Shuyang Li ’16, AppNexus

Shayang-LiI walked into the AppNexus office in New York unsure of what to expect. I left it with a sense of wonder and excitement about the online advertising industry.

Before this Princeternship, I knew precious little about advertising online, save that Google was involved, pop-ups were annoying, and Youtube ads even more so. On January 6, I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous as I sat on the train to New York: would I really be able learn what I wanted about the company given my lack of background knowledge? I fiddled with my phone, scrambling to read just a few more articles on ad networks, as I waited with my fellow Princeterns Martina, Linda, James, Paco, and Michael.

AppNexus’ office temporarily blew away my doubts. The two floors taken up by the company were brightly colored, the top floor entirely in black and orange. It didn’t feel like a stereotypical startup warehouse—rather, it was a beautifully designed, spacious workspace. In one turn of my head my eyes could sweep across a cafeteria, glass-walled conference rooms named after board games, rows of desks with no separators, and a wall dotted with alcoves. Dale Levine, University Recruiter at AppNexus, told us the wall was still under construction. Nonetheless, it took a conscious effort not to climb into a recess to see what working there would feel like.

My prior misgivings were dispelled for good by Zach Kwartler ’11. Zach introduced AppNexus’ business model and its place in the modern advertising infrastructure. I learned how ad networks developed from the impracticality of an advertiser maintaining dozens of relationships with each publisher hosting his ads, and the logistical problems of updating advertisements that were spread over several servers. Ad exchanges were born as a way to bypass financially inefficient daisy chains of ad networks. Leaving the introduction presentation, I felt ready to start my shadowing.

First, I shadowed Rob Hazan ’06, a manager in the Technical Services branch of Global Services. He didn’t have any client calls or meetings for me to sit-in on, but I was able to sit down with Rob and his team and really explore the responsibilities of Technical Services. Rob was extraordinarily accommodating, answering a lot of questions I had about the basic organization of AppNexus services and the industry as a whole. I learned about the API that clients could use to build their own apps on the AppNexus platform, and got an introduction to the complicated console that clients use to bid and utilize AppNexus’ services.

At our Princetern lunch with the Princeton alums, we were able to discuss the changes at Princeton and hear the alums talk about their work and lives. Work seemed for them not to be a chore or a task, but more of another enjoyable environment in which they spent time pursuing their interests. Indeed, the conversation drifted from how Princeton has changed to their favorite listservs at AppNexus. Toward the end, AppNexus CEO Brain O’Kelley ’99 dropped by to meet all of the Princeterns!

After lunch, I shadowed Mark Ha ’13, a software engineer. I learned about his experience with Android and iOS programming, and I was able to watch him work in Objective C. He explained the AppNexus SDK and the MRAID standard for mobile rich media advertisements. We discussed different programming languages and his usual tasks as an engineer. Mark also taught me about stability and testing in apps, and gave me advice on picking up programming and various languages.

Finally, I shadowed Peter Yu ’13, a software developer with the Development and Operations team, who managed AppNexus apps and their deployment. We talked about app deployment efficiency and how his team was switching deployment schemes. Peter taught me about Xen and Linux Containers, methods for virtualizing computer hardware, and their differences.

As I walked back out of the AppNexus lobby, I could not help but look back fondly and wish the Princeternship lasted for more than a day. The people I met were incredibly friendly and eager to teach me about their jobs and the field, and the company operated with all the confidence and poise of an industry leader.

I would like to thank Dale Levine for coordinating the Princeternship experience, as well as Zach, Rob, Mark, Peter, and all the other alums and AppNexus employees for making the Princeternship a fantastic experience.