Meet Plaid's Engineering Interns
Plaid's inaugural class of engineering interns have shipped their projects and are back at school. We asked how their summer went.
Our four interns for summer 2018 came in with a wide range of technical interests and tackled projects across the entire organization: data infrastructure, core services, platform, and developer experience. But it wasn’t all work. They also joined in on intern-mentor social events, our summer Plaiderdays hackathon, and even traveled with us to Punta de Mita, Mexico for our company-wide retreat!
Read on to learn from them about what their experiences were like–
College: UC Irvine '19
Team: Core Services
Projects: Scheduler auto-ramping; Transaction latency improvements
What brought you to Plaid?
I originally heard about Plaid when I visited the Start @ a Startup Conference in 2016. A few months later, I got ice cream with some Plaid engineers after the Greylock Techfair, then went to Plaid's "open house" summer BBQ event, and finally went to a dinner during the Grace Hopper Conference that Plaid hosted for students interested in learning more about the company.
By the time I interviewed, I was less nervous because I had met a lot of the team members. Everybody that I interviewed with was really nice, helpful, and friendly. Since I was interning in SF, they invited me onsite for every interview, including the phone screens, which made the interview process more enjoyable and helped me meet more people.
After I got the offer, I was invited to hang out with the Plaid team during a board game night and, in a subsequent visit, I joined them on a company-wide outing to watch Star Wars: The Last Jedi. At Plaid, everybody on the team sends out a congrats email to the candidate, and seeing how excited everyone was about the prospect of me joining the team felt amazing.
I heard this was your seventh internship! Can you talk a bit about the internships you've done previously?
I was inspired by the University of Waterloo's co-op program to do a bunch of internships. I wanted to learn more practical skills and less theory than I was exposed to in school, so I decided to get industry experience by interning at different companies.
I've interned at a lot of companies, ranging from big public companies to mid-sized startups. I've come to realize that there are more opportunities to learn, grow, and make a huge impact at smaller companies. At startups, you learn to build things from scratch and be a generalist. You get to work on projects that are important and actually ship. Since the company is still small, you get to know everybody and you're not just a number.
With this internship, I wanted to focus on learning as much as I could and get a chance to make the most impact, while still receiving some mentorship and learning best engineering practices. Plaid seemed like it had high momentum and had people I was excited to work with. The company was at the right size, stage, and industry that I was looking for (~50 software engineers, Series B, fintech), and they had a good product/market fit.
What did you get to work on?
I was on the Core Services team, which gave me a good understanding of how Plaid works. My main project was to build an internal tool to automatically increase or decrease the rate of scheduling account updates. This involved creating cron-like jobs using Amazon CloudWatch Events and AWS Lambda.
Any surprises from the summer?
"Be a Founder Day" was truly unique. I had never experienced anything similar at the other companies I previously interned at. It was cool to get a chance to sit in on part of the board meeting and one of (Plaid’s founder) William's 1:1s with (Head of Business Development) Sima.
There was also a funny running joke that some of the engineers played on me. Pre-internship, they had us fill out a survey to talk about what we were interested in working on, and I made it clear that I did not want to work on the frontend. When I came to visit the Plaid office on the Friday before my first day, some of the intern mentors gave me a "starter project" which was a packet of all the CSS hex codes and three highlighters. They said my assignment for the first three weeks of my internship was to fill it in with the corresponding colors. At the end of my internship, they got me an O'Reilly CSS Pocket Reference book as a goodbye gift to help me with my aspiring goals as a frontend engineer.
College: UC Berkeley '19
Team: Developer Experience
Projects: API versioning; Interstitial customization; Canadian developer support
What brought you to Plaid?
Working for a monolithic tech company had never appealed to me–I imagined I would be a small cog in a machine that didn't really need me. I decided to look around the market of startup jobs in SF, and interviewed at Plaid because I had heard a bit about fintech and found it interesting. Visiting the office and meeting the team was what sold me. It looked like a fantastic place to work, and after having lunch with the other engineers, I was already attached to the idea.
Your previous summer experience was at a research lab. What was it like coming to a startup?
I was nervous about trying something new, but determined to do it. I knew that the only way to learn if I liked an industry was to try it out.
Working in industry is very different than in a lab. The pace in academia is slower, and with many unplanned obstacles in our research, we progressed slowly towards paper deadlines. Eventually, the progress a lab makes can bleed out into the regular world–particularly if their discovery is significant–but often the audience for the tools I built was only within the lab. At Plaid, we used sprints to make new features and moved quickly. The feedback loop was also much shorter than in the lab.
How was the first week?
I was released into the wild a lot sooner than I thought I would be, and it was interesting figuring out how to get my feet firmly planted under me. After seeing the codebase, I was shocked by the size and complexity of the system I was going to work on.
I started trying to work from a research perspective. I figured if I read enough, I would get the full context, and everything would follow from there. But I quickly realized there was no way I could use that approach without it taking the whole summer, so I just dove in and started experimenting.
My manager Michael was also a tremendous help. He's been with Plaid since the early days. At first, I felt pretty intimidated because everyone said that he was super smart. But when I met him, he had such a reassuring and supportive personality, and was also great at communicating. After that, it was a lot easier to feel like I was not in over my head.
What were your favorite parts of the internship?
I really enjoyed getting to know the Plaid team. Everyone had really interesting stories to tell. I had a great time going out to the monthly lunch social with the women in EPDS (engineering, product, design, and support), and going out to hot pot meals with the dev experience team.
One specific highlight was my going away event. I got to choose an activity, and picked high tea on the suggestion of a coworker. I didn't realize that it was anything beyond getting dressed up to go to a regular boba place, and since I love boba with friends and being overdressed, that already sounded like plenty! When I saw the restaurant for the high tea ceremony, I was astounded. I took so many pictures because I didn't think anyone would believe that I got to do something so special.
College: Harvard '19
Projects: Data adapter for moving data from Prometheus to Redshift through Kinesis; Internal deployment dashboard
What brought you to Plaid?
The summer before my internship at Plaid, I worked at a small fintech startup where I became initially interested in the fintech space. What drew me to Plaid was how many different fintech companies it helps. After talking with some Harvard alumni who currently work at Plaid, going through the interview process, and meeting so many members of the team, choosing Plaid was a no brainer. Everyone I met was not only super smart but super friendly. It just seemed like a great place to learn for a summer.
How was the first day?
It was pretty spectacular. Plaid does a really great job of making you feel instantly welcome. You get to the office and immediately you’re walked to your desk where your monitor is wrapped in Plaid wrapping paper. On our pre-internship Q&A, they asked me what my favorite snack is, and I put down Deep River Sweet Maui Onion chips. When I got to my desk, I found an insane number of these chips – it must have been fifty bags. It was a very personal touch, and right off the bat, it felt like I was being integrated.
Who did you get to work with at Plaid?
My everyday work mostly involved talking to members of the Platform team at Plaid. My direct mentor was Nathan, who was an awesome teacher I learned a lot from. All of the interns also had a "buddy" who was their go-to for all things social.
We also got to have one-on-one conversations with the founders, as well as fireside chats with heads of other departments at Plaid like Product, Marketing, and Growth. We got a full taste for what all the roles at Plaid are like.
You mentioned that mentorship was important to your internship decision. How was that aspect of Plaid?
One worry I had about choosing to intern at a company of Plaid's size over a larger, more established company was that I didn't think there would be as much mentorship. But the reality was, I couldn't have asked for a better mentorship experience. Whenever I felt stuck, my mentor was always quick to reply in a helpful way. We also had weekly meetings to reflect on the internship experience and how my work could improve.
On top of this, there were also meetings with the People team, the engineering manager of the Platform team, and the head of engineering, all during which we could give our honest feedback about the experience. I mentioned the fireside chats with heads of other departments–those actually came about because us interns gave the feedback that we wanted to meet people in other parts of the company. The chats were scheduled the very next week.
What was your favorite part of the internship?
My favorite part of the work itself was completing projects from start to finish, and then seeing my work gradually be used by everyone at Plaid. My first project was a data adapter, and within a day of its deployment there were engineers asking me how they could use it.
College: Stanford '19
Team: Data Science & Infrastructure
Projects: Logging infrastructure fixes; Anti-fraud systems; Data warehouse tooling
What brought you to Plaid?
When I first learned about Plaid I was really excited about the product. As a developer, I could immediately understand the need and see the impact Plaid was having.
I actually applied two years ago, but at the time there were no engineering internships available. The people I met during the process made a very strong impression on me, so when I had another chance to apply last year I took it. I ended up working at Apple the previous summer, and I was really excited about an opportunity within a startup.
What projects did you work on during the summer?
The first thing I worked on was a logging bug, which had caused Plaid a few instances of logging downtime over previous months. After I resolved that, I moved on to work on anti-fraud systems. This was really interesting because it gave me exposure to a lot of the Plaid stack that I might not have otherwise seen as an intern on the Data team. Finally, I worked on a few internal tools in React and Go, which allow Plaid employees to more easily interact with Plaid’s data warehouse.
What was it like working with the Data Science & Infrastructure (DSI) team?
Working with DSI was fantastic! I really couldn’t have imagined a better team to spend the summer with. Aside from finding the daily problems we worked on solving to be personally interesting, I also got to participate in the team culture, which was so unique and much more than I thought I would be able to experience as an intern.
One of the highlights of my summer was traveling with the team to Plaid’s office in Salt Lake City to help define a team vision for the next 12-18 months. As an intern, I would've expected to be left out of that type of conversation. But being able to participate just as fully as any other team member was hugely validating. There were also lots of fun and bizarre team activities: screaming at each other over games of Avalon until 4am during our Salt Lake City trip, buying and wearing matching green tracksuits to various company events, and surprising a new hire by showing up in said tracksuits at the 6AM workout class that she teaches–the list goes on!
Any other notable moments?
The week-long, company-wide trip to Mexico was a highlight and a fantastic opportunity to get to know Plaids I might not otherwise have met. Aside from those two big trips, learning to function inside Plaid’s ecosystem and gain velocity and independence as an engineer was hugely rewarding. By my last week I was shipping code at a rate that would have seemed unthinkable at the start of the internship, and I could really see the impact I was making.
Interested in joining us next summer? Apply here!