Back in March 2015, when Plaid had just a few dozen employees, we realized that even though we were laser-focused on getting Plaid off the ground, some of our best ideas might be unleashed if we gave ourselves a break from day-to-day work to focus on other projects. We called it Plaiderdays.
Since then, our take on an internal hackathon has grown into a thrice-yearly tradition that brings the entire company together. Some of our most-loved traditions and most helpful tools have come out of Plaiderdays: We’ve built onboarding tutorials for teammates outside Engineering, an internal store for swag, and a neural network-based transaction categorizer. The only rule is that what we build has to benefit Plaid in some way. We just wrapped up another iteration of Plaiderdays, so we thought we’d pull back the curtain on some of the fun we had.
Plaiderdays always kicks off early on a Wednesday morning and lasts through presentations on Friday, when the team votes on who will take home the top prize, the coveted Honorable Golden Platypus Award. We have events, meals, and surprises throughout the week, culminating in a post-Plaiderdays party. Each Plaiderdays also has a theme—our most recent was "Into a Brave New World."
Several teams thought of ways to use Plaid’s technology to help communities traditionally underserved by the finance industry. One team, which included Baker from our Product team, Stephen from Engineering, and Vincent from Support, investigated data integrations with food stamps programs that would enable developers to build for free on financial data from electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card usage, creating the potential for apps that might help recipients use these benefits more effectively.
Another cross-functional team approached this theme from another angle: the student lending market. Em from our Business Development team, Nithya from Growth, and Kate from Sales gathered market data and interviewed potential clients to determine interest in a potential new lending vertical. Their teammates, Kris and Richard, both engineers, worked on building integrations to student loan services. The team was inspired by the opportunity to democratize information in a $1.4 trillion industry that is traditionally opaque and difficult for student borrowers to navigate.
Other teams tackled internal improvements to make our workflow and codebase more efficient and scalable. One group of engineers worked together on a plugin for the compiler for TypeScript, one of the programming languages Plaid uses internally. The goal was to add runtime type-checking of data from external sources, making Plaid’s services more reliable. But this project also presented a potential opportunity to release the result as open source and improve the TypeScript ecosystem. The project, which involved a deep dive into the internals of the TypeScript compiler, also provided some good learnings about the language’s inner workings, allowing the team to scratch an intellectual itch while still building something useful.
Some groups focused on making Plaid a better place to work; two of Plaid’s designers—Nick and Smitty—unveiled a stunning in-office installation, an artistic interpretation of the Plaid API. Plaids across our People, Go-to-Market, and Engineering teams developed a Plaid House system à la Hogwarts to encourage bonding and collaboration across job functions, sorting team members into houses like the Houndstooth Hedgehogs and the Tartan Terriers. And some teams proposed ideas for new products, including new data intelligence products, security features, billing tools, and even interactive API docs to make it easier for developers to get started with Plaid.
Plaiderdays always ends in presentations, as each team presents its work to the company and answers questions in a lightning-talk format. This round’s final group closed out Plaiderdays with a bang with a surprise live performance of Plaiderday Night Live. The “PNL” team playfully roasted colleagues—especially our co-founders Zach and William—with skits and a singalong, helping transition us from 3 days of hacking to the afterparty.
In the weeks since Plaiderdays, many teams have shipped their projects (including the very CMS on which this blog post was written!), and we can’t wait to see what other Plaiderdays projects become fixtures of life at Plaid.
We hope this post gave you a sense of how Plaid does hack weeks. For a deeper dive into what it’s like to participate, check out this post by one of our engineers.