the data is being pipelined correctly [and] your local applications are operating well because you want to be able to see if your data is being monitored well enough. 

You're also creating algorithms that will systematically make decisions on large-scale portfolios that wouldn't necessarily be able to be done if you were purely looking at it from a personal perspective. And, there’s an element of data science where you're constantly looking at trends, backtesting your strategies and making the most of the data, because there's so much out there — [you need to] make sure you're not digging yourself into a rabbit hole of wrong data to look at. 

N-L: Are there any fun stories you would like to share from your work?

SK: When I was there as an intern, I wasn't necessarily responsible for making any trading algorithms, but I was able to witness very, very large-scale deals being made by adjacent desks, like in the billions. I can't even consider how much money that is, and I just felt like I was looking at a bunch of numbers all day without knowing what the numbers actually meant. It's a surreal experience. Eventually, I'm sure I'll get used to it, but the sheer amount of money is one thing I remember when I was at the desk.

N-L: Could you tell us about your interest in music? 

SK: I've been playing piano for about 13 years. Throughout middle school and high school, I was very competitive. Every year I participated in two or three competitions. I played at Carnegie Hall a few times through competitions and such. Piano was the one thing I really didn't want to lose after coming to Hopkins. So sophomore year, I applied for the Hopkins chamber music group. I've been playing duets since then, and this semester, for the first time, I'm doing a trio. 

I also have two students that I’ve been teaching for about two and a half years, and one of them is actually going to have their first-ever competition this Friday. Teaching kids from scratch is a very, very unique experience — they had no understanding of music before. So going through all the fundamentals on how to read, how to count, how to understand basic music theory, all of which you take for granted after spending so much time playing, I think it humbled me, as I’m teaching myself in a sense. I'm very proud of where they are now, and when I graduate I hope to keep music in my life.

Music and playing piano help me to express something that I wouldn't be able to express otherwise. Yes, you're playing predetermined pieces, but it is your own dynamics and your overall feeling for the piece. My mom told me recently that she has seen how the emotion of my music has changed dramatically since I got to college, even if the notes are all the same, which is indicative of how I’ve changed as a person.

N-L: How about your interest in language?

SK: My parents are from the former USSR. My first language is Russian, and I learned English when I was very young. In middle school, I started taking French. From early middle school, I started learning Japanese on the side. Then junior year [in Hopkins] I took a course called Fast Portuguese for Spanish Speakers and speakers of other Romance Languages. 

For Japanese, there are certain letters that have a grammatical structure that you can never find in English, so it gives you a lens into how other cultures think about language and how expressive they should be. I also like thinking about the literal translation of some phrases, like seeing what the etymology of it comes from. But overall, my goal is to have 10 languages done by 30.  

N-L: How do you see your interest in math, languages and music intersecting?

SK: Math has a very similar structure to music and language. A lot of people are scared of math because of the way it looks and not what it actually represents. The same can be true for music and language. It's just different. It’s not impossible at all. It's just something you have to learn. I find that the similarity of structure has helped me juggle these many different modes of expression: music, languages and math.

N-L: Is there anything else you would like to add?

SK: I think my perspective now as a senior has changed a lot from my years here, and I'm very happy with how college has turned out. But the job isn’t finished, I still have a new chapter of my life to go into, and I don't want to get comfortable. I'm really happy with all the friends I made here. I’m a member of a fraternity on campus, Phi Gamma Delta, and a lot of other different groups. It's given me a lot of perspective on people, on higher education as a whole, and I hope to bring everything I've learned at Hopkins to my next chapter, whether on a personal level, on an academic level, or even musical level. I'm nervous but excited for what's happening next year.


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