Linda Zhong ’15, AppNexus

Everything you hear about start-up work spaces is true. And for a Princetonian, the orange-and-black AppNexus office makes you feel right at home. The office has almost no walls, mirroring the casual relationships between employees and managers. Some of the cooler highlights were the office basketball course, the candy bar, the wall of working nooks called the “Cheese Wall” and the hilarious meeting room names (ranging from Bigfoot to Batman).

My day started off with an introduction to the online advertising industry by Zach Kwartler ‘11 of Global Services. AppNexus is yet another layer in the complicated web of publishers and advertisers, but because of its intuitive advertising control platforms and excellent positioning, it has been able to grow immensely since its founding in 2007 by two Princeton alumni. Then I shadowed Zach in the morning and sat in on a conference call. It was interesting to see how professionals representing different parties negotiate and come to effective solutions.

After lunch with AppNexus Princeton alumni (including the CEOs Brian O’Kelly ‘99), I got to shadow a member of the Sales team. In a conference call I sat in on, different members for various parts of the company debated how to address client concerns while keeping AppNexus interests alive, and came to an incredibly thoughtful and nuanced position. This was an incredibly interesting experience

Finally, I concluded the day with a third shadowing session, again with a member of Global Services. This individual was much more senior and really explained the online advertising industry in a way that made it so understandable and interesting to me.

My final impression of AppNexus is that it is full of intelligent, thoughtful people who do not take themselves too seriously. Integrating fun with work creates a relaxed atmosphere where everyone is productive, but also happy. I loved my day at AppNexus and thank Princeton Career Services for organizing such a great program.

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.

 

Graham Turk ’17, Wattvision

Graham-TurkFrom the outside, 252 Nassau Street is a nondescript structure with fading tan paint and a badly weathered sign. If not for the Tigerlabs poster inside the window, I might have missed it entirely. I walked inside and climbed the steps. When I opened the door at the top of the flight I was amazed. It was a huge open colorful space with ping-pong tables, wooden picnic tables, an antique telephone booth, and a colorful fish tank. People from different startup companies were working everywhere on long tables topped with computers. I sat down on one of the bright red couches near the front desk and in less than a minute I met my host, Savraj Singh ’03. Savraj is the CEO of Wattvision, an energy monitoring company. Their product attaches to a home’s electricity meter and tracks the amount of energy the home uses. It then uploads that data to the company’s servers; the users are able to view their energy usage in real-time on their computers and phones.

Wattvision tracks months of energy data, and users can compare their energy usage between two dates. Users can even elect to receive email when their energy use spikes. Wattvision’s goal is reducing energy consumption, which saves customers money and mitigates their carbon footprint.

After I met Savraj, he brought Gateway2me and the other Princetern, Hope, to a conference room. We sat down in regal-looking leather armchairs and Savraj introduced us to Wattvision. He responded to our questions about the company and announced that they were within days of receiving the first fifty Wattvision 2 units, the second generation of the Wattvision sensor. The project was funded by Kickstarter, a crowdsourcing platform. Savraj then demonstrated how to edit the Wattvision website, and implemented one of my suggestions for the “How It Works” page, which was live within seconds.

He then introduced us to several important projects that he wanted us to work on. The first was creating the Amazon product page for Wattvision 2. Another major task was improving the “Setup” instructional page on the website to make it easier for customers to install the energy sensor. When the units arrived, we would also help package and ship them to the Kickstarter backers who had funded the project. The third big project was designing a proposal for an energy savings competition for the Princeton Office of Sustainability. They plan to hold an intra-dorm contest among the student body geared at energy reduction. At the end of the introductory meeting, Savraj got us both set up with Wattvision email addresses!

ripstickHope and I immediately got started on the Amazon product page. We did some research on Amazon’s vendor central service and learned how to use the product page template on Excel. I looked at similar products’ pages to see how to phrase the product description and important bullets. By lunch we had made some strong progress on the page and had spoken with a representative from Amazon who answered our questions about formatting.

For lunch we went next door to Nassau Street Seafood where we met many of the other people who work at Tigerlabs and got to learn about their startups. One of the most interesting companies was Present, which is designing an app for live video sharing.

In the afternoon, Hope and I continued to work on the Amazon page and I began outlining the proposal for the Office of Sustainability competition. I checked out the energy dashboard Wattvision had created for the Frick Chemistry Laboratory and the campus solar array. I brainstormed several ideas for how the competition could motivate students to cut their energy usage. As it approached the end of the day, Savraj gave me a lesson in riding his Ripstick, a type of skateboard that you can propel by twisting the board. He was a pro and rode it comfortably while talking on the phone. We spoke about improv comedy at school and he told me that he is in an adult improv group in Princeton. When I left I was already excited to be back the next day.

My second day at Wattvision began with work on the energy competition proposal for Princeton. I made a PowerPoint presentation featuring the contest guidelines and included snapshots of the Wattvision app featuring names of the residential halls. At 11, we listened in a conference call between Savraj and an employee of Smart Things, a home automation company. They spoke about integrating the Wattvision software with Smart Things’ products, which could be controlled using a smart phone. Their conversation was very interesting and gave me an idea of how companies in similar spheres collaborate.

After lunch I got to work on the Wattvision 2 setup page. Savraj wanted me to simplify it so that anyone could set up Wattvision in under 15 minutes. The ultimate goal is to create an instructional video demonstrating how to configure the gateway and sensor. I edited the formal setup instructions, which will be available as a supplement to the video.

Around 2:30 Savraj gave me and Hope a programming lesson. We were using the programming language Python to create shipping labels for the Wattvision 2. We used a website called EasyPost, which allows users to integrate shipping APIs into any application. I spent the rest of the afternoon writing code to extract data from a spreadsheet of Kickstarter backers’ addresses to transfer to the EasyPost code. Savraj went to pick up the Wattvision Gateways, which he said we would hopefully be able to package and ship the next day.

On Day 3, I continued working on the program wattvision bannerto transfer the addresses to EasyPost. Savraj came in carrying a big box of the Gateways and other boxes filled with sensors and tools. Savraj then explained how to set up the Gateways. He first plugged in a power cord to turn it on. Then he inserted an Ethernet cable to connect it to the Wattvision servers so that it could receive a unique ID number for future setup. The Gateway looked nothing like what I had imagined. It was a circuit board, unlike the plastic box I had seen in pictures. It wasn’t until after configuration that the circuit board gets inserted into the plastic casing. For the rest of the morning Hope and I configured the Gateways. It was very cool to think that we helped set up the first fifty Wattvision 2 systems.

In the afternoon, I simplified the setup instructions on the website and wrote a script for an instructional setup video that Wattvision plans to film soon. Savraj was very interested in my ideas about how to best present the information. While Hope submitted the Amazon product page, I came up with more ideas about the residential college energy competition. Savraj asked that I pitch the proposal to him, and in doing so I discovered a lot of areas that needed improvement. After working with Hope on the guidelines of the competition, I updated the presentation with better descriptions of the rules and incentives for the winning college. Before I left, I played a game of ping pong with Hope and practiced my Ripstick skills. I definitely made some solid progress from the day before.

On my fourth and final day I was determined to finish the shipping label program. After learning some basic Python operators online, I modified the batch order template to process the addresses of the Kickstarter backers. Seeing the orders appear in the EasyPost dashboard was definitely the most satisfying moment during my week at Wattvision (yes, it even topped my first turn on the Ripstick, which happened shortly after). Before lunch, I edited the Wattvision 2 setup documentation, meant to supplement the setup videos.

After a great sushi lunch, I got back to work on the setup instructions while Hope designed a logo for the “Princeton Energy Wars.” Next we got a lesson from Savraj on web design. He taught us about Git and Github and explained how to use Google App Engine to edit a website. I am hoping to continue learning web development on my own so I can create the setup page I envision. After a quick photo-shoot, we spoke to Savraj about his time at Princeton, his experience at Microsoft (he was a project manager for Office 2007) and the origins of Wattvision. He gave us some great advice about entrepreneurship and we spoke to Reuben, one of the other entrepreneurs in Tigerlabs. His company, 8andup” teaches entrepreneurship classes for young people (ages 8-10) in a fun and hands-on way. Before I left, I thanked Savraj for an amazing week and said farewell to Tigerlabs, at least for now.

My Princeternship at Wattvision confirmed my interest in entrepreneurship. It had always intrigued me, but this week I finally got to see startups in action. I wanted to believe that I could become an entrepreneur, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized it was a feasible possibility.

Experiencing a “day in the life” of a startup partially confirmed my anticipations. I had imagined people working really hard on projects they truly cared about. That was absolutely accurate. What was surprising was the range of activities the head of a startup needs to perform in a day. It could range from assembling units to debugging code.

I would recommend this Princeternship to anyone interested in the startup scene. It was a hands-on experience; I felt like I made a real contribution to Wattvision. It was one of the best weeks of my time at Princeton. I learned so much about a vast array of topics and got great experience working in that type of environment. After the Princeternship I decided that I want to work for a startup during the summer.

I owe a huge thanks to Savraj and everyone at Tigerlabs for letting me into their world. Savraj wanted to help us learn and was so patient in whatever he taught us. I can’t wait to go back to 252 Nassau Street!

 

Rahul Subramanian ’15, Epic

This past Intersession Break during the winter of 2014, I had the pleasure to complete a Princeternship at Epic in Verona, Wisconsin, shadowing Todd Dale, a 2009 Princeton CBE alum serving as a Technical Services Engineer and organized by Gina Davis, a 2010 Princeton alumni. During the two days that I spent at Epic, I had the chance to learn firsthand the different ways that I could apply my engineering knowledge to the healthcare sector by shadowing Mr. Dale, Ms. Davis and several other Princeton alumni including David Schmidt, a 2002 ELE alumnus working in EDI, Doug Wolf, a 2009 alumnus working as an Implementation Specialist, and Esther Kim, a 2013 alumnus also working as a Technical Services Engineer.

While all of the alumni that I shadowed had different titles, Epic’s culture allows employees to adapt their responsibilities according to their strengths, experiences and goals. For example, Technical Services Engineers provide technical advice to Epic’s clients, typically hospitals or large healthcare systems, as they install and maintain Epic software.  In addition to helping clients with Epic’s software system, Mr. Dale also manages staffing of other Technical Services Engineers to various assignments.   We had the chance to observe Mr. Dale meeting with his team to troubleshoot technical issues that clients were running into.  Mr. Schmidt, meanwhile, is an EDI Engineer and works to integrate Epic’s software system with other systems used by healthcare systems. For example, in cases in which a healthcare system utilizes two different types of software for different applications, Epic’s software system will need to be compatible with the other software. We observed Mr. Schmidt meeting with several developers and other EDI engineers to fix some of these consistency issues between the two systems.   Finally, we also had the chance to observe Doug Wolfe, MAE’09, in his role as a Project Manager Implementation Specialist, helping clients prepare for the installation of Epic software at their location.  It was really cool to observe Mr. Wolfe speak with clients over the phone and prepare his team to prepare for the installation process. I could really sense the excitement in the room as everyone was finalizing their preparations!

While observing Mr. Dale and his Epic-Group Photo 1colleagues at work gave us an appreciation for the kind of challenges that Epic employees tackle, we also gained an appreciation for Epic’s fun and enthusiastic work culture. Ms. Davis took us on several tours of the Epic campus, which is essentially a mini-city filled with individually themed buildings. There were simply too many fascinating things to recount, but some of my favorite buildings included Juno, a Wild-West themed building, and Kohoutek, an Asian-themed building. I also enjoyed riding down a slide linking two floors of Heaven, another themed building.  During our last day at Epic, Esther arranged a lunch for us with a group of employees from the Princeton Class of 2013. Talking to them gave me a new perspective on working at Epic and what it might be like to join the company right after graduation.

As an Electrical Engineering major interested in public health, I found my Princeternship experience to be extremely enjoyable and insightful. Epic combines the innovative and creative culture of a technology company with the social impact of the healthcare sector. Completing this Princeternship definitely gave me a much clearer perspective on the healthcare information technology industry, and how I could effectively apply my Electrical Engineering knowledge. More importantly, the program allowed me to meet with a variety of alumni who had a range of backgrounds at Princeton and who provided me with useful advice on pursuing a career as an engineer, grad school, and even making the most of my time at Princeton.  I would definitely recommend this opportunity to any Princeton student that might be interested in healthcare or technology!

 

Hope Lorah ’17, Wattvision

Hope-LorahMy Princeternship took place right on Nassau Street of Princeton in a space used by numerous startups called TigerLabs. I am not sure what I expected to see when I walked inside, but it was not the open, modern, and comfortable space where I spent my next four days.  Although my Princeternship was only meant to last three days, the other Princetern Grant and I were invited to come back for a fourth day and gladly did so.  Among the tables of startups sharing a large common room was a section for Wattvision, where Grant and I would use our laptops and work on the projects that the founder, Savraj Dhanjal ‘03, gave us over the following days.  Savraj shared with us his fantastic history in working with computers and technology and answered some questions of ours about finding employers and getting off the ground with a career in the area.

The first day at Wattvision, Grant and I started off by having a meeting with Savraj to discuss ideas for the company, critiques of the website, or questions we might have.  Right away it made me aware of the flexibility and adaptability of startups; he was immediately ready to hear our ideas and critiques of the Wattvision website and use them to improve and add to the effectiveness of the site.  I also had my first look into the collaboration that seems to be a big possibility with startups, which interests me.  Throughout the week we would bounce ideas off of one another, get second opinions, and together come up with the best solution to a problem. At any point, suggestions about how the company could be more effective in any of its areas was welcomed and noted so that they might be used in the future.  The first day Savraj also oriented us to Wattvision’s space in TigerLabs and the tools that the company uses to stay organized.  I learned how to use a company communication/management site “Slack” that lets employees access different channels of conversations, allowing a level of organization for the communication that happens about different projects. Before long there was a new channel named “interns” for Grant and I with a list of projects to accomplish over the following days.  I enjoyed being given real tasks within the company instead of simply watching others do work; I had the chance to make an impact on the progress of Wattvision in its product release.

One project to accomplish was setting up the Amazon page for the latest version of Wattvision’s product.  I learned how being a company works with Amazon and after a few conversations with people from the company had a submitted set of product details waiting to be accompanied by a sample of the product sent to Amazon. There were more steps and complications to the process than I would have imagined, but I enjoyed working on something that will be used for the marketing of the product.

Grant and I also helped in the assembly Lorah 1and setup of a batch of Wattvision gateways, which ispart of Wattvision’s product. We worked to get the gateways associated with their respective MAC addresses and check that the configuration of the gateways was correct. I learned about how the process of Kickstarters with backers works and that they would be receiving the first of the new version of the Wattvision sensor.  Getting the product to the customer was another project that needed attention. Grant and I learned about an online shipping label generator and the API it used.  We ended up coding in Python, a language I had no prior experience in at the time.  Between some tips and some online research I made progress in developing my coding skills. Savraj helped by teaching me some of the basics of Python and pointing me in the direction of a new text editor that I quickly learned to love.

Part of each of my days was walking to a restaurant on Nassau for lunch, a great break to get good food and talk to people from the other startups within TigerLabs.  I got the opportunity to hear about some fantastic ideas in progress that I hope to see launch in the future. I loved the open community space and feel to TigerLabs, and we even celebrated the birthday of someone from one of the startups over lunch our first day!

Another project that I worked on was designing an energy competition in which the residential colleges within Princeton University could compete with each other.  This meant considering the most effective ways to compare energy usage between colleges that have different numbers of student and buildings as well as different innate efficiencies based off of various ages of the buildings themselves.  It also meant deciding how the current Wattvision online model could be adapted into a competition for all of the students to see updated data. For Princeton to like the competition implementation that Wattvision presents meant that Princeton would become a client of Wattvision for all of its residential college dorms.  After Grant and I constructed a presentation outlining a set of guidelines, visuals, and formulas for the competition, I created an image to advertise the energy competition with the name under which we decided to present it.  It will be exciting to see my work and Wattvision’s product having a presence on Princeton’s campus!

Lorah 2Another highlight of my time at Wattvision was having the opportunity to have Savraj teach Grant and I about editing a webpage. It was something I had little knowledge about before but am glad to understand now, and it was interesting watching the interaction between the live webpage and how Savraj edited the version just on his machine. He was generous in taking the time to explain a lot of helpful tech tips and tools to Grant and me throughout the week that I hope to make use of in the future! Among this was research that I did into creating a responsive webpage, one that will work appropriately for desktop, tablet, and smartphone viewing.

Overall, being at Wattvision was a great experience.  I feel like I got an accurate feel for what a startup and particularly a tech startup is like.  I learned about important skills for someone in the IT field and saw the business side of a company, including getting the chance to sit in on a business call with an in-progress partner for Wattvision. Savraj was extremely helpful in introducing me and Grant to useful skills and resources as well as giving us the opportunity to use our skills to impact the company.

Samvit Jain ’17, Microsoft

Samvit-JainMy name is Samvit Jain, and I am a freshman and prospective computer science major at Princeton. I am originally from Sammamish, Washington, and attended high school in the neighboring city of Redmond.

I spent a few days over Intersession at the Redmond Microsoft campus shadowing Mr. Robin Giese, a Princeton alum from the Class of 2002 who is a Software Development Lead in the Operating Systems Group (OSG) at Microsoft.

Robin was an electrical engineering major with a passion for theater. He reportedly spent more time working backstage for various plays than in the E-quad while at Princeton. Robin has been working at Microsoft since his graduation (twelve years!)

Day 1: Monday, January 27, 2014

One of the first things that Robin told me about his work and life at Microsoft is the company’s basic organization. Essentially, each project at Microsoft has three task teams: program management (what should we do?), development (how should we do it?), and quality (does it work?).  Robin is on the development team, and as the lead, is responsible for directing and working with six individual contributors.

His team is specifically involved with developing performance quality tools (think expanded version of Task Manager for internal and external use) to provide critical information about the performance of various applications, and the Windows OS itself. One such tool, the Windows Performance Analyzer, is used by thousands within Microsoft, and also by other companies such as Netflix and Valve who want to test the performance of their products on Microsoft’s OS.

After a morning of interesting conversations with Robin about his work at Microsoft, I followed Robin to a group “stand up.” All members of his team presented, in turn, a summary of what they had accomplished since their last such meeting. Overall, the environment was quite casual: jokes were exchanged, and humorous self-deprecation was common. According to Robin, these meetings are held three times a week. As some of his colleagues informed me, they are a good way to ensure everyone on the team is on the same page.

This meeting was followed by lunch at Microsoft’s excellent cafeteria downstairs. The food was wonderful and varied. To future Princeterns: I recommend the pizza.  The afternoon was a quieter time. Robin returned to his office to settle down, respond to some emails, and converse with the occasional group member who dropped by with a technical question. I did not interact much with Robin during this period, but I noticed that he was definitely recognized by his colleagues as a leader and as a go-to person when unforeseen problems arose.

Robin mentioned that he believed in leadership by example. He spends three to four hours a week coding so that he remains entrenched in the technical aspects of the project, and can manage his individual contributors (ICs) in a more credible manner. As he put it, it’s hard to ask[RG1]  someone to produce higher quality work or fix some issue if you aren’t actively involved in the coding yourself.

My final activity of the day was a meeting with Vibhor Bhatt, one of Robin’s colleagues involved in performance. This meeting came to be arranged when I mentioned to Robin that my interest in computer science as of now was of a more academic bent. Robin was quick to drop an email to Vibhor, who hails from academia, having recently received a PhD from Dartmouth in computer science.

I spoke with Vibhor for an hour or so that evening. He mentioned being passionate about mathematics and physics as an undergraduate, interests I could personally connect with. Vibhor’s desire to think deeply about algorithms from the comfort of his living room couch brought him to computer science graduate school at Dartmouth. His PhD thesis was on distributed computing and concurrent algorithms. In a nutshell, this is the study of how difficult computing tasks can be made tractable by splitting the work on to multiple computers running parallel to each other.

I asked Vibhor why he chose a product group at Microsoft over a career in academia, or a more theoretical sector of industry such as Microsoft Research. He mentioned the pressure to produce publications that scientists are often subject to and a desire to see whether the solutions he proved in theory could actually be implemented in practice.nnThis desire for real-world validation took him from Dartmouth to a small start-up to Microsoft. His work here boils down to reducing the time taken by various tasks on the OS, a challenge that lies at the core of algorithmic study.

Vibhor had an interesting perspective on the perennial question many software engineers often face: whether to join a start-up or a larger company. He mentioned that start-ups often have shorter-term priorities than large companies because immediate revenue is so important to them. His own experience in a very small company was that the employees were chasing goals that could bring them payoff in the next six months or so, leaving little time for more “risky” endeavors. This was surprising to me, since the stereotype is that startups are synonymous with passionate pursuit of one’s ideas and active courtship of risk. Vibhor feels he has more time at Microsoft to think about problems that may not have an immediate impact on the company because the environment at Microsoft is stable. This, in turn, means more flexibility about which projects to pursue, and a tolerance for ideas with a longer timeline.

Day 2: Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My second day at Microsoft consisted entirely of meetings with Robin’s colleagues. I first met with Chell, who had an interesting story about how she ended up at Microsoft. Chell is an individual contributor on the program management team. She mentioned originally dabbling in computer science in a college early entrance program and then during her first years at the University of Washington—largely because of what her parents did and wanted her to do. Finding that she did not like to code, Chell ended up majoring in International Relations, and graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. However, she has been able to combine her desire to interact with people with her passion for technology by becoming a product manager at Microsoft. In her work, she has the ability to influence technical aspects of a project, while also exercise leadership and feel the thrill of accomplishment that comes from getting people together to build a successful product.

My second meeting was with Lalithra, a Princeton alum (!) from the Class of 2010. Unlike for Chell, computer science was a fairly obvious choice for Lalithra. Ever since he took COS 126 in his first semester at Princeton, a class he described as “fun and easy” for him, he never looked back. Lalithra was hired by Microsoft after his graduation for a group he knew nothing about but is now settled as a product manager and individual contributor (a peer to Chell) and really does enjoy his work.

After my conversation with Lalithra, I followed Robin to a meeting of about twelve company employees in a larger conference room. It was interesting to see the group dynamic here. One individual at a more senior level at the company led most of the discussion. He drew diagrams on a whiteboard, and occasionally others participated by asking questions and comments from a few others present. About half of the people in the room remained completely silent during the meeting.  Robin and I discussed this meeting over lunch the next hour. He used this time to teach me about the importance of positive body language, and being mindful of the phrases one uses as you interact with others in a meeting.

My final meeting of the day was with Charles, who described his work in great detail, and mentioned how his University of Waterloo education, which involved six required internships before graduation, prepared him well for a career at Microsoft. Charles’ recommendations for me included looking to industry or industry/academia collaborations because “anything you want to do in computer science is being done in industry, by say, Google, Amazon, or Microsoft,” and to do lots of internships.

From my second day at Microsoft, I learned that in the “real world,” even microcosms—such as a small team in a large software company—are odd amalgamations of wildly different types of people, bringing with them their own backgrounds, and their own dearly held beliefs, biases, and convictions. Most of these people are graceful about giving advice: they recognize that their perspective is one of many.

Another observation I have made, as I consider my own career and the paths taken by the individuals I met during my Princeternship, is that most of the decisions we make in life are based on hopelessly incomplete information. Specifically, when people decide on majors and careers, rarely does this involve a solid understanding of the alternatives available to them. Many options are ruled out based on stereotypes and hearsay, and glancing impressions. But somehow, the results of this haphazard decision-making turn out to be not as disastrous as one would expect.

Day 3: Friday, January 31, 2014

On my final day, I met with a software engineer who is relatively new to Microsoft in the morning, Juan, who recently received a PhD in optimization and artificial intelligence. I mentioned my interest in mathematics, which led us to discuss an interesting graph theoretic problem relating to user navigation between product features. His passion for computer science and its applications to his current work was both clear and contagious.

After my enlightening conversation with Juan, Robin drove me over to a very beautiful building on another part of Microsoft’s campus. Here is the view from a quite elegant looking conference room: Jain office photo

In this building, I met with Tom, who is the group manager for a newly forming data sciences team at Microsoft. My conversation with Tom was one of the highlights of my Princeternship experience. His demeanor was enthusiastic and welcoming, and he spoke broadly about many interesting things—the need to balance technical pursuits with an involvement and appreciation for the humanities (a sentiment that Robin, too, expressed many times), the exciting applications of statistics and machine learning, and his own path to Microsoft. What especially resonated with me was Tom’s open-mindedness. He suggested that an interesting avenue for my interest in mathematics and problem solving could be data sciences, explaining a challenge that Microsoft hopes to tackle: use statistical insights from past product releases to develop technology that users will love.

Parting Thoughts

I came into this Princeternship with little idea of what to expect. I thought I’d shake a few hands, hear some people talk about their work, and “make some connections” (I use quotes to express my old cynicism regarding this oft-repeated phrase).

What I actually got to see and learn were many invaluable, simple things. I witnessed adults interact in the work place at length for the first time (they laughed when I used the term “adults”). I met with many people who really do love what they do (or just some really good actors), and this was a comforting sight to see. I saw the dynamics of friendly banter and casual conversation, small meetings and conference proceedings. I noticed the fragility and imperfection of team environments. I heard hackers talk passionately about their caches and run-time tools. And I got to eat some really good pizza.

Robin and JainHere is a picture of Robin, my amazing host, and I.

It is hard to overstate Robin’s hospitality. He entertained for me hours on end, led me around campus, arranged meetings for me, and otherwise put up with me for three long days. One moment that stands out in my memory occurred on Friday. I had sent him an email the previous night about groups at Microsoft that I might like to intern in, and the next day, I noticed him carefully going through my message and addressing each part of my email—every possible area I had mentioned. This is but one example of the thought he gave to my interests over the three days, just one demonstration of the excellent host he was.

Thank you to Robin and all of the amazing people I met with over my three days at Microsoft for a wonderful Princeternship experience.

Jesse Fleck ’15, Reed Elsevier

On January 8th, I had a Princeternship at Reed Elsevier in New York City. Reed Elsevier is a major international corporation that works on publishing, exhibitions, business information/risk solutions, legal and corporate responsibility. The publishing sector of Reed Elsevier is one of the largest international publishing companies of science, technology and medical journals.  Thus, it is not surprising that many of the journals that Princeton students use for their research papers are from Reed Elsevier.  In addition to providing journals, the publishing sector also creates software to facilitate search methods and communication between other researchers.

My Princetnership at Reed Elsevier was in the Office of the Chairman. Mr. Yungsuk “YS” Chi, the Chairman, who works with governments and customers worldwide and represents Reed Elsevier’s Asia Strategy. Additionally, YS is the current President of the International Publishers Association (IPA). IPA holds conference around the world to promote freedom of press. As a critical figure to both Reed Elsevier and IPA, YS regularly travels around the world to meet with people to further the goals of the organizations that he represents.

When I arrived, I signed in with the front desk and took the elevator up to the 9th floor to meet my host, Jacqueline Thomas ‘09. She took me to her office and introduced me to her two co-workers, Monica and Jessie.  It was during this time that I found out everyone in YS’s office goes by their initials. This was ironically really helpful since there were three Jesses in the office (including me). So, I was called JIF occasionally. Later in the day, I met the third Jesse who was called JAM. We all had a good laugh since JIF and JAM sound like the makings of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I spent the day speaking with various members of Reed Elsevier, all of whom were Princeton alums. After speaking with Jacqueline, I had a video conference with the remaining two members of the Office of the Chairman, Alya and Yifeng, in Reed Elsevier’s London office. Through my time speaking with all five of them, I was able to get a clear understanding of the responsibilities of the Office of the Chairman.

Their jobs as analysts required them to research countries in order to prepare YS for the next location in his travels . I found out that YS travels over 280 days a year and has on occasion even traveled to a different continent every single day of the week. In light of this high frequency of travel, YS always needs to know the context of his new situation in order to act as a proper representative for IPA or Reed Elsevier. Consequently, the analyst team supports him by coordinating traveling schedules, briefing YS and assisting him in writing his speeches. I was fortunate enough to read some of the speeches. I found that YS connects the message he wants to deliver through a story that has some significance to the audience. Along with these duties, the team also works on individual projects for a specific region  that caters to their individual language or cultural knowledge. When someone needs assistance, however, everyone jumps in to help. The sense of team work was truly amazing.

After meeting with the members of the Office of the Chairman, we had lunch and then I met with other Princeton alums in Reed Elsevier. The first person I met was a former member of the Office of the Chairman, Peter, who now works in the Business Strategy sector of Reed Elsevier. I also met Rebecca who worked on the marketing of Scopus, a major research tool for Reed Elsevier. Lastly, I met with George and Jesse (JAM) who work in the publishing sector as well. In addition to gaining insight on the various positions in Reed Elsevier, they all gave me a lot of advice on college and future job aspirations.

The day ended when I returned to Jacqueline’s office. We all watched a brief documentary on YS that was released on a major Korean new station. Afterward, we all said our goodbyes and I returned to Princeton.

In conclusion, I had a wonderful experience in the Office of the Chairman at Reed Elsevier. I was fortunate enough to meet not only the members of this office, but also other Princeton alums in Reed Elsevier. I learned a lot about the duties and expectations of the various positions that everyone held. While their tasks are very challenging, it was encouraging to see how close everyone works together to make the impossible happen. Although I knew nothing about Reed Elsevier when I applied to the Princeternship, by the end of the experience I had learned so much and greatly appreciated the company. Moreover, the Office of the Chairman at Reed Elsevier seemed like the quintessential job due to the teamwork, the tasks and the positive atmosphere.

Connor Werth ’17, MITRE

Princeton_Visit-9874The Princeternship at MITRE with Dr. Sandeep Mulgund *94 was a rare and stimulating glimpse into the realm of Federally Funded Research and Development Centers (FFRDC). During our visit on March 18th, Nikita (the other Princetern) and I were mentored by Dr. Mulgund and introduced to the diverse and fascinating projects currently “in the works” at MITRE.

Before Nikita and I met Dr. Mulgund in the lobby, the close relationship MITRE maintains with the United States was exhibited by the mixture of civilians and uniformed military personal streaming into the facility. This relationship was elaborated on further when we spoke with Dr. Mulgund in his office about MITRE.

As Dr. Mulgund explained, Princeton_Visit-0145the Department of Defense is one of several “sponsors” within the U.S. Government that MITRE supports. Other groups include: Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, Federal Aviation Administration, Department of the Treasury, Internal Revenue Service, and the Department of Homeland Security. MITRE is chartered by Congress to operate in the public interest. This status means that MITRE does not compete with private firms for business. As such, MITRE is only concerned with serving the public interest with the United States government. MITRE is uniquely able to provide objective guidance to its sponsors. I now understand the FFRDC distinction and the role MITRE has in support of the United States Government.

Princeton_Visit-0053After our initial discussion with Dr. Mulgund, we proceeded to a variety of demonstrations that he had arranged within the MITRE labs. We saw graphics programs similar to a modern computer game used to simulate real environments and we spoke to researchers studying the human thought process during critical analysis. Next, we were treated to interactive presentations regarding innovative techniques to integrate information from different organizations, methods to enhance soldier communication, and the use of visualization to increase understanding and generate new ideas. Each demonstration was absolutely fascinating and exceptionally entertaining. I was amazed by the variety of the research that MITRE conducts and inspired by the passion that each MITRE employee exhibited when discussing his or her work.

To cap off an excellentPrinceton_Visit-0156 day, Dr. Mulgund, Nikita and I spoke with Dr. Mark Maybury, MITRE’s Chief Technology Officer. In this meeting, we conversed on a wide range of current events and scientific topics, which solidified what I learned at MITRE. The importance of conditioning and training the mind through education, discovering interests and passions through exploration, and developing superb communication skills resonated with me and the opportunity to see a working FFRDC lab was absolutely invaluable. Thank you MITRE and Dr. Mulgund for hosting us!

Elise Georis ’17, Microsoft

Elise-GeorisI came into this Princeternship with only a vague understanding of the role of a Microsoft researcher. Three days and many meetings later, I’ve learned that a researcher straddles the boundary between academia and business. He poses theoretical questions, performs experiments, and publishes scientific papers of his findings while simultaneously understanding and fulfilling the needs of Microsoft customers.

On the first day, I met with my host, Dr. Zicheng Liu *96, for a day at the research facilities. He introduced me to several colleagues, each of whom seemed engrossed in some project seemed too futuristic to be feasible (and yet the demos stood right before us). Everywhere I looked around the office building, there was some robot or screen or simulator that Georgis 1people could interact with as they passed by. It was also hard to miss the scribbling on almost every surface: the walls all function as white boards that allow the researchers to map out their thinking as they work. In all, the facilities gave me the impression that researchers are constantly thinking and creating.

On the second day, Dr. Liu arranged for me to meet with other alums: Jiho Lee ’13, who works in Advertising, and Andy Kaier ’12, who is a Program Manager. Both were in very different settings from the first day, and I was glad to learn about other facets of the company. Even if their work is more product- and business-oriented, the environment had the casual environment of a technology company.

On the third day, I met with Akarshan Kumar ’13 and Yan Zhong ’07, both Program Managers, and Wai Man Lam ’92, a developer. All three alums worked in still different areas of the company, and each area felt a little bit different. It was particularly interesting to talk to a developer who showed me how the theoretical material we learn in computer science classes addresses practical issues in the real world.

Despite having over one hundred thousand employees, Microsoft does not seem to smother its employees or even feel like a big company. Rather, the segments within the organization appear to have unique, inviting, and laid-back environments that evoke the warm culture of a small business while simultaneously providing the stability of an industry powerhouse. I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the Microsoft campus, and I highly recommend this Princeternship to future students!

Nikita Turley ’17, MITRE

Nikita-TurleyOn Tuesday, March 18th, I, along with fellow Princetern and Arizonan Connor Worth, shadowed Dr. Sandeep Mulgund *94 at the MITRE Corporation in Bedford, Massachusetts. MITRE is a Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC) which provides engineering and technical support to the federal government. Unlike typical contractors, MITRE, as an FFRDC, does not compete with private industry. They do not sell any product, but rather provide an unbiased perspective for the government to use to evaluate potential solutions for many of its most pressing scientific and technical challenges.

Once we had entered the facility, Dr. Mulgund gave us a brief overview of MITRE and its purpose, and then proceeded to describe the work he is involved in. Interesting enough, Princeton_Visit-0156even though Dr. Mulgund graduated from Princeton with a degree in aerospace engineering, the type of work he does at MITRE is very different than what his degree would suggest. At MITRE, he works as a combat scientist and systems engineer, and aids in the development of crisis response plans for military command centers. He has a whole collection of military coins from the organizations he has worked with over the years.

Following our discussion, Dr. Mulgund showed us to a few of the labs at the MITRE facility where other employees gave us some brief demonstrations of the projects that they were working on. The first demonstration was of a graphics simulator that was implementing already existing graphics software available in industry to provide high quality simulations of military situations. One of the simulations was of a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, and, astonishingly, another was of a raid performed by military personnel on the ground. The second demonstration had to do with neuroscience and the analysis of the biases that arise within the human brain during decision making. This research was being used to evaluate the performance of intelligence analysts and to engineer training solutions that could help eliminate the potential limitations onset by these biases.

Princeton_Visit-9879The third demonstration was of an architecture MITRE is developing to help improve communication and compatibility between different levels of law enforcement. Because there is no national mandate as to what communication systems law enforcement agencies must purchase, many of the various systems that these agencies employ are incompatible. This presents many issues, especially at large events that require the presence of multiple levels of law enforcement, because many times these agencies will have to resort to archaic methods to keep track of all the different streams of input, such as using post-it notes on a big map to keep track of officer positions. The architecture MITRE is developing would solve this problem because it works across multiple platforms, including computers, phones, and tablets. Essentially, command would be able to see where every officer is on a GPS map in real time, and the officers would be able to flag and label things such as large crowds, riots, etc. on the map in real time. If someone were to label something on their own map, within 60 seconds it would appear across all devices using the app.

The final demonstration was an extension of the same idea, but for military purposes, called the Nett Warrior Android prototype. Soldiers would have a phone with a similar app that would allow them to track in real time the position of other friendly units that were carrying the same device. The app also allows for soldiers to label things in real time such as small arms fire, and even has a measuring tape feature that allows for one to measure the real distance from one point to another on the app’s small map. MITRE is also looking to implement this technology into a headset/eyepiece design such as Google Glass, which Connor and I were allowed to try on. At the time I did not pay much attention to the fact that the phones that they were showing us the app on were Samsung Galaxy S5’s, and it was not until a week after the Princeternship when I was describing my experiences to a friend that it was pointed out to me that the S5 will not be officially released to the public until April 11th, 2014. So in fact, we had gotten a sneak peak of the future and from what I could tell from my limited exposure, the S5 seems like a high quality phone. However, to me a lot of things could seem a lot better compared to my 5-year-old phone.

Once the demonstrations Princeton_Visit-9991were completed, Dr. Mulgund treated us to lunch, where we discussed more personal topics such as his experiences as a grad student at Princeton and what he thought about the direction certain engineering fields were taking. The most interesting part of this conversation was learning that Dr. Mulgund, despite earning a PhD in aerospace engineering, has never actually worked as a traditional aerospace engineer. Though he enjoyed his experience at Princeton (which included a summer at NASA’s Langley Research Center), Dr. Mulgund went into software R&D upon graduation. He could not help stressing the importance of being exposed to industry and the workplace early on so that we would have the opportunity to see what they’re really like. Dr. Mulgund then explained that this was the primary reason why he had decided to host Princeterns.

After lunch, we had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Mark Maybury, Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of MITRE. He had just returned to MITRE from 3 years as Chief Scientist of the Air Force and he was definitely a very intelligent and engaging man. He was very interested in knowing what majors both Connor and I were pursuing in college and what we thought of MITRE so far. From there, we continued to discuss many topics, ranging from neuroscience, to MITRE’s up and coming space program, to his experiences in the Air Force and even to the new app called Sleep Cycle that monitors one’s sleep. Following our conversation, in order to signify the end of our visit to MITRE, Dr. Maybury and Dr. Mulgund presented us with MITRE coins, the start to our own military coin collections.

In an unexpected follow-up to this Princeternship, it turns out that MITRE has a small site here in Princeton at the Forrestal campus where research in quantum computing is conducted. Dr. Mulgund put us in touch with the site leader there, and Connor and I have since made a short visit. We plan to return for a more extended, in-depth tour.

This Princeternship at MITRE was a truly enjoyable experience and has definitely opened up my eyes and provided me with a perspective on what it is like to be an engineer in the workplace. I am very grateful to Dr. Mulgund for hosting us and for all the personal stories that he shared; they were very enlightening, especially since I will soon be going through similar experiences. I am also very appreciative of all the other MITRE employees who took time to demonstrate their work to us. I can only hope that one day I will join them in the work force and help engineer a better future for us all.