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How Joe Chang merges passions as the Director of Engineering at Uber Freight

April 12 / Global

From Wall Street to Silicon Valley

Joe Chang has always been a techie at heart, but growing up in New York he couldn’t avoid getting caught up in the business-driven world.

“My high school was right by Wall Street, and Tech had not yet become ‘Big Tech,’ so if I wanted to continue to do stuff with computers, it was probably within some business-driven context. That was all I knew,” he shared.

As a kid, he never leaned heavily into Computer Science classes, but always hacked around on his Commodore 64 and IBM XT. His mother was in the mainframe space, so her investment into home computers helped define his interest. But at that time, being a programmer still meant answering someone else’s business goals. “Engineers played second fiddle to bankers and traders,” he says.

After graduating from Stanford, he was surprised to see a new industry developing where computer lovers could put their work front and center for the world to see: the World Wide Web. 

“I didn’t make the same career choices as my peers (who are now on their islands somewhere), but I was always glad to take on business problems that I could solve with code, sweat, and tears. That led to me living in New York, the Bay Area, San Francisco, and Austin over a 15-year span, working for a variety of companies big and small (suits and not!), and across Mac, Windows, Linux, Sun, and Mainframes.” 

Now 25 years in the industry, he’s grateful for living in the midst of the tech revolution, but always wondered how he may have altered his perspective growing up if he knew what computing would become. 

“Uber Freight, of course, is a product that requires the mix of business and tech, and so this position has been one that has challenged both sides of my identity.”

What led Joe to Uber Freight

“After intensive positions in big and small companies, startups and mid-stage, IT and software, I figured at some point I’d need to balance career goals with personal ones.”

He always wanted to use his software background, but also have an opportunity to shape a business. Doing another startup from scratch could be taking on risk that would be unfair to his wife and kids. After a stint at a bigger Silicon Valley company, he knew it wasn’t for him. What to do?

“Uber Freight came across as an excellent opportunity to address all those areas. This was an early-stage venture that could meet my desire for starting new things, but with enough backing and support to not have to worry about making payroll next week. And after my aforementioned staid corporate role, I was looking for a healthy dose of Silicon Valley excitement—Uber would provide plenty of that!”

Today, he’s Uber Freight’s Director of Engineering.

Why Uber Freight is different 

Freight differentiates itself within Uber because it is a startup idea that leverages all of Uber’s strengths, and yet is in a different (but adjacent) industry. Freight is an opportunity to use a lot of the Uber underpinnings (tech, scale, operations, brand), compete in an important area, and help the company expand its definition beyond consumer offerings.

“We represent a next opportunity for Uber to move into the enterprise/B2B space. Selling to companies means different economics than selling to individuals. But it’s up to us to prove the premise, and show how infusing tech into this decades-old industry results in the same network benefits we’ve seen elsewhere.”

Unlike Ridesharing, however, the Freight industry existed already before Uber arrived on the scene. Corporate systems have already seen investment, there was already a network of trucks and shippers with established relationships. Ridesharing was able to leapfrog all that because changing behavior meant downloading a new app, unlocking drivers, cars, and riders that weren’t on a single marketplace before. 

“For Freight, we don’t get to tell companies to start over with our applications: we need to meet them where they are, and slowly incentivize change as customers start to see the benefits of our modern-day software/algorithms within legacy systems. So we’re always honing the algorithms and applications to make sure they’re of value to our shippers and carriers. But we also invest heavily in the APIs and our integration capabilities to meet companies where they are. This will take time to get right, but when we do, it means reaping the same efficiencies that Ridesharing has provided (i.e., the right car for the right passenger), but at a macro scale, and the associated economics.”

Driving collaboration and growth while remote

Building corporate culture within a work-from-home environment has been enlightening for Joe. “We all know that reading through tons of emails and slacks is onerous. It’s hard to instill values through a screen and text alone. It takes action, and decisions that people can read into, to discern what is most important to an organization, and then collectively adopt them.”

But after 3 years at Uber Freight, he shares the team has arrived at a very collaborative and flexible Engineering culture. They’re open to helping one another, across teams, and not being tied to specific charters and strict swimlanes. “I don’t see as many division lines within Engineering anymore, and artificial walls have been broken down.”

Upstream, in the product and design areas, they also tried to break down those lines, “making sure we don’t ship org structures, but rather aligned products. How can our products complement one another, building upon each other to achieve our primary goals? I think our 2021 roadmap speaks to that: we’re rallying across all of our teams to be #OneFreight, and helping our partners achieve real-world value by working with us. Whether it’s scheduling, routing, predictive analytics, or operational excellence, we are acting as one, smartly leveraging our domains and strengths (across Freight and Uber) to solve the underlying problems in the freight industry with innovative software.”

If you’re interested in joining us, explore our open roles →