How to Get Smarter
It’s simple: Lever yourself with technology.
It’s not controversial to suggest that computers (and the software that they run) have changed a lot about the way that we live. Mainstream science documentaries are already discussing the eventual emergence of a human-machine meld as an inevitability. Whether that presently far-fetched idea comes to pass or not, there can be no disputing that AI is for real.
Any observer is bound to wonder: Will I be left behind? A widely cited estimate suggests that 47% of total US employment is at risk of being replaced by technology. Think like a portfolio manager: Isn’t that the sort of risk you should hedge?
You can, but hedging well is a function of effort not security selection. I’m putting my money where my mouth is here: The organizing premise that CFA Institute rests on is that you can always be a better analyst. So, I’m a bit biased towards continuous improvement. If you want to take this with a grain of salt, fair enough.
We polled CFA Institute Financial NewsBrief readers about their comfort with technology, and the plurality (62%) of the 583 participants responded, “Comfortable — I’m a skilled user, but there’s a lot I don’t know.”
What is your comfort level with technology?
So, what steps can one take to turn “a lot” into “a little”? The first step might be as simple as learning a few keyboard shortcuts. If, like many, you’re a daily user of Microsoft Excel, there’s no excuse not to invest a little bit of time getting faster.
Do you need a mouse to use excel?
— William Ortel (@willortel) February 24, 2016
I spent a number of years as a ski racer and coach, and I can tell you with authority that the difference between an advanced and intermediate skier is whether they are able to lean out over the fall line while turning. Using Excel without a mouse is exactly the same sort of bright-line separator. Especially if you would have answered “of course” to this poll, aspiring towards mouse-free spreadsheeting is an excellent interim goal.
Fortunately, there are resources to help you. An excellent software package called KeyRocket integrates nicely into Microsoft Office on Windows computers and shows you a little notification every time you perform an operation that could have been done more quickly with a hotkey. It also has a Chrome extension. I’m not aware of a similar program for Macs, but HotkeyEVE gives a similar introduction to the many shortcuts that can speed your navigation through the (highly hotkey-friendly) Mac operating system. And here’s a quick explanation if you’re mystified by the notion that anyone would rip F1 off of their keyboard.
Just as leaning out over the fall line is an introduction to a world of fast turns, deep powder, and a better life in general, adding hotkeys into your routine will leave you wondering how you ever got anything done without them. You’ll also quickly realize that they’re something of a minimum. As you start performing the same operations as before more quickly, you’ll start to wonder: What about new ones?
Goodbye, Deus Ex Appina
It used to be the case that if you wanted your computer to do something that it couldn’t do already, you had to wait around for someone else to build an app for you.
That is no longer a thing.
The cost and difficulty of creating your own simple apps has plummeted in recent years. And we’ll get to that. But a host of new technologies bring a great deal of the power that can be harnessed by writing simple applications into the hands of the average user, no code required. Perhaps the most widely known of these is a service called If This, Then That. It’s IFTTT for short.
Its integrations run the gamut from turning the lights on when you get home to triggering alerts based on movements in the financial markets and even ordering mulled wine on Christmas. Presumably, you could set up an automatic light switch rave whenever one of the companies in your portfolio beats earnings or rallies sharply.
But that’s actually pretty picayune compared to the tools you can use to get some actual analysis done. You’re doubtless aware that data from services like Bloomberg and Reuters can be pulled easily into Excel. The St. Louis Fed even has its own tool to pipe in the data from its excellent FRED service alongside the other data streams.
But You Can Go Further
A new service called Blockspring allows you to pull in data from a substantial and growing number of web services. So, you can build custom news searches, overlay a sentiment analysis, and have your spreadsheet text you if people are saying nice things about you on the internet. A state of hyper-awareness is only a few alerts away.
Let’s not forget that you can also pipe in data from Quandl, Data.gov, and pretty much any website. But, by the time you get around to doing stuff like that, it’s probably time to start thinking about writing actual code.
Which programming language should you learn? It’s a daunting question, but it doesn’t need to be. For one thing, learning to program is a lot like learning a foreign language. At first, you will be expressing yourself with roughly the eloquence of a five-year-old. And you’ll be able to do about as much. But eventually, you’ll be able to access a whole set of conversations that made no sense beforehand. And even if you find out later that you’d prefer to have a different set of conversations, you’ll still have learned something.
That’s how you get smarter.
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.