Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Back after 17 years...

On the first day back at the grading centre -- the local high school -- I ran into a couple of people I knew from back when I last graded CFA exams.  Both knew my name and the fact that I came from Bermuda whilst I sadly and shame facedly remembered their faces but that was it.  Fortunately people are gracious, well certainly Mary and Bruce were, and didn't make me feel too bad.

But that was about it!  Its almost like the police -- they look so young these days, well so do the new CFA graders.  I was shocked by the fact that one of the CFA bigwigs that made a presentation was one of those teenagers with acne that humped the bound stacks of exam paper books (CFA's call them 'stacks' and 'jokes' about them are legion) and called me 'Sir' back in the 1990's!

My 'office' in front of the picture of Jimi Hendrix (another on the door incidentally, no idea why)

I never have felt comfortable with people other than hotel and restaurant staff calling me 'Sir' but its an American trait that with advancing years I have come to notice being used more frequently with me.  Polite I know but I do wish they'd not do that so much.  Or offer to open the door for me.  Or offer their seats....

The CFA back room staff really worked hard to get me here though -- sorry, here incidentally is Charlottesville, Virginia.  Being non-US I had to get a H1-B visa that they manfully undertook -- took them 18 months too!  I wonder how someone who's not a non-tricky person like me does it.  Or maybe I am not such a non-tricky person that I think.  Hmm.

The entire process used to be so much less organized.  I keep saying that to people and realize I sound like an old fogey (see above) but it really was in the days before computers.  Or at least computers that sat on desks as opposed to taking up an entire room (or floor if really big).  So now everything is controlled by computers and something that has arrived to take over the world of investments ... the algorithm.

Just what on earth is an algorithm anyway and how does it predict behavior?  Well that's what they are supposed to do be it for stock trading purposes or other exotic instruments employed by that new breed called 'high frequency traders'.  Well CFA use one to allocate pre-numbered bundles of exam papers to graders like me.  Apparently they are coded carefully so as to make them more efficient to allocate, easier to track and study, and better at making it less waiting time for me at the tables where they are given out.  In the old days they used large pieces of paper and multi-colored highlighters (but I haven't mentioned that to anyone yet.  I would look old then!).

But the numbers are staggering.  My CFA number is in the low 5 digits, these days its well above 6 digits.  Most candidates come from non-US countries too so they have to consider the possibility of time zone differences and a whole host of other stuff that I certainly wouldn't have thought about.  But like most things American, it has become a production line.  Everything to improve the process and get things done within a very short timeframe.  To my untutored eye, there are 5 times as many graders grading only 25% of what we used to (in the old days -- I couldn't think of a way of making a comparison without talking about the 'old days', sorry!).  But with 26,000 exams versus whatever it was back in the... well before, that is 20 times as much effort to grade not sure how many more papers, but I don't think it was 20 times fewer anyway.

It works though.  There are even stools allocated in the men's toilet (and I imagine the women's too) where graders can place their 'stacks' whilst answering the call of nature together with a helpful sign advising of the hygienic need to wash hands before picking up those stacks!

'Place Stacks Here'

And the snacks!  Haven't they heard of good health?  We have grazing areas set aside for this purpose with any kind of sugary snack you can think of: ice creams, sugar filled sodas and then there's the gallons of coffee.  Clearly they want graders full of caffeine and sugar for the couple of weeks we are here.  I dread to think of what is happening to my waistline given that I fall into that category of person with zero willpower.

One sad thing about the current year is that in my previous grading incarnation I'd get to play tennis doubles with 3 guys of just about the same standard who'd have a knock down, kick 'em out game every day after grading so worrying about the waistline wasn't as much of an issue.  Only one of the guys, John, still remains.  The others moved on years ago.  I did walk out to the centre the first day and its a decent 50 minute walk but the temperature is in the 90's with nuclear level humidity so I cannot imagine it was that pleasant sitting next to me afterwards!  So I'm really thinking of my co-graders when I don't repeat that early morning walk!  Really.

The extent of my daily 'walk' these days... around the baseball park next door to the high school

Overall its pretty nice to be back.

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