I haven't given out very specific information here because I do want to stay anonymous - I don't want anyone in the market knowing I'm posting stuff up here. But here's my general background:
I am American, went to a very good but non-target (in NYC, anyway) undergrad and majored in math. I then did a masters degree at a top name target university (think ivy league or equivalent), in as I described earlier as a quantitative field linked to finance. In that degree I studied both applied mathematical material, like stochastic stuffs and programming (simulation and applied stuff like that), as well as finance courses - but in the derivatives / capital markets realm specifically. That's as specific as I'd like to be here. In between academics I did internships at a hedge fund and at a bank in risk management. By the time I was looking for a full time job, hedge funds simply were not hiring (not that that was necessarily what I wanted to do, it just was not an option, and certainly not a the hedge fund at which I had spent time since the division I was working in was shut down) and I knew I did not want to accept the offer to join the bank in risk management full time (because I didn't like risk management, though the people were very nice), so I continued to look for jobs elsewhere. Another bank was hiring at my grad school for a junior trading job. I knew next to nothing about what they actually did, but I interviewed (of course several rounds), got the offer, they made it sound cool and exciting, and so I accepted. And I've been there since and it's actually been pretty cool and exciting, so I guess they've lived up to their promise. It has its ups and downs though. Anyway, hope this response helped!
Just a quick response to Alex's posting a while back about 5:30am and zero quantitative work. Well, really just about the zero quantitative work since there's no way around the early morning wake up (though I do know people who live close by work and wake up as late as 6:30). It really is not true to say that there is zero quantitative work involved in this job. First of all, you've got to be able to understand pricing and risk management of derivatives, which is itself quantitative. Second, I often find myself scripting up payoff structures in C++ (or something close to it) in order to price non-standard products using a monte carlo engine as well as coding in VBA to create spreadsheet tools that search for trade opportunities or present ways of viewing risk. Third, I work very closely with the quant group in model development, improvement, and implementation, which involves a lot of testing and sifting through quantitative concepts. At the end of the day, we are not quants and so do not do as much rigorous quant work as they do, but we certainly have a good amount of quantitative work to do.