Blindness couldn’t stop Pranav’s pursuit of Algo Trading

12 min read

Can someone trade without having eyesight?
Can someone learn about Algo Trading if they can’t see?
What if we told you that the answer to these questions is a resounding YES?

That’s true. Pranav Lal’s inspiring journey combines innovation, excellence, grit, and a never-give-up attitude. Pranav is blind since birth, but his determination to overcome challenges and break all barriers helped him learn algorithmic trading by pursuing EPAT, as well as achieving the EPAT Certificate of Excellence.

A photographer, a tech enthusiast and a writer, Pranav has achieved milestones. He has been a TedX speaker, was featured in an article by one of India’s leading newspapers Hindustan Times and has been interviewed by famous media channels like Quint and others.

A Commerce graduate with honours in Economics, Law and Accountancy, Pranav also holds an MBA, as well as a CISSP certification. His work experience across different domains like telecom, business solutions, consulting services and more inculcates into a 20+ year professional journey. This is Pranav’s story.

Hi Pranav, tell us about yourself!

I am Pranav Lal. I am a Manager with Ernst & Young. I’m a self-taught programmer and I have a Master's in Business Administration and have done BCom Honors from Delhi University.

I am blind, which means that I cannot visually perceive things. I was born in Kuwait, was born three months premature and lost my eyesight during birth. My parents have played a vital role in my success today.

As a kid, I attended regular schools with the encouragement and assistance of my parents, resulting in independence in my education. I could at least make my notes, and do my transcriptions. My parents had my books transcribed into electronic format.

I love to write, I have my blog, I love to do photography whenever time permits, and I am very passionate about technology. Although I had an interest in finance, I never imagined it to be possible to become a Trader, let alone learn Algorithmic Trading. But, that all became possible today for me with EPAT.

You’re a TEDx speaker, and you’ve worked with numerous technologies to help you to see the world. Could you share about that?

I got into a Business school around the 2000s and we realized that my initial system of recording notes and transcribing them on the computer at home was not going to work. This is because B school is very fluid, and you have to do a lot of independent work.

So, I got a laptop and I discovered a software called ‘vOICe’ developed by Dr. Peter B.L. Meijer, while he was at Phillips, in the Netherlands. This was incredibly helpful as it opened up an entire world of capabilities for me, empowered by technology.

To pursue my aspiration to capture the visual world, I combined a free webcam with the vOICe, and lo and behold, the sound changed as I moved the camera. It enabled me to “See”. The software converts images to a set of defined sounds and you have to wear headphones for the best experience. Your brain decodes this and figures out what you're looking at.

It takes a fair bit of practice. These sounds and visual scenes are a bit complex now and I'm not wearing the hardware 24x7. Although I’m able to view things to a certain extent, it is challenging to identify what I’m looking at in a few cases. The vOICe gives me a form of low vision.

I had to find some way of sharing what I saw with the world, and that's how the photography happened. Photography eventually led me to blog as a means to share my experiences in photography and life in general.

How would you put in words, your journey over the years?

I had an interest in pursuing my graduation in Science & engineering but the academic/institutional rules at that time didn’t allow someone without eyesight to formally pursue engineering.

I also found business & commerce to be of interest, so I pursued my Bachelor in Commerce from Delhi University and an MBA afterwards. I got a job with an education company, then got recruited by a startup on information security, and went on to telecom. I had a lot of fun working at these places across multiple projects.

I was often stereotyped based on my physical attributes and I realized that a job would only take me so far in life. I wanted to be independent. And I still want to be. That's when I looked at trading in 2011. I never dreamt of having a career in finance. I realized that a job would only take me so far in life and that finance could be what I should go for.

Everyone used to look at the charts and try to figure out what was what. One could do trading using charts, but for me, it was a very tedious process. I had to grab a csv file, get stock prices, load it into the graphing engine, hear the charts or follow candlestick patterns and then make decisions. It wasn't a very promising start.

Later, with my dad’s assistance, I got to explore various mediums and understood that it’s possible to trade by using algorithms as well. As I was exploring more, I came across QuantInsti's blogs and courses.

That's how I found out about QuantInsti and algo trading. I was surprised to find out that someone teaches all this stuff. Your content, courses, and syllabus - made sense and were proof enough for me to pursue EPAT.

Without vision, you use a number of techniques which enable you to interpret the screen. Could you share about that?

I have used and would recommend using the following tools if you are visually challenged.

A blind person uses a piece of software called a Screen Reader. They work with system events, a lot of inter-program communication gets monitored, and so on, and then it outputs what's happening on the screen. In short, it verbalizes what is what appears on the computer screen.

  • The one I use is Non-Visual Desktop Access, NVDA, which is a screen reader for Windows.
  • You have Orca for Linux.
  • The default Narrator for Windows.
  • Talk-back for Android.
  • Voice-over for IOS, and so on.

There exist many charting software and websites, but you don't have to bother with any of those in algo trading. You just have a nice command line, Python code, and C code that makes the accessibility of the whole thing so simple. That is another very attractive factor when it comes to algorithmic trading. The best part about algo trading, though, is that you are building your own platform.

I have always realized, at least for me, that the best path forward is to embrace technology. And when that leads to more automation, that's terrific. Nothing better than that.

What is your day like?

I conduct all my research in the evenings. I do the final checks and tests the next morning from 5 to 6 am. Then, I simply leave the system running and the algo do their work.

I have become a great fan of the at command in Linux, which lets me schedule these one-time jobs. Currently, it's low-frequency trading with 2 or 3 runs of transactions at the right time. That's pretty much it, but the idea is to step it up to high-frequency trading over some time.

This is followed by my daily exercise, and by 9 am, I am at work. Once I’m out of the office, I have a look at my logs and reviews.

I'm a morning person, so on the weekends, as early as possible, I put in 2-3 hours of serious development work. My philosophy is “start early, finish early, and then the rest of the day is yours.”

You actively use Machine learning and it has helped you understand markets even better - how did you make it possible?

The market study to me essentially means, at the moment, simply running machine learning models on stock and backtest strategies. Based on the signals I get; I build a picture of the market. I do not follow the news, like Nifty up and down is going to happen due to this or that news. I am more interested in what my system is telling me at the moment.

Based on my backtesting results, I decide what to shop for. Five days a week, I'm going shopping for stocks, and I'm now currently working on automating it further.

I am still working on the ideal way regarding ‘when to sell?’, which has various approaches. I'm using machine learning thus I'm still working with Nifty 50 as you can get the maximum amount of historical data on it. It goes far, far enough back.

I'm not jumping onto the news based-trading bandwagon as of now. I may do it in the future, but at the moment I am sticking to price action trading, and what the numbers are telling me. While coding my software, I do my best to ensure that I have put in conditions that my program tells me to - “Is this sideways, or Bullish, or Bearish, or what’s going on?”. And I have to adjust my frequency of time, of course. Timing is a big factor.

What challenges do you face while learning as well as in trading?

I used to listen to a lot of BBC which led me to grow an interest in science, however, the Education system back in the early 90s was not conducive for me to pursue an education in science. I gradually developed an interest in Commerce.

For visually challenged individuals, the bigger challenge is figuring out your accommodations, whether they are going to give you a writer for the exams or you have to get your writer, etc.

Although the situation is better, it's still an uphill battle as various competitive exams don't cater to the disabled. Some school and college exams can be taken on the computer, but that is not the case with many competitive entrance exams.

Since I learned to program, coding strategies felt less challenging. I accessed various charts and graphs on trading to familiarise myself. I’ve learnt about various trading strategies and I now understand what's really going on in them.

The EPAT Faculty and Support Team rocks!

  • Direct access to the faculty helps you get in touch with the faculty one-on-one and helps you clear all your doubts. The faculty is knowledgeable, skilled, experienced and possesses expertise in the domain.
  • The top-of-the-class support that you get, both during and after the course is superb! If I needed something, the support was just a chat box away.

Even after the completion of my EPAT journey, QuantInsti hasn’t let go. QuantInsti’s lifelong association promise is real. I still get support from the Alumni cell. Without that support, I would be floundering quite seriously.

You are one of the top scorers in the proctored EPAT final exam conducted via Prometric - what’s your secret?

There is no secret behind completing EPAT or becoming a successful trader. You've just got to do those assignments, practice coding, and you must absolutely do the project. Unless you do the project, you haven't got the maximum value from the course.

Because the project is ‘where you apply what you have learned.' Then you can keep applying after every class almost, depending on what project you're doing, of course.

My trading philosophy is “Never give up!”. But sometimes, you have to step back and keep an eye on the field, rather than actively trading.

The best part about algorithmic trading is the computer is doing the math for you. All you need to know is how it works and what it does. It's not like school, where you have to know how to calculate it. Even if you have to calculate something yourself, it's a one-time effort, you just code it, save it, and you can re-use the code again and again.

Which feature of EPAT did you like the most?

EPAT is a very intense course, no doubt about it. If you're living with family, and learning over the weekends in addition to having a full-time profession, it can get challenging at times. But with the right determination at your end, EPAT will help you prepare for the present and the future by learning with the right approach.

The top features of EPAT according to me are:

  • Live and recorded lectures - The best part of EPAT is that you can catch the recording whenever you want to. That makes quite the difference.
  • Project - While I’m aware that QuantInsti hasn't made the project work mandatory for the certification, I highly encourage everyone to do the optional project work and make the most of the EPAT.
  • Doubt solving - The real use of knowledge starts when you sit down to apply and you say “Oh! How am I supposed to get adjusted prices?”, “I do not necessarily want to rely on Yahoo Finance. What am I supposed to do?”, and other tiny stuff. The devil is in the details, and then that's where you need support, which was always made available by QuantInsti during this journey.
  • Placement Cell – The placement is not something that I've had to use as of now, but I'm glad it's there for both the participants and the alumni, so I can make use of it whenever I need it.

What are your plans for the future?

I have to combine 3 passions of mine - “Information Security, Trading, and Writing”. That's something I have to figure out.

More automation is certainly on the cards. Right now, I manually shop, and I want to automate the whole shopping process itself.

Following my pursuit of trading, I aspire to establish my trading desk. I hope to tap into the derivative segment, the cash segment, yielding a somewhat consistent cash flow and profitability. These basics have to still be put in place.

I'm hoping to travel a lot, which would mean a lot of photography. And following this, I hope to write more about my experiences.

What would be your message to those who wish to learn Algo Trading?

I’d like to share the following that I have experienced and that I feel will be beneficial to all those who wish to be a part of this incredible domain.

Be okay with free data when you are starting

There are a lot of APIs and data providers today, who give you data on it. It's perfectly fine to start with free data even if it is not perfect.

Don't be intimidated by the programming

Programming is fairly straightforward. All you have to do is break down a problem into simple tasks - something you do routinely in any case. There's nothing difficult with learning programming languages and is not much different from how you learn any language.

Step away from mainstream media

When you're doing algo trading, you're going to trust the math and statistics that you're using in your models. Don't get caught up looking at our popular television channels, seeing the graphs and then making decisions. It's like flying an aircraft - look at what your instruments are telling you and then whatever you have learned from the inputs & your experience, make the decisions accordingly.

Give yourself a little time, it won't come immediately

You can’t become a doctor in 6 months. There are still many aspects that I don't understand. You’ve got to give it some focused attention. The important thing is that learning is a lifelong journey and everyone will have a different journey. Just continue with your efforts and embrace the highs & lows without letting them interrupt your learning journey.

Put in efforts to add to your learning

I am a self-taught programmer which has certainly helped me. I learned networking from my workplaces, so I didn't need any help to set up my training infrastructure. Although I'm not reading balance sheets right now, it's something I learned and today, at least I understand how various businesses work.

You can start applying your learning from scratch

Irrespective of your education, you have to apply basic principles. As long as you can synthesize knowledge across domains, you're fine. You can come in from total scratch and do algo trading. You have put in the effort because you'll be learning to program and methods to implement it in the markets.

But if you don't know how to program, you will have to put in a little bit more work, of course, all the required material is available in QuantInsti resources and is quite well structured in the EPAT programme.

I wish you the best!

Your dedication to your craft is incredible. Your hard work and determination are inspirational. To be honest Pranav, you’re breaking stereotypes and you’re an inspiration.

Having achieved these successes, you’ve probably learnt and experimented a lot. We’re sure that your experience of EPAT would positively impact how you picked up trading, learnt various skills, and how you’re going to apply them.

We are certain that you will achieve even more in the future. You are a living inspiration to not just the visually and physically challenged but to all of us. Thank you for taking out the time to share your experiences, Pranav.

You can watch our complete discussion with Pranav here:

In case you are also interested in developing lifelong skills that will always assist you in improving your trading strategies. In this algo trading course, you will be trained in statistics & econometrics, programming, machine learning and quantitative trading methods, so you are proficient in every skill necessary to excel in quantitative & algorithmic trading. Know more about the EPAT course now!

Disclaimer: In order to assist individuals who are considering pursuing a career in algorithmic and quantitative trading, this success story has been collated based on the personal experiences of a student or alumni from QuantInsti’s EPAT programme. Success stories are for illustrative purposes only and are not meant to be used for investment purposes. The results achieved post-completion of the EPAT programme may not be uniform for all individuals.

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