Plaid People: Jennifer Wu
While the majority of Plaid team members spend their work days at our offices in San Francisco, New York, Salt Lake City, London, and Amsterdam, software engineer Jennifer Wu does the majority of her work from home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. That’s because Jennifer is one of a growing set of remote team members empowered to develop their careers from wherever they choose to live. In our latest installment of Plaid People, Jennifer covers the two-way benefits of remote work and why she left a job she loved for the opportunity to take more ownership over the products she builds.
What do you do at Plaid?
I'm a full-stack developer on the Consumer Experience team. Our priority is end-users—specifically, the consumers who interact with Plaid through our clients. We’re thinking about the kinds of things they need and what we can build to serve those needs. We’re working every day toward a stronger relationship with them. It's a fun and exciting problem to work on.
What do you like about your job?
I really enjoy products that interface with end users. I like thinking about what makes sense for them and knowing that a product I work on might have lasting impact on a person’s life. I also love puzzles, be it a brain teaser or even something as simple as a jigsaw puzzle. The way I see it, my job lets me solve puzzles all day.
How common is remote work at Plaid?
People work remotely across many teams mostly on a case-by-case basis, but the Consumer Experience team is special because it is intentionally remote. Our manager has a vision for building out a remote team; we are actively hiring remote engineers, and we are supported by all of engineering to do remote work.
How does being a remote team make you stronger?
Talent is not just in the cities where Plaid has its offices. I think it is really special that Plaid recognizes that talent exists everywhere. This understanding has been instrumental in helping grow our team. Our remote team gives engineers the opportunity to maintain their personal lives away from our headquarters in San Francisco. Being remote also brings a lot more diversity to our team in terms of what our engineers see every day. We acquaint with people who have a totally different point of view than people in the Bay Area, for example. That experience helps us think more insightfully about the end user.
What’s the best part of working remotely?
I get to live where I want to live. I also appreciate the time difference. I live on the East Coast, and most of the people I work with are on the West Coast. And so, the first three hours of every morning are utterly silent. You don’t always get that if you work in an office. Especially now that I’ve been here a year, and I am working with more people and there are more meetings on my calendar, I really appreciate the time that I have every morning to put my head down and focus.
Describe Plaid in one word.
Thoughtful. Everything from giving us space to talk about how we can make things better to the way that the company approaches remote working arrangements is thoughtful.
Can you think of an example of Plaid being especially thoughtful?
Once, my colleagues in San Francisco were playing a board game, and I really wanted to join in. Someone carried me around on a laptop, so I could play. It made me feel special that someone spent their night making sure I was included.
What were you like as a child, and how did it get you to where you are today?
I spent a lot of time doing math. I was always pretty good at it, but I don't know if I really loved it until tenth grade, when I did really well at a national math competition. Up until then, I was always competitive about it, and I would obsessively practice, but it hadn’t yet translated to enjoyment. That was a turning point for me. I realized math might be the thing I want to do for the rest of my life. It’s not what I'm doing now, but it is what I went to college for. I guess solving math problems is a lot like solving puzzles, which is probably why I enjoy it so much.
Where did you go to college?
The two schools I was interested in were MIT and Caltech. I wanted to go to a larger school because while I knew I wanted to study math, I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with it once I graduated. I figured a bigger school would give me more resources and opportunities to explore. I landed on MIT, and I'm very glad I made that choice.
I don't think I would have pursued computer science if I had gone anywhere else. I was very set on math. As a child, I watched both of my parents, who are hardware engineers, working in front of a computer, coding all the time. I was convinced that was not what I wanted to do. It wasn't until I got to MIT and started working in the research labs that my thinking started to shift. As part of a research position I took, I had to learn to code, and then I started noticing that all my friends who were studying computer science were getting internships with skills that I had, but I wasn't having as much success with internship offers. I thought I might as well study computer science too, and I ended up really liking it.
Where did you work after you graduated?
During my senior year, I was at the MIT career fair talking to the recruiters from Snapchat. I told them I wanted an internship there. I ended up getting a full-time offer, and I thought why not? Worst case scenario: I absolutely hate it, and I quit and return to MIT to get my master's degree. But I loved it, so I stayed.
What was your role at Snapchat?
My first year, I was a backend engineer for the Payments team. I was the third member on that team, and it grew to be around 15 people. That was a really exciting opportunity because I got to see all these systems built at scale from the ground up. I gained a lot of skills and contributed a lot of code. I also had the room to make mistakes and learn from them because the team was so new. It gave me the opportunity to own a lot of stuff right out of school, which was very special to me.
Where did you go from there?
After a year on the Payments team, I wanted to try something new. I wanted to work on the product, because I always had this itch to work on something that's related to consumers. So, I moved to a Snapchat team called Product Experience. We ended up redesigning the profiles on Snapchat. I worked on that for almost nine months as an iOS developer.
Why did you leave Snapchat?
At the time, I was interested in working remotely. I was living in Los Angeles, and my boyfriend is a PhD student at UNC Chapel Hill, and I wanted to close the distance between us. I also started to think that the iOS work I was doing at Snapchat wasn’t what I wanted to continue doing. I enjoyed the work, but I didn’t feel like I had as much ownership over the product as I would have liked. Ownership is a big deal to me, and I wanted something more.
Planning here is very bottom up. That gives engineers a lot of ownership over what we do. I have a lot of ownership over the products I work on, and I feel like I have a lot of capability to change the course of product as a result of our planning process. That really sold me on Plaid.
How often do you travel back and forth between Chapel Hill and headquarters?
There are no stipulations. I generally try to make it to San Francisco once a quarter. Especially as the company grows, I want to be able to meet in person all the new people that are joining.
Do you have any tips for staying productive when you work from home?
Having a separate, designated workspace is very important. Now, I use a second bedroom as my office, but that wasn’t always the case. When I first moved to Chapel Hill, I was working in the living room. My desk was facing the rest of the room, which ended up being quite distracting. When I moved my desk to face the wall, my productivity went up. Now that I have my own room, it’s even better. But I also think I am generally pretty disciplined. I typically don't have too much trouble with staying on track. As soon as I get into the flow, I can stay in the flow for a long time. The bigger problem I have is knowing when to cut off the workday.
What keeps you busy when you do manage to call it a night?
I draw a lot. I spend a lot of time bullet journaling. I'll put on a podcast or the TV and listen to something while I do it. It's relaxing. Sometimes, I'll spend an hour on a single page. It's a nice creative outlet for me. I think it activates a different part of my brain, and that makes it soothing.
What do you do for fun?
I go to the thrift store and buy 1000-piece jigsaw puzzles, and sometimes I will pull out some competition math problems. My brother is also really into math. That's something that we share. If we come across any fun brain teasers, we'll send them to each other.
What would you do if you weren’t an engineer?
I really love teaching. If I weren’t an engineer, I’d definitely be a high school math teacher. It’s crazy to think how much some of my teachers have shaped me, and I really want to have that kind of impact on others.