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.