A Summer Well Spent: Reflecting on AppNexus’ Youth Fellows Program

This post comes to us from AppNexus Audit Lead Julia Edwards. Julie has been an AppNexian for going on six years.  During that time she has learned a new coding language, started a family, and grown unexpectedly fond of the color orange.

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The AppNexus Team

This year, I had the privilege of managing three rising high school senior Youth Fellows as part of AppNexus’s partnership with PENCIL, an internship program run by NYC’s Ladders for Leaders organization.

When I was first approached about the opportunity, I was enthusiastic: I remembered our 2016 pilot with PENCIL,  and it was hands down a highlight of our year. In addition to working with the Fellows on projects throughout their mini-internship, we also worked with them to brainstorm ways to get a college admissions board’s attention.  Some ideas were better than others – we reached a consensus that filling out an entire application using only emojis wasn’t the way to go.  But our other ideas must’ve worked – we recently received an email from one of the 2016 Fellows to let us know that he’d been accepted to Columbia University, his first-choice school. After getting to help a hardworking young student achieve such a big goal, I was excited to get even more involved with the program this year.

I was also particularly happy to welcome this year’s group of Youth Fellows, as I had interviewed all three and come away quite impressed.  At 17, these students had a drive to succeed and an appetite for knowledge that left me floored. They asked insightful questions, they demonstrated passion for their studies, and they could detail their extracurricular interests with an enthusiasm that (temporarily) overpowered the anxieties that always come with a first interview.

Once we knew which applicants would be joining us, our team spent the next few weeks planning to ensure their time here was as valuable to them as possible.  We laid out an ambitious onboarding schedule, brainstormed valuable learn and teach sessions, and set up shadowing opportunities with other teams.  The more we planned, the more opportunities we found.  As the program’s start date approached, I would come out of meetings or project briefs and catch myself saying, “This would be great for the Youth Fellows” more times than I can count.  My expectations have been consistently exceeded, both by the resources and tools AppNexus has made available to us, and by my fellow AppNexians. They were willing to take time out of their always-hectic schedules to give the Fellows firsthand experience in many different disciplines, demonstrate and pass on the skills that have helped them succeed in this industry, and share the story of their own unique experiences here at AppNexus.

As the Youth Fellows program began and we got to know more about our three Fellows – Anisa, Josh and Lila – and what they hoped to achieve here at AppNexus, one common theme began to emerge: empowerment.  We wanted to empower these students with the knowledge of what it’s like to work in tech, beyond teaching them our team’s specific processes. We focused on the skills that any job requires: time management, healthy work-life balance, professional conduct, and fostering a healthy and positive work environment for everyone you work with.  We also ensured that our Fellows had the space and opportunity to pursue their own career growth and development, whatever that may be.  For our intern Lila, that has meant one-on-one time with our engineers learning about the structure of our databases. For Anisa, it meant a chance to shadow our Legal team and learn more about the advocacy work that our Diversity and Inclusion initiative supports. For Josh, it meant the chance to leverage his considerable networking skills and forge connections that will help him lay the groundwork for potential business relationships…and shoot a few hoops on our basketball court in the process.

It was gratifying to watch our Fellows take initiative and grow their confidence. In the end, the most valuable lesson I learned from the Fellows was this: we all have agency, and by using that agency, we empower others to do the same. This program has allowed us as AppNexians to apply our agency not only to provide a great experience for the Fellows, but also to expand our own horizons and enable our personal development.  All in all, my time working on this program will always stand out as one of the most satisfying parts of my time here at AppNexus.