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Meet the team: Uber Freight Technology

May 12, 2021 / Global

Posted by Jovanka Balac, Tech Program Manager

At Uber Freight, our mission is to simplify the movement of goods that help communities thrive. Our customers range from carriers, dispatchers, and shippers, to internal teams that use our platform and tools. 

We have a technology team of over 200 talented individuals based out of Boulder, Chicago, and San Francisco that are ready to take on the everyday and future challenges of the freight industry. This team of Engineers, Product Managers, Product Specialists, Program Managers, Data Scientists, Designers, and Researchers work daily to build innovative products that simplify the industry. 

In the future, Uber Freight aims to be a business-in-a-box. This means we will not only help customers find loads, but also help them with every logistical aspect of running a successful business; from starting their own trucking company, to booking any way they like, to providing them insights that grow their business.

We recently sat down with team members across our offices to learn what inspired them to enter their field, what drives them, and what they enjoy about working at Uber Freight.

Ted Dame
Engineering Manager and Boulder Site Lead | Colorado

You’ve worked for several large tech companies during your career. Why did you join Uber Freight? 

“During my time at Microsoft, I was part of 3 different major teams (Exchange Server, Windows Phone, Bing Maps), and in a number of different roles (Test, Dev, PM). Being able to experience different parts of the business was always interesting to me, and gave me opportunities to learn lots of different aspects of what it takes to build software. It also gave me a variety of experiences working on products that were in different parts of their lifecycle, and taught me how to adapt to the needs of the products and the team.

At Uber, I spent 4.5 years on the Maps team, and I enjoyed the problem space and the challenge of trying to map the real world. It’s definitely harder than you might think! As the site lead for the Boulder office, one of my goals has been to diversify the projects that the office works on.

In support of this goal, I began talking with Joseph Chang, Freight Director of Engineering, about opportunities to start up a Freight Engineering team in Boulder. It seemed like a good opportunity for the office, and the more I talked to Joe, the more interested I became in the business and all the possibilities for it to evolve and grow. Being part of something that’s early on in it’s journey is something that I enjoy and find very motivating. So I made the jump and joined the Uber Freight team, starting the “second act” of my career at Uber.

I have really enjoyed learning the business and building systems that can help it grow. Historically, the freight business is pretty manual and old school, so it’s exciting to think about ways that technology can help modernize it. Uber Freight, like many younger businesses, brings challenges in getting the tech stack and the data where it needs to be. It’s an exciting path that can really have an impact on the Uber Freight business, and also brings the opportunity to drive change into the larger freight industry.”

What’s something about your role that most people wouldn’t know?

“Data is a core asset of our business, and sometimes our approach leaves a lot of room for improvement. If data quality is bad, it makes it near impossible to build powerful automation on top of it. While my development team focuses on writing front-end and back-end systems and automation, I personally spend a lot of time working on improving the quality of the data that feeds into those systems. This translates into a lot of “quality time” with tools like SQL server and Excel looking at the data to get it in better shape for our systems. This allows me to keep hands on with the content of our databases, but also stay familiar with the systems that then use the data.

Some of the interesting challenges are finding patterns in the data and finding ways to improve it in a scalable way, as well as learning new tips and techniques to tackle the problems. There is lots of prior art out there on the subject, so the challenge is to find it and adapt it to suit your needs. And sometimes, it comes down to building a huge spreadsheet with tons of formulas to get the job done. I think the biggest spreadsheet I’ve worked on in the past few months has >2 million formulas. Excel isn’t always happy about it, but it gets the job done.”

Tony Zhang
Software Engineer | Chicago

Tell us about yourself. 

“I’m a Bay Area native that did a brief stint on the East Coast before deciding to hang up my winter coat and move back home. I’m an avid fan of biking, basketball, and all sorts of games. Outside of that, my ever-growing collection of kitchen appliances has also helped keep me busy during shelter-in-place this year.” 

What excites you about the work you do?

“I enjoy working on a product that has a tangible impact on something we interact with on a daily basis. We get things delivered to us every day, and there is an enormous amount of overhead that exists to keep the world moving. Having never worked in the logistics industry before, I never really took the time to think through all the ramifications of this problem space, and how impactful optimizing facets of this industry could be. Now I’ve definitely developed an affinity for the movement of goods, and what better place to start that journey than at Uber Freight?” 

What’s something about your role that most people wouldn’t know?

“Even though I’ve been at Uber Freight for 4 years, it has often felt like I’ve had 4 different jobs during that time. The challenges we were facing back then are vastly different from what we are trying to tackle nowadays, and this manifests itself in the type of work that I end up doing on a daily basis. I still find myself gravitating towards initiatives that instill some of that scrappiness from yesteryear, and I do appreciate the fact that I’m still able to find that here, even as the company has matured over the years.”

Joe Soulantis
Software Engineer | San Francisco 

What did you do before you joined Uber Freight?

“Before Freight, I worked on the new Uber Driver app with the Trip Experience team for almost 3 years as an iOS engineer. Some of the many projects I’ve worked on include PIN-entry pickup to combat fraud, taxi trips, Uber Beacon, and an open-source, reactive iOS Bluetooth library called RxCBCentral.”

You joined Uber Freight from Rides. How are the two teams different? 

“Freight is certainly a part of Uber (our numbers are lumped into the company’s earnings reports, after all), but in many ways Freight is its own separate entity. We have a different business model and marketplace, separate from Eats, Rider and Driver. We have our own mission to simplify the movement of goods and impact local communities. We have our own culture, which resembles a smaller, scrappier startup, eager to disrupt an antiquated industry. We even raised our own dedicated $500M Series A from Greenbriar!” 

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Any highlights from your time on the Freight team? 

I work on the carrier mobile app, focusing on search, bidding, marketplace dynamics and committed capacity. I love that I get to work on things so fundamental to our business, which isn’t often the case for many engineers at large companies. The problem space is very interesting, there are a lot of problems to solve, and it’s very early days!

Freight also benefits a lot from being in the Uber ecosystem; we get to take advantage of existing, mature technological systems, but for brand new products or lines of business. It’s extremely exciting! There are tons of opportunities to take ownership and have massive impact for the company and our users.

Despite all the above, my favorite part of working in Freight has to be the people and the team. My colleagues encourage me to ask questions, empower me to propose new ideas, and push me to grow. Each person I’ve interacted with is sharper than the last. There are opportunities for me to expand my knowledge base, like working on back-end problems and taking courses on database fundamentals. And any person or problem is accessible if you are willing to step up and send a Slack message! 

I hope whoever reads this is inspired to try to join Freight and do their life’s work at Uber. And if you take the leap, please ping me! I love getting to know the new members of our small-ish family.”

Shuo Xie
Data Science Manager | San Francisco

Tell us about yourself.

“I lead the Carrier Data Science team at Uber Freight. My team works on building and optimizing all aspects of Carrier experience, from streamlining onboarding and connecting carriers with the most relevant load opportunities via our best-in-class Search and Recommendation algorithms, to providing smart, efficient help when carriers need it. 

I joined Uber Freight Data Science in Jan 2020 after 3+ years on Uber’s Rides Data Science team, where I learned how to be a good data scientist and data leader. Since then I’ve been really fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about the freight industry—the backbone of local, national and global economy—and to work on some of the most interesting and impactful data problems I could ever imagine. 

Outside of work, I enjoy hiking, doodling, thinking about social innovation, and shopping for bread. Say hi if you see me standing in line along with other bread fanatics whenever a new bakery opens up in the Bay Area!”

Which parts of Freight engineering culture do you enjoy the most?

“We envision big and start small. 

At Freight engineering, we aspire to build novel products and technologies to power revolutions in the industry—to resolve capacity challenges, improve operations efficiency and eliminate necessary routes and emissions.

The industry, with its decades of history, has much for us technologists to learn from and model after. At Freight, we take pride in building new tools, processes, and systems on top of what’s tried and true, and helping our carriers and shippers grow and succeed. 

While we have our eyes on the grand mission, we keep our feet on the ground during the execution. We grow and change with the industry, by building one great product at a time.”  

What’s something about your role that most people wouldn’t know?

“As Data Scientists and Analysts, we spend a large part of our time performing analysis and building models, but the work we do before the coding phase is equally as important and can often take more time. At the start of any data project, we talk to the domain experts and end users to develop the business understanding for the problems at hand. This helps us formulate the right questions and outline the data input and desired output, before we dive into solutions.”

Bryan Bailey
Software Engineer | Colorado

Tell us about yourself.

“I’m an engineer on the Freight team in Boulder, CO. I grew up in Boise, Idaho spending most of my time in the mountains. I pursued alpine ski racing at a high level, leading me to enroll at a ski academy in Minturn, Colorado for high school. Knowing that my body had less of a productive lifespan than my mind, I interned in Palo Alto on the Finance and Money team in the summer of 2018, and Uber was gracious enough to give me some time off after graduation before I started full time. Post-graduation I did a lot of traveling culminating in a 3-month solo sailing adventure you can read about here. With so much time in between my return offer acceptance and my start date, I really didn’t know where I was going to end up but had the choice between Boulder and SF. It was clear that my ski racing background and love for the mountains was a perfect fit for the Colorado team.” 

As a recent college graduate, what drew you to join Uber Freight?

“I toured the office in the summer of 2019 with the team lead, Ted Dame, where he told me about the available opportunities at the Boulder site. Meeting in a conference room after the site tour, Ted told me about his plan to transition to the Freight org as engineering manager of the small group spinning up at the office. His passion for the new project piqued my interest, all the more so because he had been the site lead of Maps at that office since before Uber had even acquired the team from Microsoft in 2015.”

What excites you about the work you do?

“What excited me most about the Freight org was its small size, relative to the rest of Uber; because it was still in its nascent stages, the engineering work to be done far outweighed the manpower able to get it done, meaning that I would be diving in headfirst into developing architecture in an evolving ecosystem. As anticipated, being a member of a small team in Boulder meant a sometimes overwhelming amount of responsibility as I took on projects that had large-scale effects on the Freight platform. But this is exactly what I love about being on the Freight Team—the size of the engineering team means that there is an accountability to lift high-impact, heavy engineering loads that scale to production, which is one of the core Freight Engineer values: envision big and start small

As a new hire, one of the scariest thoughts we have is being summoned to the outage channel because of a recent code change we made. I’m not ashamed to say that this has happened to me a non-trivial amount of times, and each time it has shown me the power of acting like an owner. Breaking eggs and omelettes aside, the support received from every member of the team when something goes awry is another amazing quality of the Freight culture. Growing through feedback has led to major strides, team- and org-wide, as we become enmeshed in each others’ services and have high-level discussions on system architecture, regardless of experience and eng level. 

When I joined the Boulder Freight team we were primarily focused on everything facility related: data management, API, compliant-address sourcing and geolocation for accurate pickup-dropoff, migration from the monorepo, among many more responsibilities. Our crew has since grown to encompass customer management and automated appointment scheduling, leaving me as the primary dev of the facility service. Through this tumultuous year, it is incredible to look back and see how much knowledge has been gained and reciprocal trust has grown within our team and Freight-wide. Coming to work makes me excited to contribute to a culture in any capacity where I know that I am valued and can have lasting impacts.” 

What’s it like to work on the team? 

“Director of Engineering Joe Chang espouses the principle of “painting behind the fridge.” This has been adopted into our team’s approach to projects where the day-to-day grind involves onerous data management, spreadsheet spelunking, refactoring and perf improvements, and rollbacks. But the beauty of this work is in our collective effort, finding joy in our craft whether fine-tuning sql scripts, managing DC node throughput, discussing API best-practices, or reconfiguring front-end workflows. I am sometimes daunted by the task Uber Freight has in revolutionizing a technophobic industry with automation and efficient technology. When it becomes too daunting, I like to remember one of Ted’s favorite sayings: “the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time”. I’m grateful and thrilled to be part of a team and organization that is so committed to this task, and so equitable in its approach.”

Tory Schober
Senior Engineering Manager | San Francisco

Tell us about yourself.

I am an Engineering Manager for Uber Freight in Chicago and have held this position since September of 2019. Previously I spent four years with Uber’s Marketplace team on the Rides side of the business. My primary focus over the past year has been building our Chicago Eng team and supporting our operations domain.”

What excites you about the work you do?

“My favorite part of working for Uber Freight is knowing that my team is making an impact each and every day. For engineering, this leads to higher quality and more meaningful work, especially when we are able to see how the products we build benefit our end users. I am truly proud of our tech team’s intense focus on the needs of the customer and carrier partners.”

Which parts of Freight engineering culture do you enjoy the most?

“One aspect of the culture that I find especially rewarding is reflected in our Engineering Value: We grow through feedback. The org has grown tremendously over the past few years and has evolved through successive phases to support the business and scale. This was made possible because of the entire team’s focus on growing and adapting through feedback. I’m thankful for this critical part of the culture and how it has produced such a tight-knit and productive team.”

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