After graduating with her doctorate from NYU in 1990, Anne Dinning (B.S., ‘84) was considering a career in academia when she met computer scientist David Shaw through a friend. She was intrigued by the opportunity to develop software for a small company operating in a pioneering field, and joined the D. E. Shaw group as one of the investment and technology firm’s first 20 employees. Shaw, the founder, had recruited individuals not afraid to take a nontraditional path, ones whose academic mindset led them to think differently about the financial industry and ultimately change how hedge funds did business.
“Similar to my experience in academia,” Dinning said, “I knew right away at the D. E. Shaw group that I was part of an environment filled with very smart people working together to invent new things.”
As one of the trailblazers of quantitative investing, the D. E. Shaw group now has more than 2,000 employees worldwide and manages over $60 billion in capital. Dinning, the firm’s managing director, led many of its investment strategies, including energy, benchmark-relative equities and long-short equities.
“Anne was one of the first people to join the firm and one of the top people who was managing the firm over the years as it grew,” Shaw said. “And she was a key mind who was involved in thinking out what the field of quantitative finance was going to mean, shaping the culture and the nature of the firm. She’s just remarkable in many dimensions, but in terms of raw brilliance and competence, she’s pretty much off the charts.”
Besides her role as managing director, Dinning is also a member of D. E. Shaw’s Executive Committee. As an Allen School alum, she’s remained engaged with her alma mater through her membership on the school’s Advisory Board and a professorship established in her father’s name. Along with Michael Wolf, Dinning also established two other professorships, one named for professor emeritus Richard Ladner, who advised her undergraduate research, and one named for professor emeritus Jean-Loup Baer, who taught the first computer science course she took at UW.
“The Ladner Professorship is now held by professor Jennifer Mankoff, who is a world expert on technology to benefit people with disabilities,” said Ladner, who noted Dinning’s commitment to supporting inclusion and accessibility efforts. “Anne’s history of giving goes back to her time as a student at UW.”
Those efforts, Ladner recalled, included her senior thesis project on a text editor that would be useful for those who are DeafBlind and have little experience with technology. During her senior year, Dinning helped organize a fundraising event at her sorority Delta Gamma for the American Association of the DeafBlind Convention that was held at UW in 1984.
“In the end the sorority raised $2,000,” said Ladner, an organizer of the convention, “which was one of the largest contributions we received.”
Dinning’s legacy of service has only grown since. She has served on the boards of several organizations, including Partners in Health, the Robin Hood Foundation and Code.org, among others.
“I got to know Anne when she traveled to Haiti to visit some of the work that Partners in Health does there,” said Ophelia Dahl, co-founder of the global health nonprofit. “Anne came in full of curiosity and questions — there was no aspect of the work that she wasn’t interested in. PIH and I, as a friend, have lucked out by knowing Anne and knowing that she’s going to be connected to this work, and in it for the long haul.”
The UW College of Engineering recently recognized Dinning with a 2023 Diamond Award, which honors alumni and friends who have made outstanding contributions to the field of engineering. Dinning received the Dean’s Award and was honored at the college’s Diamond Awards event held on May 18.
Learn more about the 2023 Diamond Award honorees here and read more about Dinning’s UW and professional experiences below.
Allen School: Congratulations on being named a 2023 UW College of Engineering Diamond Award honoree. What does this distinction — and UW — mean to you?
Anne Dinning: I grew up in the Seattle area, and I enrolled at the University of Washington in 1980, back when it was a much easier process to get into college. I’ve been fortunate to stay in close contact with UW now for four-plus decades, but my connection to the university goes back even further, as my dad got his B.S. and M.S. in electrical engineering from UW in the 1960s and has been a lifelong member of the UW community. So this award has a special significance for me and my family.
When I was in school, the computer science department was still relatively new and back then was part of the College of Arts & Sciences. It’s a thrill for me to see how much the department has grown, advancing to become a real powerhouse in the field.
Allen School: Can you talk about your experiences at UW and how they helped inform where you are now?
AD: I have so many memories from my time at UW, and I think about them frequently when I visit campus. I still have a pin that professor Ed Lazowska gave to students as a badge of honor for surviving his CS451 class on operating systems. I remember how hard that class was. I’ve carried that pin and that memory with me through a number of significant challenges over the course of my career. When I was a senior at UW, I had the opportunity to work with professor Richard Ladner and one of his graduate students on creating a text editor for the DeafBlind community, a large community in the Seattle area. That was the first time I remember contributing to something where I could see how my work in computer science could be used to meaningful effect in the real world.
Allen School: I read that you became interested in computer science aboard a train while studying abroad. Can you talk a bit more about this experience and how it impacted your career path?
AD: During my freshman year at UW, I studied abroad for a quarter in France. One day I was on a train and struck up a conversation with the person sitting next to me, who asked about my interests. I said I liked order and organization and was thinking about a future as a librarian or an accountant. He suggested I think about computer programming — a skill that was, even at the time, very portable and adaptable.
I’d never had a computer at home and had never really interacted with one at all. That conversation with a stranger on a train sparked my interest: I was especially drawn to CS as a ticket to anywhere. I signed up for my first computer science class in my next quarter at UW with professor Jean-Loup Baer.
Allen School: Any anecdotes from your early days at the firm?
AD: For my first assignment, I was asked to research a market that was new to the firm. Upon reading some related academic work, I realized how much I didn’t know. I remember loading mag tapes, formatting and cleaning data, and figuring out how to conduct analysis on that data. It was a big opportunity for me, and I had the chance to learn from what went right and what went wrong along the way. (I even managed to crash the firm’s whole database one afternoon!)
Allen School: What sparked your interest in computational finance?
AD: It was such a thrill the first time I built my own forecasting algorithm, because I had the chance to see in real time if the model I’d built was working. We used simulations to assess how a forecast might work in real-life trading, and when I was running simulations on that first forecast, I would wake up every two hours over the weekend to check my simulations and launch a new batch. I was lucky enough to have a terminal at my house, and I can still hear the chirps and beeps of that modem dialing in every two hours.
Allen School: What challenges in your career changed your perspective or helped you grow as a leader?
AD: I’ve been in the financial industry since 1990, and while the D. E. Shaw group has had a lot of successes, we’ve also faced our share of challenging moments and market crises along the way.
Those moments have taught me a lot about myself as a leader. When I think back on some of those times, it occurs to me that much of the value I provided wasn’t just in setting our strategic course with my senior colleagues, but rather, in doing things like sitting with our traders who trade overnight and making sure they had the support, the calm and the access they needed to execute what needed to get done. I’ve learned that my style of leadership is often best expressed with my sleeves rolled up.