Monday, August 11, 2008

Refrigerator Toss Day = Friday, August 15, 2008

It's my last week here as a summer intern for Updata Advisors. Looking back on the experience, I have both fond memories and some things that I wouldn't mind forgetting, but probably never will. It's been a learning experience from day 1.

I came into this job without knowing what I would be doing, or even what the rest of the people here do. Totally in the dark, my goal was simply to get out of my neighbor's basement, where I had been working as an executive assistant for her home appraisal company. The job was a lonely one, which is not something I handle well. I sat in Diane's basement, day in and day out, alphabetizing, answering phones, and playing with her arthritic golden retriever. I was paid well, but spending so much time alone was driving me to insanity, and that's a short trip. So, when I received the call from Chase, informing me that he'd received my resume and would like to have me come in for an interview, I jumped on the opportunity. I saw this as a chance to get out of the basement, be around people in an office environment, learn about a business that I knew next to nothing about, and pick up some skills along the way, as well as work on some networking that might potentially help me out once I graduated from college with not much of a clue what I'd do with my Philosophy BA degree.

My first day at Updata was a bit unsettling, to be honest. Karen introduced me to everyone in the office, and got me set up at my desk. Then, she left me to "work". Only, I had not been given any work to do. I sat, and sat, and walked around, asking people if they needed help with anything, or if they knew what I was supposed to be doing. I went back to my desk, surfed the web a bit, read I had never had a job before where I was being paid hourly, and allowed to sit around doing nothing on the company's watch. I didn't know what to do with myself. Normally a fairly productive person, I had a hard time dealing with the fact that there was no task for me to complete there, and no way I could think of to be productive doing something else while I sat at this new desk in front of this new computer in Reston, VA. I gradually began to accept that sitting there doing nothing was better than sitting in the basement alphabetizing with the dog.

I read everything I could find on the web. I became an avid blog reader. I found Fake Steve and McSweeney's. I was entertained and I was learning at the same time. Before my final year of high school, I had begun my own blog, as a way to share photos with friends and family (before Facebook added that feature). The "real world" of blogging was opened up to me, as I began to explore what other people had done with theirs.

In my first week at Updata, I had learned a lot, though nothing really about how Updata Advisors operates on a daily basis, or what I'd be doing for the next two months with the company. When I was finally given my assignment for the summer, Chase called me into his office to describe what he seemed to think was a horribly tedious task which he was damned glad was not his to complete. I kept an open mind and began to make my way through a list of about 10,000 technology companies to find potential clients for the bankers to make cold calls to. I went to every company's website, read about them, was redirected to different pages, led down different paths, and ended up learning about the company I was meant to be looking into and a lot of other things as well. It's what I like to call "the Youtube effect": Have you ever searched for something on Youtube, watched a video, and then been led through a series of other "related" videos until you're watching something that has nothing at all to do with your original search? My research at Updata was very much like that, during my first summer with the company. I'd start with the company's website, read a little about what they do, what they're selling, run into an acronym I didn't know the meaning of, Google that, see a search result that looked interesting, go there, read about that a bit, go back to the company's site; and on and on this would go. Don't get me wrong, this didn't happen for every search. In fact, it didn't happen for the majority of the ~10,000 companies. If it had, I never would've gotten through the list. But the amount of information (some might call "useless") that I picked up while surfing and researching the companies is just huge.
The point is, I suppose, that what Chase perceived as a really icky, tedious, and time-consuming project, was, for me, a fascinating window into a world of companies that made things or provided services that I didn't know existed.

Occasionally, this task of building a list of descriptions for the companies on the list was a bit slow, and yes, tedious. But the monotony was often broken by a somewhat more "creative" task, assigned by one of the analysts at the bank, usually Akshay, who had me helping out with the occasional pitch book here and there. Or, sometimes I'd be called in to a meeting on the "Partners' side" of the company to get a peek at how Venture Capital works.

The office environment and relationships between employees at Updata are amusing, to say the least, and it seems that as time goes on, the "quirky-ness" of the place grows exponentially.
I guess that means I'm getting quirkier as well.

Last summer, I sat at my desk facing Amber, real-deal California girl who somehow landed with Updata Partners in Reston, VA, graduate of UVA-Darden business school, sexy, confident, vivacious, kick-ass woman who's got places to go, people to see, and a party to attend somewhere, I'm sure. Amber kept me awake at my desk when things were slow, brought me flowers one day, and recommended to me one of the best "how to" books I've ever read: The Manual. Amber has since left Updata to pursue whatever she'll kick ass at next. I miss her spunky attitude and bright personality. It's much easier to fall into a spacey zoned-out glare into my computer screen without her around.

Akshay was in an office next door to my desk (before he moved on from Updata), with a notable slinky on his desk, which I could hear slinking away throughout the day, as he toyed with it while he worked (there is still a slinky in his old office - now Andrew's office -. Was it left here or do all bankers carry around slinkies, I wonder). I never realized until I worked here how much I really love that sound. Sometimes when I meet new people, I ask them what their three favorite sounds are...I think I may add that one to my personal list of favorite sounds.
Akshay is a fun-loving kind of guy, who used to eat Twizzlers, until I showed up to work and made the mistake of telling him they are made of wax.* Now he's doing his own thing/vacationing to make up for the lack thereof in his 2+ years at Updata, and waiting for me to buy him a Jack Splash at our next meeting. Of all the people I've met and worked with at Updata, I think I've learned the most about what investment banking is really about from him. He always gives me a straight answer, and I never suspect him of lying to me to try to make his chosen profession seem like more fun than it was.

This summer, Amber is gone, and my desk has moved down the hall. Directly across from me is the personal office of a man who has requested to be referred to in this posting as "Cash". "Cash" is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, cheese curd enthusiast, "I have a new favorite song every week"-kind of person. "Cash" can be found on a next-to-daily basis slapping his keyboard, stomping his feet and yelling profanity at ECAP, our online server here, which frequently shuts down for no reason and with no warning, breaking the "flow" of his particularly efficient Microsoft Excel spreadsheet-ing skills. Often, this leads to the slamming of his office door, so that he can more discreetly (I think) slam on his keyboard some more, before asking Jaine or Karen to call and yell at Network Alliance employees for cramping his Excel-ing style. "Cash" started the tradition known fondly here as "Wegman's Wednesdays," a weekly lunch break taken to Wegman's grocery store to get a few of us out of the office and talking about something other than numbers. "Wegman's Wednesdays" made the mid-week hour commute to Reston a bit more bearable since I had a great lunch to look forward to. Props to you, "Cash" for inventing that one. "Cash" is a good guy, as far as I can tell from the experiences I've had with him here, and the profanity coming from his direction is amusing for me and Karen, if it serves no other function.

Karen sits at the desk beside me. Once a cheerleader for her high school, Karen has a lot of pep in her step and in her speech. She lives out in Leesburg farmland (where I house/dog-sat for her one weekend - see: "Some Days You're the Bug...")
Out in farmland, as I learned while staying for a long weekend, there is not much to do, so Karen and her husband, Chris, spend a lot of their time fixing up their house, falling into new projects, adding a deck, tiling their kitchen, etc. when they aren't working. Thus, when Karen is working, I get to hear all about it. Her husband, her dogs and her house make up her universe outside of Updata, and as her "cubicle-mate", I am her outlet to tell all of this to. I see paint samples, I see architectural designs, pictures of her three dogs, and everything else you can imagine having to do with life in BFE (just replace the E - Egypt - with an L - Leesburg-). It's thrilling on a daily basis. Plus, there's always the delightful "Refrigerator Toss Day" alerts we receive every Friday from Karen to give us a head's up that she's about to throw out our old stuff in the Updata fridge.

Rumbi arrived as an analyst at Updata shortly after I did last summer. She is from Zimbabwe, where all of her family still resides. She tells fascinating stories about life there, which lately has been pretty horrible, with the political mess that is currently there. Rumbi is a runner and a home-grown vegetable kind of girl. From my desk, I sometimes hear her speaking in Shona (I think is the language) on her cell-phone, which has a popular hip-hop song set as her ringtone. She has strong opinions of men, as a gender, and makes them well-known in an industry which is mostly made up of men. As I learned last year from Rumbi, "All men are pigs," followed by an in-depth analysis of how they are so, as a gender, and how we, as women, cannot escape it.

Dave's office is beside "Cash's". Dave is a baseball fan, married, all around nice guy. He is easy and enjoyable to work with/for, since he is always sincerely appreciative of whatever I do to help him out, and good at giving clear and concise directions for what he needs. He is somewhat quiet, but not anti-social, and hardworking.

Andrew is "the new guy". I don't know much about him really, other than what I've gathered from our short outings every Wednesday to Wegmans for lunch. He has his dry cleaning done down Freedom Drive, in walking distance of the office. He drinks "extreme" Starbucks coffee, and reads non-fiction books, informing himself and others that 10% of children are not raised by their actual fathers. Andrew's roommate is a communist, from what I hear.

Jeff is the other intern. He's on the exec board of his fraternity and constantly on his blackberry, for reasons unknown to me. He takes the metro into work from U of Maryland, where he is a rising senior. He plays "Brick Breaker" (on his blackberry) during his commute. On Wegman's Wednesdays, we often hear about his weekend plans to go to a club in D.C. or NYC.

Robin is the marketing director for Partners side of the company. She has tons of energy, and contagious smiles to go around...and an awesome wardrobe. She'll soon be leaving Updata to do her own thing, so her time at the office here has been limited this summer, but I've enjoyed the time that I've gotten to spend with her here, and have found her to be a great source for "future" advice.

Heather is the EA for a bunch of the Updata Partners guys. She is a runner, hiker, outdoor enthusiast, environmentally friendly, triathlon-training girl. She sends everyone in the office emails telling us to remember to recycle our granola bar wrappers and to clean the rings off the inside of our coffee cups before we put them in the dishwasher. Heather also enjoys updating the dry-erase calendar next to Karen's desk, and writes in unimportant events, after the fact, like, "Blackout for 6 hours" or "Big thunderstorm" on the days that they occurred.

These are the people I've interacted with daily (or nearly so) at Updata.

In the 6 months (combined) that I've worked here, I have really gotten a feel for what investment banking is all about. I've learned a lot of "useless" information that may come in handy during a future game of Trivial Pursuit, but that I will otherwise likely never use. I've learned a lot of "useful" information that will come in handy as I move on from full-time student to full-time employee, and perhaps one day to "boss".

Overall, it's been a great experience, I've met some really interesting people, and I've been exposed to a lot of new.

Thanks to all those who have helped me along here at Updata, shared their lives with me, and maybe a tequila shot or two...

*After looking into it, at Akshay's request, I have found that there is no wax in the ingredients list on Twizzlers packaging. However, due to the texture, appearance and taste of the "candy," I still have reason to suspect otherwise.

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