Barbara Zhan ’16, Rentrak Inc.

Barbara-ZhanDuring my spring break Princeternship, I intended to learn more about careers in statistical analysis by observing an alumnus at Rentrak Corp. Rentrak is a leading media measurement company, and the top competitor to Nielsen. The main product is a constantly updating database of tracked viewing numbers of TV shows and movies across different demographics and time slots. I expected to shadow a lot of roles concerning research and data gathering. What I found out was the job was actually a highly integrated combination of primarily software development, programming, and research.

On my first day at the job, I was introduced to Princeton alum Dwayne Thomas ’04, who was a Quality Assurance Statistical Analyst. He, and several other people, had jobs testing the database that the programmers produced. Testing “issues,” or specific new additions to the program, the Quality Assurance team members used Kanban, an efficient workflow tool, to implement agile software development, which focuses on iterative and incremental changes to the program. Kanban is a visual process that limits the number of items in a person’s workflow at a single time-step, which Rentrak employees visualized using a third-party project-tracking software called JIRA. JIRA itself was a database holding records of all the tests they performed on the Rentrak database.

I was also introduced to several Configuration Management team members, who had the task of executing computerized tests of the Rentrak database. Whereas Quality Assurance provided real-person analysis of add-ons to the software, Configuration Management consisted of programmers who ran automatic tests, such as whether the database was updating at a regular pace, or whether each link on the database page correctly linked to another one.

Next, I observed the programmers in the Zhan 1Software Development division. The database managers pulled large amounts of raw data from broadcast companies and on-demand services, and to simplify it and fill in gaps natural to raw data. The backend programmers used C++ to integrate the data into Rentrak’s database, working individually, but combining their work to produce “millions of lines of code.” The front-end programmers used Perl to create the look of the company website and of the database system.

I also met the researchers, who acted as the step in between database and backend programming. The engineering managers would feed the researchers simplified, but un-analyzed data, and the researchers would use statistical programs such as SAS and R, to adjust the data for certain factors, such as disproportionate demographics sampled or time-zone adjusts to ensure statistical accuracy.

This Princeternship experience not only exposed me to careers in statistical research, but also to a career as a software developer or software tester. This Princeternship was valuable in that it showed me that tasks in the real world are not so clear cut – developers and researchers could spend most of the day working together, and yet, still have separate but integral roles.

Saahil Madge ’16, Juniper Networks

Saahil-MadgeLike so many other Princeton engineers, I had loved COS 126 (the introductory computer science class) so much that I was unsure whether I wanted to switch and become a COS major. Initially, Electrical Engineering was my intended major. I knew that the Princeternship program would allow me to explore the differences and similarities between these two fields, and what better company for this than Juniper Networks, a firm that specializes in networking hardware and software.

At 9:30, I met Hal Stern ’84, the alumnus, and Sreya Basuroy (another freshman) at the Ritz Diner in Livingston. We were really lucky to have Hal as our mentor, as he was not only very knowledgeable about the subjects we discussed, Madge 1but also really kind and funny. Over breakfast, Hal gave a brief history of Juniper, and also explained how he ended up working for the company. He then showed us the different areas that Juniper makes products for, and how the software and the hardware sides work together.

After breakfast, we drove to Shannon Labs in Florham Park, where AT&T research is housed. There we met with Eleftherios Koutsofios, also a Princeton alum, to talk about what it means to really handle data and perform data visualization. Mr. Koutsofios showed us a tracker of all the different data that AT&T has to gather, and the different ways in which the data can be analyzed. The amount of data being generated has increased exponentially in the past several years, and finding patterns now requires breaking up the data into many different pieces, and analyzing those individually. Otherwise, serious problems might only be a small amount of the total data, and would get lost in the traffic.

We then visited Juniper’s office in Bridgewater.  Hal showed us several of the hardware products that Juniper makes, and told us about the elaborate process that goes into making such a product. The chip design has to first be created, and then sent out for manufacture. Simultaneously, they begin building the system for the chip, and creating marketing and sales plans for the system that the chip will go into.  Overall, it can take up to 3 years for hardware to go from design to shipping. In Bridgewater, we also got to sit in on a conference call, where a startup company pitched an idea to Hal, and Hal discussed how their product can fit in with Juniper’s line. This was really interesting, because we got to see how startups can cooperate with large, established companies so that both benefit.

Overall, I learned a lot and had a lot of fun throughout the day. It was really interesting to see how Juniper is able to work with both software (specifically security software) and hardware (routers, data centers, etc.) separately, and yet encourage collaboration between the two areas. I do not yet know whether I want to do Electrical Engineering or Computer Science, but I do know that whatever I do choose will be important and fun.

Esther Rolf ’16, Epic

Esther-RolfDuring my time at Epic, I shadowed Todd Dale, a 2009 CBE alumnus who works as a Technical Services Engineer/ Technical Coordinator. Gina Davis, a 2010 graduate of Princeton working in Human Resources at Epic was also a very welcoming host; she met me at the front desk every morning and walked me to and from different meeting with Princeton Alumni. There’s actually a whole family of Princeton alumni at Epic! I met with David Schmidt, a 2002 graduate working in EDI, KL Huang, a 2011 graduate and a Technical Services Engineer, Emma Schultz, a 2012 graduate and also a Technical Services Engineer, and Doug Wolf, a 2009 graduate and a Project manager at Epic.

It was great to see how alumni were using their engineering degrees in very different ways, andRolf 1 also to understand a little bit more about what working in the real world is like, although I’m not sure if Epic’s campus qualifies as the “real world” – a lot of the time, I felt more like I was in Disney world. The campus is split into several themed buildings (Todd worked in the African themed building, complete with an Indiana Jones hallway). There is a video game themed building, a western themed building, etc. and more in the process of being built. Not to mention, they have a banana chair and a slide!

Going into my Princeternship, I didn’t really understand what a technical services engineer does, other than that every day is a little bit different, they solve problems, and they’re engineers.  After shadowing Todd and the other Princeton alumni, I realized that the job description was intentionally vague. Engineers at Epic are given responsibilities, but they are also given a good deal of liberty in figuring out what kinds of projects they want to work on. For instance, while Todd was mainly working with his customer, he also did some coding and helped with internal structuring questions as part of his duties as a technical coordinator.

I really enjoyed my time at Epic – I learned a lot about what you can do with an engineering degree. It’s refreshing to know that life outside of Princeton can still involve learning, and it can definitely still be fun! I personally appreciated getting opinions from different Princeton alumni regarding major choices and whether I should consider graduate school. It was very helpful to get opinions from alumni working in different positions who graduated from different engineering disciplines at Princeton.

Overall, I had a great time at Epic – I would really recommend this program to any students interested!

Lixue Lily Feng ’15, Google, Inc.

Lily-FengMy host, Ms. Suzanne Spence ’04, is Head of Media Solutions of the Big Customer Sales division at Google, mainly supervising the Business and Technology team. On the first day of my Princeternship, Suzanne put me in touch with several Sales team members, and I had a 30-minute conversation with each of them. The first person I talked with was Emily from the Travels Sales team. Emilie shared with me the challenges she encountered as a second-year salesperson at Google. She told me that one challenge was to change certain people’s deep-seated beliefs in the traditional means of advertising, such as print and TV. The Sales team in Google was never about hard Sales. Instead, it was about proactively setting different expectations for different clients. I then talked with Amanda, who introduced to me the major structure of the Sales team at Google. So at Google, the Sales team was fundamentally divided into the big customer sales group and the small customer sales group. And within each of those two groups, the team was then divided into verticals, or different industries, such as travel, consumer products, automobile, manufacturers, etc. Through talking with these people, I felt that Googlers put big emphasis on high efficiency and productivity. At the same time, every team in Google emphasized the importance of collaboration in promoting the company’s long-term growth. In the afternoon, I sat in at one of the meetings in Suzanne’s team. Googlers all sat down in a colorful office with their afternoon coffees and desserts, and the meeting was carried out over Google Hangout, so that people in different offices in different regions could have face-to-face discussions. One of the most frequently used phrases in the meetings was “my biggest takeaway was,” and all members in the meeting, both senior and junior, were very active in asking and answering questions. This further highlighted Google’s nonhierarchical culture. After the meeting, I had a conversation with Jeff, who worked in the Industrial Relations division. He highlighted to me that the difference between working in a company like Google vs. working in an advertising agency was that while the advertising agency solely delivered its advertising campaigns to its clients (mainly businesses), Google participated in both the planning and the execution of the campaigns. Jeff also shared with me his career paths and highlighted the degree of internal mobility in Google. He said that the benefit of working in a big company like Google was that the company was very supportive when employees wanted to move from one division to another division.

On the second day of my Princeternship, I had conversations with more members of the Sales team, including members from the Zoo, Google’s team responsible for designing creative marketing and advertising campaigns for businesses. The people at Zoo were very dynamic, creative and spontaneous. They shared with me their past work and conveyed to me that in a place like Google, as long as one demonstrated talents and hard work, one would be rewarded with freedom for innovation. These ideas are further confirmed as I talked with Sam, the Sales development manager at Google. He told me that one of the main projects he was working on was not in fact assigned, but rather, a new revenue-growing source he and his team discovered recently. On the second day, I also sat in a meeting with Zagat, a new company that was acquired by Google recently. On that specific day, Googlers and the representative from the Zagat Sales team are pitching stories for an upcoming mobile app that Zagat is going to launch. In observing Googlers’ meetings with the Zagat team, I realized that Googlers were expecting challenges Feng 1along the way, and were working very hard towards designing more customizable and more uniform platforms to enhance users’ experiences.

I enjoyed my Google Princeternship very much. Not only did I meet a lot of amazing people, I was also fed every single time I interacted with Googlers. What’s more amazing than the people and the food was the company culture. The sense of innovation, curiosity and work ethics would stay with me throughout my Princeton career.

Charles Zhou ’16, AppNexus

Charles-ZhouThe first day on the princeternship at AppNexus completely revolutionized my perspective on tech start-ups and the tech world. I waited in the elevator with two fellow princeterns expecting a small office and maybe forty people, max. Instead, we walked into a spacious, vibrant, and exciting workplace with well over two hundred people. In fact, they needed two floors to hold all the different groups and were just in the middle of moving computers and people one floor up, from the fourth floor to the fifth floor. And the people that I met the first day were warm and inviting, eager to talk about their challenging work and all the great things they love about AppNexus. I was blown away.

We started the day at eleven in the morning and listened to a short introduction into what AppNexus does and how they achieve their goals. The talk started with a relatively simple problem: how does an advertiser find an online site to place their advertisement? Prior to AppNexus, many companies found ad networks to help them advertise. These ad networks would then find other ad networks, suppliers, demanders, and make connectionsZhou that would lead to a long chain of ad networks, suppliers, and demanders known as a daisy chain. AppNexus, an ad exchange, is one of the solutions to bypass much inefficiency experienced in the online advertising world. The teaching was fast-paced and purposeful, giving us just enough information to get by and providing the opportunity for us to dig into the specifics on our own.

After the orientation meeting, I shadowed Justin Pines, a Princeton ’08 graduate, who works as a manager of platform integrations under the global services division. He was really friendly and brought me along to his morning meeting, where he talked to a co-worker about KPI’s, or a way to measure the success in the endeavors they undertake as a team. They started outlining different categories and subcategories, casually discussing what factors they felt were important in knowing what success in a project looks like and whether or not they achieved it. I was particularly impressed with the focus and creativity involved with quantifying success, even in cases where the definition of success itself is murky. Personally, I never realized the difficulties of knowing when success in a task was achieved or how to measure it, as I was accustomed to easily quantifiable grades in school. Then, I followed Justin to his work desk and was surprised by the openness of the work environment. There was no hierarchy, just brilliant minds talking to other brilliant minds, and I really enjoyed listening in on his team meetings. The best part was that Justin always kept me up-to-speed and explained everything he was doing, from the specifics of the excel spreadsheets he was working on to the fundamental problems he was trying to solve. I really enjoyed this first shadowing experience and it started to clear up the global services part of what the company did.

Following my first shadowing experience, I attended a panel of recent recruits to AppNexus and listened to each of their stories. Every one of the panelists loved their work and the work environment, citing their friends’ boring job atmospheres as the standard and AppNexus’ start-up culture as the exception.  I left the panel very excited about AppNexus and the electrifying energy that all the employees brought to work every day.

On the second day of the Princeternship we arrived at eleven in the morning again and I started directly with the Optimization team. I met with Stephanie Tzeng, Princeton class of ’09, and she went over her duties at the company and the various projects she was involved with. The morning started with a stand-up where all the sub-teams of optimization met in front of a white board with goals and each member talked about their accomplishments and challenges of the day. And Stephanie was just starting to head a new team focused on developing tools for the rest of the company to use and save time, while working on html code for describing this new program. I then worked with other aspects of the optimization team that worked with bidding models and optimizing their advertising budget. Each sub-team was highly specialized and worked on specific tasks to improve the overall quality of client experience on the AppNexus platform.

The last group I worked with was product development with Michael Maag, Princeton class of ’09 alum, who was in charge of the new developments and integrations of UI for clients. He was very excited to tell me about his plan to make the client user API more expansive and useful to implement new interesting ideas. He was fully responsible for this change and talked about how accountability in the real world is important, both as a motivator and as a means of tracking performance within the company.

Overall, the experience was extremely rewarding and I would like to thank Dale Levine for coordinating this experience and everyone that took time out of their schedule to show us around and explain their roles in the company. I learned so much about the start-up culture and tech-related skills, including the benefits of having a computer science background. I am now committed to improving my coding ability and would love to work in a tech start-up in my future.

Ellen Yu Liu ’15, AppNexus

Ellen-Yu-LiuDay 1:

The two other Princeterns and I met up in the morning at the Dinky and took the 9 o’clock train to New York City. I’ve heard a lot about AppNexus and all the great, innovative things they’ve accomplished in the short five years they’ve been established, so I was incredibly excited to meet the people and hear a bit more about the company. The AppNexus office was located in the Flatiron District in New York City, which was beautiful and bustling when we got there.

When we got to the office, we were let into a nice, open lobby, and greeted by Ms. Dale Levine, the campus representative for AppNexus. She took us on a tour of the office, which was two floors and really spacious and modern. There were no cubicles, because AppNexus believed in having open offices to allow open communication. Most of the workers seemed really lively and absorbed in what they were doing. It was obvious that AppNexus had quite a large staff and a really young environment. Afterward we joined the line at the cafeteria, which was a clean, modern open space, to grab some Cuban food that they had catered for lunch. Afterwards, we met with a few of the workers who introduced us to what AppNexus did and what made the company so successful. AppNexus is essentially known for specializing in real-time online advertising, and has been leading the way in it for a while.

During my two day experience, I got a nice exposure to all threeLiu main areas of work within AppNexus. First, I met with Michael Maag ‘09, who was project manager of EA (Enterprise Apps) portfolio under the Product team. He explained to me his job and the function of the Product team, which was essentially to produce and support innovative products, and offered me great advice for working for AppNexus. He said the thing that thrilled him most about AppNexus is being able to be involved in something he really cares about and knowing that whatever he’s doing is having an actual impact in the field. At such a young age, he has already been engaged in projects he really likes, and he loves his fellow employees and how laid back the atmosphere is. To exemplify how quirky and modern the office truly was, all the rooms on the fourth floor were named after superheroes and the ones on the fifth floor were named after basketball players.

I had a really fantastic first day at AppNexus, and it made me readjust my mindset for how office work should be. The people I had talked to were all incredibly intelligent and interesting. I would love to someday work at a place like AppNexus.

Day 2:

Today marked day 2 of my Princeternship at AppNexus, and I have already found it easier to navigate the office and I feel more comfortable with the workers. My day started with shadowing Richard Andrews ’10, who worked for the Global Services team. This team specializes in moving clients onto their technical platform and help them strategize ways to meet their goals. Even though he only started a few months ago, he already knows so much about the area and has taken on a lot of responsibility in his division. After shadowing him for a few hours, he let me sit in on a call with one of their clients. It was my first time sitting in on a client call, so it was interesting to see how AppNexus interacts with its clients and how they are very accommodating and eager to meet the needs of their clients.

After lunch, I joined Darnell Thompson from the Optimization team to hear more about what they did. Each team had their own assigned tasks they had to work on, and it seems that the Optimization team specifically dealt with working with a lot of data. Their job was to basically maximize their clients ROI by using optimization tools. I sat in on a meeting with the Optimization team, where they determined their goals for the quarter.

In this specific Princeternship, the amount of technological terms to learn was really overwhelming in the beginning, because there were so many abbreviations and specific tech terms that went into describing what AppNexus did. As soon as I was able to grasp one concept, we would rapidly advance on to something else. However, all the employees were incredibly helpful and patient with explaining various terms and concepts that we didn’t understand. AppNexus employees are also incredibly intelligent and high achieving. It was easy to tell that this was a really focused and motivated group that was committed to their jobs but also loved what they did. I also really liked that AppNexus has the feel of a start-up company but has the capabilities of an established company.  Overall, I had a really great time at my Princeternship, and I really want to thank all the Princeton alumni working at AppNexus and Miss Levine, the campus coordinator, for making this happen.

Suk Yung Lee ’16, AppNexus

Suk-Yung-LeeOn the train ride back to Princeton, I think back to the past two days at AppNexus and I am hit with a torrent of memories.

As my fellow Princeterns, Charles and Elle, and I entered the impressive office rise, we had no idea what to expect. However, what struck me first about AppNexus’ awesome office was that it proudly displayed the Princeton orange. I felt instantly at home. On the mini-tour, I was met with an open working environment that encouraged collaboration and socialization. There were neat little projects around the walls such as the birthday wall for employees, a timeline of AppNexus’ growth since its founding by two Princeton alums, and a polaroid wall of the recent adventures of AppNexians. I also can’t fail to mention the fully stocked kitchens with various snacks. The offices reflected the upbeat and high energy feel of the company, but what really made the experience special were the people.

Everyone that I met could be described by one word. Passionate.Lee 4 They were all so enthusiastic about their work and were glad to be there. The prospect of a fast-growing, dynamic industry had drawn them to AppNexus. Although many had not known what an ad-tech company was all about, they were all motivated to tackle the impressive technological challenges that AppNexus faced. Imagine maintaining an ad platform that facilitates hundreds of thousands of real-time bidding requests from advertisers in a single ad space on a loading webpage – all in the timescale of hundreds of milliseconds.  Imagine maintaining and optimizing data servers that receive tens of terabytes of information daily. If that wasn’t enough, then there is also the issue of connecting with other ad-tech companies and smoothing transactions that occur between them. These were the problems that I was able to see being solved by the incredible young minds as I shadowed the product, optimization, and global services teams.

A brief overview of what I did in two days: I discovered how an ad exchange operates in a quick lesson over Cuban food. Lee 6I sat in on a company meeting and saw how a deal with another business was made. I conversed with project managers about their current undertakings and saw how they approached problems. I saw how large scale databases were managed and reorganized to optimize efficiency. I met with the data team that crunched massive numbers into manageable trend graphs. I learned how a transaction failure was troubleshooted in real time. And lastly, I attended panel discussions about careers in general and practiced interviewing in a mini workshop. Needless to say, it was a mouthful, but I enjoyed every minute of it.