Becoming an Expert in 10 Weeks?
This post is part of our Summer Intern Blog Series! Each of our most recent class of interns wrote a blog post on their biggest accomplishments and lessons of the summer. This installment comes from Elizabeth, a rising senior at Princeton University studying East Asian Studies. She enjoys playing piano, conversing in languages she hasn’t fully mastered, and trying all the cheeses.
I’ve always liked the idea of being an expert in something. There’s comfort in being an expert; when it comes to your area of expertise there are no surprises. People can ask you anything about your subject and you can respond in a split second, thanks to your thorough knowledge. At least, this is my idealized vision of what it feels like to be an expert. I can’t claim expertise in anything; however, the security I associate with expert knowledge has shaped my learning and problem solving styles. I like to gather a lot of information before applying what I know to problems. Not only do I find comfort in this approach, as I am less likely to face the anxiety of not knowing, I also enjoy researching and learning.
You’d think that after an onboarding process that included several presentations on the “Life of an Ad Call” multiple times (and even performing “Life of an Ad Call together as a play), my intern class would be experts on the ad serving process. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Our week-long intern onboarding process, while thorough and extensive, was a mere dip into the ocean that is the ad tech ecosystem.
Equipped with this general – but not quite expert-level – understanding of the ad tech industry and AppNexus’ products, I was ready to fill a place on my team as a “Product Specialist Intern.” As Product Specialists, our job is to provide customer support that enables customers to become self-sufficient and achieve lasting success on our platform. Product Specialists spend their days taking client cases. Clients send a wide variety questions and issues, and we troubleshoot through whatever digging or testing is necessary.
Baptism by fire
It seemed premature to claim the title of “Specialist” with barely two weeks at the company under my belt, but upon landing in Product Support, I began receiving my first client cases. I was excited – I had the chance to improve the experience of our customers. It was also daunting – I barely understood all the processes and components behind how an advertisement gets onto a website. How was I supposed to figure out the root cause when an ad doesn’t appear? I felt unprepared to be a source of answers and guidance, especially when customers’ happiness and success was on the line.
In addition to serving as a Product Specialist, I worked on my own project over the course of my internship. In the Services organization, our primary focus is clients. Services is comprised of a variety of teams, and each client has several Services people working on their accounts. It can be difficult to track each person’s work on the account, making transferring Services people on and off accounts a challenge. My project was to create a template for account pages that would serve as knowledge hubs shared between Services team members working on each client account. It seemed that I would need a clear understanding of how the entire Services organization works, as well as details on all our clients before I could successfully execute my project.
With both my project and my work as a Product Specialist, my first instinct was to gather as much information as possible, to learn everything there is to know about our product and Services. I soon saw that this was an impossible task. Product Specialists can work for years and still not fully know and understand all that AppNexus does; not only is the system highly complex, it is also constantly evolving. Watching other members of my team at work, it became clear that they made use of a wealth of resources, from runbooks to team members, rather than relying on just their own knowledge. I realized that expert knowledge is unnecessary and would likely be a fruitless pursuit for my 10 weeks here.
You can’t do it alone
The complexity of the AppNexus ecosystem is humbling, exciting, and empowering. You can’t possibly know it all – and that’s okay. Due to the immensity of the system, there is plenty of room to make an impact. With my project, I have made strides to improve documentation practices inside Services. Not only did I create a template that can be used and reused even after my internship, I drove the process of adoption by putting team members in charge of filling out templates for their accounts. The ability to make greatness happen without having to be an expert first is one of the awesome parts of being an AppNexian. At all stages, including as an intern, we are encouraged and called to make an impact. This experience has inspired me to take action and strive for the best with what I have, and not to be scared away by “not knowing.”