Innovation is systematic within D.E. Shaw & Co., the $42 billion alternative-investment firm founded in 1988 by computer scientist and computational finance pioneer David Shaw. Rather than reacting to the latest trends in the IT world, D.E. Shaw relies on the continuous experimentation of its decentralized IT teams, whose good ideas may catch on across the firm. A few years ago, for example, a more efficient framework for quote distribution and market-data dissemination was developed by one group and eventually adopted by others, says managing director Neil Katz, 45, who has been with D.E. Shaw since his 1994 graduation from Stanford University. Katz, who earned degrees in electrical engineering and quantitative economics, manages a team of more than 250 technologists. They participate in hackathons, including an annual competition in India that exposes developers to technologies that might be useful in their regular work. There are also occasional hack weeks in New York, where people are encouraged to work on projects outside their regular priorities. "We've seen some real breakthroughs when people put aside their normal workflow and turn to whatever side projects interest them," Katz says.
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