Technical geeks? Hardly. Today’s new breed of financial engineers take the lead as global innovators.
When Sukrit Ganguly finished his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering and applied science, he set out on a traditional career track in oil and gas consulting. “The job was very technical,” says the 27-year-old, “and required me to work on models all day long.” Bored after a year, Ganguly wanted to try something new. So he returned to the University of Toronto to do a master’s of applied science, this time focusing on applied engineering in banking and setting his sights on Bay Street. “I wanted a job that looked at the bigger picture, and in finance you have to follow what’s going on all over the world,” he says.
The chemical engineer is now working on the trading floor for equity derivatives at TD Securities—on Bay Street. Instead of modelling pipelines and heat exchangers like many of his former classmates, he spends his days structuring financial products, reading international market commentary, and researching the activities of TD’s competitors. And he says an engineering degree was the best possible training for the job. “As an engineer, you’re taught how to solve programs. The finance part I could learn on the fly.”
Indeed, as more students flock to the field of engineering (at last count, enrolment in accredited undergraduate engineering programs grew by 11 per cent between 2006 and 2009), universities across the country are advancing the concept of the “global engineer” and broadening the educational experience offering courses—such as finance or entrepreneurial studies—outside of traditional engineering disciplines. “The idea now is that engineers are no longer just technical geeks,” says David Wilkinson, McMaster University’s dean of engineering. “They need to be able to solve global problems and answer complex open-ended questions.”
At Ganguly’s alma mater, the University of Toronto, students in the faculty of applied science and engineering can now enroll in a financial engineering major, the first undergraduate program of its kind in Canada. The inaugural participants in the course this fall will learn financial modelling and theory, while also getting a strong engineering science foundation that they can apply to work in financial institutions and investment banking. The university will also launch a new minor in engineering business in 2011.
These courses were born out of the realization that “our students are being hired by Bay Street and Wall Street,” says the faculty’s dean, Cristina Amon. “It’s their ability to address problems and the analytical skills engineers gather during their education that is very attractive for the i-banking and financial services industry,” she says, adding that “this recent phenomenon” has already registered in the U.S., where finance and business course options have been offered to engineering students at prestigious schools like Princeton and Columbia for several years.
At Queen’s University, the faculty of engineering and applied science is developing a program with the Queen’s School of Business called innovation and global leadership, which will bring engineering and commerce students together. “We decided to design this now because of a need for engineers and commerce students to contribute to the knowledge economy,” explains Kimberly Woodhouse, dean of the faculty of engineering and applied science. “In order for them to do that, they’re going to need to be innovators.”
While Woodhouse says she’s seen “a huge demand in finance for engineers,” the program— anticipated to start in fall 2011—is focused on teaching business and engineering students to collaborate. “As an engineer, you now need to understand the business world, and commerce students need to understand the impact of technology on business.”
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