Azarias Reda has been named one of Time Magazine’s “12 New Faces of Black Leadership” and the CTO of a major political party, so it might surprise you to learn that he once intended to remain in academia.
“I studied computer science in graduate school and initially thought about being a professor doing research,” he said. As he started interning he saw firsthand the immediate impact of industry, and his interest moved toward startups, two factors that have defined his career over the last decade. Today, Azarias leads Uber’s Experimentation API team responsible for testing out all of Uber’s new ideas, bringing what’s new from teams across the company to life.
Making the move to Uber
Company size and agility were the two key factors in Azarias’ decision to join Uber. Having spent the previous decade moving between startups, political campaigns, and large organizations, he was intent on joining a company just the right size. “Uber is public, but still feels like a startup,” Azarias shared. “It’s not too big, where you’re drawn out by lots of processes and bureaucracy, and you can make change if you really care about something, but not too small that you have to create everything from scratch.”
The ability for people around the world to earn with the Uber platform was also a decisive factor. “I know many relatives and friends whose life has been transformed by the flexible earning opportunities on the Uber platform, and I wanted to contribute to that. Broadly speaking, earners are incredibly diverse and I thought this was a place where I could have positive social impact in my community. Social responsibility is top of mind for me — and I know it is for many candidates of color. I really like that I can draw a direct line between what we do here, and financial empowerment and positive social change in communities of color.”
Finally, the chance to merge passions across data and engineering also played a key role. Working in experimentation, he’s able to blend his skills as a former CDO, CTO, data engineer, and core engineer. Experimentation is where these all come together. The opportunities and challenges the position offered were too interesting to pass up, and Azarias joined Uber in November 2020.
Bringing what’s new across Uber to life
Azarias and the experimentation team work hand-in-hand with teams across the world to support the underlying infrastructure that helps test any new feature on Uber’s mobility, delivery, and freight apps. As teams come up with ideas for new products and improvements, they bring them to life through a data-driven test-and-learn approach.
“We release the change to a small population, and then we measure whether it impacts any of the metrics we targeted. If we find out the change is positive, we start to roll it to more and more people.”
The team provides mobile engineering support for tooling and backend engineering that support processes such as ensuring that users are randomized correctly and data is collected for analysis. One of the big challenges today with experimentation is around guaranteeing correctness, especially for small changes to ensure confidence in results. Was that change the cause of new behavior? Did other experiments get in the way? “It all comes down to how accurately you can detect small changes within consumer behavior,” he says. Equally challenging is rolling out the experiment reliably across all users so that it works the same when applied to everyone rather than just the test population. The team has completely rearchitected Uber’s experimentation platform over the last year.
They also play a key role in standardizing metrics across Uber to help everyone speak the same language across lines of business. Are we using the term “Gross Bookings” to mean the exact same thing? Previously defined by teams across Uber individually, the product intelligence team helps to standardize these core business metrics, which are essential to reporting data on the latest tests.
Keeping connected while working remotely
Working so closely on complex and interconnected projects, remote work offers its fair share of challenges and opportunities. “You can’t just catch someone as they walk down the hallway and discuss a problem,” he says, so the team has leaned into more structured and recurring collaboration sessions. “It requires more discipline because the team works at the times that are most productive for them.”
Azarias also takes a proactive approach to keep the culture of the team alive. To help, they keep fun and informational connections on the agenda with regular virtual get togethers. “One of the biggest things people get out of working anywhere are the relationships that they can count on for the rest of their lives.”
On when he’s most proud as a manager
“As an engineering manager, I get to work with people who are smarter than me and have domain expertise,” he says. He shares that it’s all about finding out how you can be most helpful to someone who is already accomplished, and support their career path. He provides feedback and helps them achieve their goals. The way Azarias thinks about it, people spend a lot of their life at work and it’s his responsibility to help them be happy, balancing the desire for results with helping the team grow. When that happens, he is at his most proud.
What he looks for in anyone joining the team
“We have a very good way of assessing competencies––design, architecture, engineering, collaboration––that we believe would be a good match for any role. We also value citizenship and truth seeking; someone who is willing to stand up and challenge the status quo. Push even when it isn’t the most popular idea.”
Uber is unique, and that means we have one-of-a-kind challenges and opportunities. We’re able to quickly pivot and take on new businesses, but only because our team is agile and can take on new challenges and problems fast. “When I interview candidates, I look for technical acumen, problem-solving skills at pace, and passion for our technical and business problems.”
He notes that it’s important to be open to people from anywhere, and not base any decision on what school a candidate went to or at which company they worked previously. “We have an open pipeline that treats everyone fairly and identifies if you have the right skills, rather than if you check boxes.”
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