My Journey into Python and Programming

Kevin P. Heaney
Sep 20, 2018 · 5 min read


The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is today.

Chinese Proverb

Starting a new journey or starting over, or both?

I have been in the trading/finance industry since I graduated from college in January 2000. I just celebrated 18 years in Chicago and on the trading floor. Longer than any place I had ever lived in my life. I felt stuck, but as we all know, change is scary and hard. I was worried it was too late to change or learn something new. But I knew I had to do something. This is my journey…

Where I’m coming from

I moved to Chicago right after graduating from college. I always knew that trading was the industry for me. I have been down on the trading floors of various Chicago exchanges ever since. When I first started computerized trading was just starting out. During my first week, someone commented: “We won’t be here by Thanksgiving.” That was January 2000 and we’re still here, albeit in a much different trading world.

I graduated with my MBA from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business in June 2015. I probably should’ve left trading then but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Nothing seemed to excite me like trading had when I was younger. That is until I went “upstairs” from the Chicago Board of Trade and traded on the computer.

In my new role, I was using Excel for more than just a simple spreadsheet program. I was building models and formulas that could be put to practical use. I had been messing around reading books on Python for a few months, but could never seem to bridge the gap between reading about it in a book and actually putting it to use. It’s funny that reading about programming logic and Python syntax didn’t really make sense until I had to make use of it in Excel.

I wanted to revisit my Python learning but feared that it was maybe too late for me. I thought I would never be able to learn something new or be able to program. It felt like a Herculean task. I didn’t think I could reinvent myself but something was calling me to try like I had eighteen years ago when I started out in trading. I thought I had found a new passion.

Where I’m going

I knew that I wanted to learn programming and all that it had to offer, but I didn’t know where to start. I found a ChiPy (Chicago Python Users Group) on the Meetup app. I decided it was worth a shot.

Whenever I go to something new I have two rules: 1) Learn something new and 2) Meet someone new. It seemed simple enough and allowed me to make productive use of my time. My first ChiPy event was a Project Night. We were divided up into two groups. One group of people who had experience worked on a challenge and the other group worked on a project of their choosing. Not knowing anything I chose the second group. I didn’t have anything to work on so I just sat around and listened. Feeling uncomfortable I wanted to leave. A guy named Ray came in and reminded everyone their applications were due in two weeks for the Mentorship Program. Not knowing what that was about I introduced myself and asked him about it. He explained that mentees are matched with mentors and they work on a project of the mentee’s choosing with the mentor’s guidance. A light bulb went off. I had accomplished my nightly goal of meeting someone and learning something new, with the added bonus of finding the new path to learning Python.

My goal in learning Python is to gain the tools and skills to be in demand for the future in my career. Programming, when combined with another industry like trading/finance, allows one to be a “dual threat” and in demand in the workplace.

Ever since a young age, I have enjoyed problem solving. I have been a life-long learner. From certifications to Mandarin Chinese, I have enjoyed taking on new challenges. This mentorship along with learning Python is the perfect journey for me to continue on that path of learning.


My most immediate goal is to bridge the gap between what I see written in textbooks and finding a problem myself and writing a program to solve that. I would like to gain the confidence that when faced with a challenge I no longer think “well I could just hire someone to do that” and rather think “I can do this myself.” After this mentorship, I would like to see something and my first thought be “Why can’t this be automated?”

Instead of feeling behind and that the world is passing me with programming knowledge I would like to feel that I am leading the field. I no longer want to feel that I am being left behind.


One of the biggest obstacles to my limited learning of Python has been that the examples and data sets didn’t relate to me. In my adult life, my two biggest passions have been trading and horse racing. When thinking about a project I realized that these two subjects are both very data dependent. It wasn’t hard then to select horse racing as my project. I haven’t narrowed done just exactly what question I will try to answer but I hope to answer a deeper question than just “Who will win the next race?” I am very interested in breeding and pedigree of horses. I would like to study what attributes in a horse’s lineage matter.

Where do I go from here?

Combining my passion for horse racing, my desire to constantly be learning and this new Python challenge, start me on this new path to what I see as the next chapter in my career.

I wish that I would’ve listened to an older trader when I was first being interviewed who said to me “Trading will always be here. Go back to school and get your computer science degree.” I was fresh out of school and really excited to start my trading career so I didn’t listen to him. I can’t go back and change the past. I can only try to dictate the future, starting today. Every new journey starts with one step. And that one step starts today…

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