The Big Orange Slide
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 Sarah, a rising senior at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of International Relations and Public Affairs. At Princeton, she is also pursuing a certificate in Information and Technology, is an officer of TigerTables, and loves to run in her free time. Being from Boston, she is also a huge Patriots fan.
When I was younger, I was petrified of the winding, covered slides at playgrounds. I hated how high they were, I hated how other kids would come quickly down after me, and above all else, I hated how for those ten seconds inside the slide, I was surrounded by darkness. When I started my internship at AppNexus, I felt like I was five years old again watching all the kids go down the slide but being too scared to follow.
As I prepared for the first day of work, I was nervous about meeting my new team and starting whatever projects the summer had in store. I had no idea what being an account management intern at AppNexus would entail, and even though my manager had walked me through some of my projects over the phone, I barely understood what ad tech was. I walked into AppNexus that first day and was ready to hold my breath and close my eyes for the next ten weeks, just as I would on the slide years ago, praying I would make it to the other side unscathed.
The first few weeks flew by, and I still had barely caught my breath. At the end of my second week, after completing the onboarding process and meeting as many people as I could cram into my schedule, my manager sat me down to explain my summer project. My goal would be to help bidders reduce their error rates by sending them weekly reports on where they were getting errors and making suggestions on how to improve. My manager drew some diagrams on the whiteboard and showed me the tools I would need. She connected me with the clients with whom I’d be working and asked if I had any questions. I had a billion, but instead of asking them, I shook my head and said I was all set, hoping to radiate the confidence I most definitely did not feel. The next day I pulled my first report, emailed a client, and began my project — it felt just like jumping into that giant tube in the park so many years ago.
The slide becomes a learning curve
I won’t pretend that first reporting experience was pretty. In fact, it was an overload of information and ambiguous at best. The client was unable to decipher the significance in the numbers through the wordiness of the emails. But each week as I met with my manager, she continued to give me feedback while also leaving me with the freedom to make my own mistakes. I began to deliver better reports, and also started building the confidence I had faked just weeks before.
During my fifth week, I noticed something that made me stop holding my breath and open my eyes. I decided to look into the clients’ overall error trends over the course of the summer. I noticed that each client had a very different error report—some would have an oscillating trend, while others a more linear one. But the really eye-opening thing was that out of the ten clients I was monitoring, eight of them had definitively downward sloping trends. In other words, these clients’ error rates were demonstrably falling – the work I was doing was having a true impact! I was so focused on day-to-day progress and the minute details that I forgot to step back and look at the bigger picture. I was so scared of potentially making mistakes in the future that I forgot to take stock of how far I had come.
I realize now that when I was little, I didn’t like the slide because I was focusing on the wrong parts. Instead of enjoying the ride itself and embracing the journey from start to finish, I was too afraid of the unknown and too focused on getting out the other side. When I looked at those overall error trends and realized the work I was doing was making a tangible difference, I was not only proud of my progress but was also able to appreciate the little moments that had made up the path to get there. Not every report I delivered to a client was perfect, just as not every moment in the dark tunnel was enjoyable. But the overall journey was worth opening my eyes for and appreciating. Now I find myself enjoying every day I have left on this winding AppNexus-orange slide and wishing it was longer because I am not quite ready for this adventure to end yet.