Cedarians in Cafes Getting Coffee — with Taylor Hakes, Chief Architect
Grab your favorite cup of java (or in Taylor’s case, green juice) and check out the latest in our blog series celebrating Cedar’s diverse and amazing employees. As Cedar’s fourth hire in 2016 and poster child for learning-on-the-job, Taylor Hakes was recently promoted to Chief Architect and is helping to redefine engineering leadership as the company prepares for more growth ahead.
Hey, Taylor! Wait a minute — green juice over coffee?
Not really. Having this green juice at Dr. Smood is actually a first for me, but this juice bar is an interesting scene close to Cedar’s office here in Soho. I’m just not really a coffee or tea drinker. Give me straight up water any day.
I hear you were employee #4 at Cedar. What brought you to the company and what is the biggest change you have seen since you started?
I worked with one of Cedar’s co-founders, Arel Lidow, in a previous role and he invited me to dinner to share the concept of Cedar. While I hadn’t worked in healthcare before, the mission of the company and the chance to work with Arel again made the opportunity quite compelling.
For me, the biggest adjustment over the last few years is the pace at which we are adding on new talent to meet our product innovation goals. Certain processes — like shouting across your desk to ask your peers a question or brainstorm ideas — worked pretty well with four people, but with a company of 70+ we have to apply different ways to work efficiently and keep learning from each other. For example, our regular release update emails and lunch demos are a great way to keep everyone informed of our progress and gather feedback.
Cedar does quick growth better than I’ve seen at other companies, and I think that’s because our leadership has extensive experience in startup culture and what’s needed to succeed in healthcare tech, specifically. We don’t have to stumble over the mistakes we’ve already learned from in the past.
You had a few different engineering roles prior to Cedar. What aspects from your past have helped you succeed here?
In my previous roles, I was able to try out sole contributorship as well as leadership positions. They were all B2B or B2B2C startups: first AppNexus, then OrderGroove, then IEX Group. Yes, I was an engineer, but my roles were never clear cut. I wasn’t just writing code. I mentored junior engineers. I gave weekly tech talks. I introduced new processes for greater efficiency. It was a roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-it-done culture, where everyone worked as a team to find the best possible solution even if it wasn’t part of your job description. It’s that same spirit of resourcefulness and creativity that drew me to Cedar. I’m constantly learning from others and doing things I’ve never done before.
Speaking of new experiences, you were recently promoted from Engineering Lead to Chief Architect. Congrats! How has your role changed?
Thanks, this is a new role at Cedar and I am really excited to help shape it. As a tech lead I was responsible for an individual team and making sure everyone had the support they needed to do their job efficiently. Now I apply that learning on a much larger scale, looking at things holistically. How do we empower people to build better products? How do we think about building our products to make sure they will be relevant and just as powerful 10 years from now? How can we exchange knowledge better with other departments? How do we structure our team to support individual growth needs? I’m particularly excited about a new program we launched that allows engineers to build their own career track: management versus individual contributor. It gives people more options for how they want to grow at Cedar, without the pressure of being fixed into a traditional individual-to-manager path.
What do you think is something that makes Cedar’s culture unique?
We hold a variety of social events throughout the year, but the company-wide offsites are my favorite. They aren’t your typical corporate retreats where you’re doing team challenges all day and the like; they are unique opportunities to get far away from the office environment and really get to know people you don’t typically interact with. As we get bigger, this becomes more important.
Why should engineers consider Cedar over other organizations?
First off, Cedar is trying to solve a huge problem that affects nearly everyone in this country. Who hasn’t had a seriously frustrating issue with their healthcare prior to, during or after their care visit? Everyone at Cedar is passionate about building solutions that truly make a difference.
Secondly, a lot of companies have smart people. We also happen to be very friendly and open-minded. We embrace diverse approaches to solving problems. It’s refreshing.
Besides your preference for water over caffeine, what other factoid would people be surprised to know about you?
I don’t have an engineering background. I was an economics undergrad because I happened to be good at it. But, I really didn’t enjoy it. So after college, I moved home to work for my parents’ business and started building websites. I learn most of what I know on the job, always have. I guess I’m lucky that people are willing to take a chance on me.
[Author’s note: Taylor is a humble Yale grad with incredibly high self standards.]
Taylor heads up the Cedar engineering team and helped build its industry leading patient payment and engagement platform from the ground up. When he isn’t writing code and innovating change at the office, he’s on the green channeling his Yale golf team days.
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