Plaid People: Taylor Wilson
These days, Taylor Wilson is living out his dream job as a software engineer on the Integrations team at Plaid, but not before he pursued two other disparate career trajectories. In our latest Plaid People interview, he talks about his competing interests, the upside of trying your hand at everything, and why the old adage “third time’s a charm” isn’t without merit.
Photo by Austin Anderson
You spent your young adulthood in a few different industries. What prompted that process of self-discovery?
Three high school extracurriculars were my driving influence. I loved learning about the human body, so I became a certified first responder and participated in a group called Health Occupation Students of America (HOSA), which holds competitive tournaments around medical knowledge. My team placed first in the Utah state tournament and sixth in nationals. And then there was yearbook, which is where I developed my passion for photography. I also did theater, specifically the technical aspects of stage productions. And then aside from my extracurriculars, I was big into computers.
What fostered your love of computers?
It all started in the early 90s with Wolfenstein and Doom. I grew up playing a lot of PC video games, and I like to think that I was pretty good at it. What made it really fun, though, was that we had a network in our house that allowed me and my older brothers to all play against each other. This was long before Wi-Fi was a thing.
Cool! How did the network work?
I remember watching my dad set it up. He ran coaxial cables through the attic and dropped a line into every room where there was a computer. And then he ran a Novell server on an older, unused machine. We didn't have a monitor for it, so, when you turned it on, you had to count to 45 so the entire thing had time to boot, and then you had to enter a series of memorized commands to start up the server. It was a lot of fun!
How did you land on a college major?
I didn’t, at least not initially. When I got out of high school, I didn’t know if I wanted to go into theater or medicine or computer science. I thought if I made the wrong choice I'd end up stuck somewhere doing something that I didn't love. So, I decided not to make the decision at all. I whimsically went down a totally different path.
Where did that take you?
I randomly applied for a job at KSL-TV, which is the NBC affiliate in Salt Lake City. They brought me in for an interview, and, as a courtesy, they gave me a tour of the newsroom. On the tour, I remember realizing that television was exactly like technical theater, only with cameras and video. We got to this small room with a microphone, a speaker, several video tape machines, and monitors, and I realized what it was immediately. I said to the person interviewing me, “I know exactly what this is,” and then proceeded to describe how all the video during a newscast played clip-by-clip from those machines. The interviewer stopped, looked at me, and said, "I just hired someone two weeks ago who’s still trying to figure this out." And then he gave me the job.
How did your foray into television turn out?
It was amazing! Eventually, I became a full-time photographer, I got to go all over Utah to cover stories and meet all sorts of wonderful and interesting people. And then in 2008, I got to go to Beijing to cover the Olympics, which was a highlight.
But you eventually moved on to another field. Tell us about that.
A few years later, I found out about a job opening at the University of Utah's Department of Neurosurgery. They were looking for someone who could record video and take photos of surgical procedures. I thought it sounded like an awesome opportunity. I was already doing video, but this would be for medicine, which is a field I was always interested in. I got the job and was able to sit in on a lot of brain, spine, and peripheral nerve procedures. It was an great experience, and it gave me a glimpse of the medical industry.
I wanted to do something more challenging and rewarding than video production. Medicine was very appealing, but at that point in my life, I couldn’t see myself going to school for eight years followed by a residency. And the only thing I hadn’t tried yet was computer science. So, I went all out and focused entirely on that. I left my job and enrolled in a full-time, four-year computer science program at the University of Utah.
How did you eventually land on Plaid?
The interview process as a whole really sold me on Plaid. The technical challenges that I was presented were relevant to the work Plaid does. That gave me a good understanding of the type of work that I would be doing and whether or not I would like it. And everyone was super kind and welcoming and very genuine. They wanted to make sure that Plaid was a good fit for me and that I was a good fit for Plaid.
Do you like the work as much as you thought you would?
Definitely. On my first day of work at Plaid, I was talking with another engineer about how Plaid's instant account verification wasn't available for the institution that I bank with. He asked me where I banked, looked up some code, made some changes, and fixed the issue in just a matter of minutes. For me, it's really exciting to come in to work every day and be able to do that same thing for someone else—to make sure our products work well for everyone who uses an app powered by Plaid.
What do you do at Plaid?
My team builds the integrations that connect Plaid to financial institutions, and it's these integrations that allow us to power apps that provide peer-to-peer payments, investments in crypto, and organized spending. My specific role is to build out new integrations with unsupported financial institutions and improve the quality and health of our existing integrations.
What do you like most about coming to work?
It is the best group of people I've ever worked with. From the day I started, I have never felt so welcomed and included. Our Salt Lake City team recently had an offsite event at a ropes course, and I had forgotten how scared I am of heights. I really struggled to get through the first part of the course. But my team cheered me on the entire time. They genuinely wanted me to conquer my fears and have fun. And it's like that every day at Plaid. It's all about the team coming together and making sure that people feel welcomed and are enjoying themselves. I couldn't have asked for a better team.
What is the work/life balance like?
Plaid does a great job of respecting the fact that everyone has a life outside the office. The leadership here recognizes that I have a wife and two kids and that their happiness really contributes to my success at Plaid. So, as a company, we do a lot of activities that promote a family-friendly environment. We recently had a movie night. People came in with their families and partners, and we spent time eating food, watching a movie, and just hanging out. And it's those types of events that make me feel like not only am I part of Plaid, but Plaid's a part of me.
How has your eclectic background served you in your present role?
I know what it's like to work in different industries and at different companies. I never have to worry about whether the grass is greener on the other side. I can without a doubt say Plaid is the best place that I've ever worked and that this is the type of work that I enjoy doing more than anything I've done before.