James Wang ’16, AppNexus

James-WangI woke up early the morning of March 10th, the Friday of reading period, feeling groggy and disoriented. As my phone continued to shake, I began to realize what was happening: I was about to miss the train to my Princeternship. The night before, I was preparing hard for the Princeternship opportunity, eager to impress the alumni that I would interact with and impress them with HOURS of knowledge on Ad Tech and the AppNexus platform. After some early-morning sprints and going off and on many modes of transportation, I eventually walked into the AppNexus’ office ready for an eye-opening day.

The other four Princeterns and I began our day with a welcome meeting with Zach Kwartler ‘11, a senior member of AppNexus’ Global Services team.  After our respective introductions, Zach explained what the Global Services team does, which was, in an abstract sense, to connect customers to the technology and “keeping lubricated a lot of moving parts” that comprised of the operations at AppNexus. Then, he began to explain AppNexus as a whole. He explained to us that AppNexus was one of the largest ad platforms on the Internet, and its main selling point is that it operates completely on real-time. In the past, ads were bought and sold in a very manual fashion, in which bundles of ad space were sold by publishers with open areas on multiple websites ready to be plastered with ads. In a way, AppNexus’ role in the market is to make the advertising technology industry more and more efficient, to the point where buyers are able to buy ad space more effectively and steadily increase their return on investment in clear, measurable ways, all in milliseconds time.

Throughout the day, I was passed20140110_125902 around to different alumni in the company so that I could see multiple aspects of daily operations. I first had an appointment with Damjan Korac, a software engineer working in User Interface (UI). We connected immediately in that he was an ORFE major as well, and we began talking about the state of the ORFE department, his past independent work at Princeton, and some of his work experiences leading up to his tenure at AppNexus. After an hour flew by, we had lunch with a group of Princeton alumni, where they got to catch up on Princetonian affairs while they filled us in on their lives after Princeton and their experiences at AppNexus. Overall, I felt a shared enthusiasm and camaraderie between the alumni, who all seemed like they not only enjoyed the place they worked, but were fully committed to the larger mission of AppNexus. Most surprisingly, Brian O’Kelly ‘99, the CEO of the company, dropped by at lunch to say hi to us and welcomed us to the company for the day.

The rest of the day flew by. After lunch, I shadowed Peter Yu, who worked in DevOps and was a COS major at Princeton. As I shadowed him, he was coding a program in Python that would instantaneously install current versions of Python on other computers to avoid the hassle of every employee from having to configure their own computer. This work was part of a larger project to better optimize the configuration process of machines for new hires. Being able to see a coder in action in a larger, industrial context was very cool, and it made me more appreciative of how much code really envelops the operations at any modern tech company like AppNexus.

In my final session, I shadowed Richard Andrews of Global Services, a former economics major. In addition to being the “lubrication” in the technical cogs of AppNexus, he also provided the human connection between the sellers and buyers and the AppNexus ecosystem. As such, he described his day fairly evenly divided between client calls, desk work/parsing tickets and internal meetings. As he was telling me about his life experiences, he worked on client tickets on queries and proposed improvements made involving the AppNexus console and API. Most of the time, he was able to answer customer tickets through an online system, but at times he needed to call in co-workers and other  clients in order to resolve issues that arose. All in all, he gave me a great view of the non-coding side of AppNexus looked like, one in which the constant push-and-pull of the human interaction with the technical machinery comprised much of his workload.

Looking back, I am still astounded by the enormous advertising ecosystem created by the team at AppNexus. In incrementally exploring every facet of AppNexus’ ad platform, it gave me a great view of their entire business model and the current state of the advertising industry. I think one of the best takeaways from the experience was being able to see a side of tech that didn’t just involve coding, but also being able to see where each line of code fits in in the larger context of the company from the people that do have their hands in the software. In the end, I can’t help but be grateful to the many people at AppNexus and Career Services that made this opportunity possible. This trip made me even more excited to see where my education takes me after graduation.