Culture, Engineering

Global Tech in the Great Outdoors: Meet Uber’s Boulder Tech Office

November 21, 2019 / Global

With Rocky Mountain views, Thursday morning hikes, and 300 days of sunshine a year, Uber’s Boulder tech office combines relaxed Colorado living with large-scale impact. Our office is home to engineers, product managers, program managers, and data scientists. 

We work across several different business lines at Uber, including Maps, Infrastructure, Mobile, New Mobility, Globally Scaled Solutions (JUMP bikes and scooters), Freight, and ATG (Advanced Technologies Group, which works on self-driving cars). In addition to enhancing features for our rider and driver app features, we test bikes and scooters, process geospatial data, design large-scale distributed systems, and improve maps for autonomous vehicles. 

Befitting the Colorado lifestyle, our team loves to be outdoors. When we aren’t coding self-driving car systems or helping bring scooters to the streets, we enjoy hiking, skiing, camping, and rock climbing. The Boulder office also hosts meetups with different groups from the Colorado tech space to share engineering best practices and get to know our colleagues in the area. We regularly volunteer to help restore our local nature reserves and teach English to English Second Language (ESL) members of the local community. 

We recently sat down with members of the Boulder tech office to learn why they got into their fields, what drives them, and how they’ve enjoyed working at Uber: 

Alex Kelso, Program Manager, New Mobility

Alex KelsoWhat did you do before coming to Uber?

I was a bit of a nomad before working at Uber. After I graduated college, I led bicycle tours around Maine, taught English in a rural area of Spain, and biked across the U.S. In 2013, before I embarked on my cross-country trip, I stayed with a friend who worked at a tech company in San Francisco. He gave me a tour of the office and told me about working in tech. The office atmosphere, hustle, and buzz blew my mind. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do next. My friend then recommended I check out what was, at the time, a small, up-and-coming company called Uber. I got back to the East Coast two months later and applied to Uber. The rest is history.

Why did you choose to join Uber?

I joined Uber for the endless puzzle solving and fast-paced, innovative culture that defines the company. For example, my interview team was so swamped with drivers coming to get signed up that my interview turned into uploading driver documents, helping them submit background checks, and teaching them about the platform. It was nerve-racking and exhausting, but I felt a great sense of accomplishment at the end of that day. It became clear to me that Uber was a workplace where staying an extra hour could not only move the needle in next week’s metrics, but have an immediate tangible impact on folks’ lives. That felt like a pretty rare career experience.

You’ve been at Uber for six years. What has kept you at the company?  

Opportunities abound here. Watching a full company lifecycle–from when my parents asked “What’s a nUber (a new Uber employee)?” to becoming regular users–is a pretty rare career experience. The company has taken care of me, continuing to deliver an abundance of engaging career opportunities. Working at Uber is an ongoing learning experience. 

What projects are you currently working on?

I work on a small team leading JUMP community operations for the United States and Canada. Our goal is to figure out how to scale quality support from hundreds of thousands of trips to millions of trips.

As our Community Operations Director says, “We’re the eyes and ears of the company.” Since we directly interact with our customers, I think we’re the mouth as well, which I guess would make our team the face of Uber. We establish our product support policies, curate how users interact with us when they need support, quantify product and operations feedback from the front lines, and find ways to reduce negative user experiences. We hope to provide Uber with a strategic advantage and contribute to a positive ROI for the JUMP program. 

You transferred from the San Francisco office to our Boulder site. Why did you decide to make that move and how has the transition been?

The move to Colorado felt right at this point in my wife’s career, my career, and our personal lives. My wife made the courageous decision to go back to school. I needed a change of pace. We always felt the culture of Colorado was a perfect fit for our personalities. All arrows seemed to be pointing to Boulder.

I moved to the Boulder tech office sight unseen. Prior to moving, I had heard that the office has a strong, active culture composed of diverse teams and is respectful of employees’ personal responsibilities. So far, that description has been very accurate. The office management team works hard to create a collaborative culture. There are seemingly always talks, demos, game nights, social events, or even ping pong games going on. The relaxed, welcoming, cooperative atmosphere has helped make my transition to Boulder smooth. 

John Lansing, Senior Software Engineer, Maps Display 

John LansingTell us about your background and how you got involved in tech.

Growing up, I was very interested in technology, especially video games and computers. I was fortunate that my high school offered BASIC and C++ programming courses. I took both classes and fell in love with the puzzle-solving aspect of coding. It felt like magic. My incredible teacher and the overall experience of learning how to program had a lasting impact on me. I decided to study computer science at CU Boulder and have since gone on to a fulfilling, rewarding career in tech. My first job out of school was working on a Microsoft WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation)-based presentation application. After the iPhone came out, I decided to make the switch to iOS development. I have been largely focused on mobile development since then, and have also gotten into Android development over the last three years.

What do you like about working at Uber?

First and foremost, the people who work at Uber are incredibly smart and hard-working. I rarely leave work for the day without having learned something new or having had my assumptions challenged. I think that’s largely thanks to my coworkers and teammates. As a result, I’m always growing as a person and as an engineer. That process can be uncomfortable and stressful at times, but in the long run, I’ve learned and achieved a lot. 

Secondly, I enjoy being able to have an impact on the real world. A large percentage of the software industry is focused on serving ads or providing entertainment. At Uber, I get to write code that literally helps people move around the globe and live their lives. Last year, our team worked on a project called Drive the Vote for the 2018 U.S. midterm elections. We helped thousands of people get to their polling locations so they could cast their ballots. I don’t know of many places where I could get paid to have an opportunity like that.

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

Most people might not realize how much continuing education you need to do as a software engineer. Many assume that you go to school (or maybe a specialized training program), learn how to code, and then you’re off to the races. You certainly need training to start out in this field, but the reality is you won’t make it very far unless you continue your development. 

Tech is constantly changing. A new technology or programming language may come out that the industry adopts. Your business may decide to switch from a homegrown to an open-source technology stack. You also have to learn domain knowledge based on which project you are working on. For example, you may need to learn about turn-by-turn navigation, 3D modeling, or even public speaking so you can give presentations on your programming work. Furthermore, being able to communicate with your customers on their level and translate their needs into a technical solution is its own type of challenge that often requires a significant amount of non-technical learning.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

I naturally tend to overwork myself, but there are a few strategies I use to balance my life. The first is to have clear and somewhat detailed priorities. If you just say, “family comes first,” that’s great, but it doesn’t help you decide when to leave work for the day. If, however, you say having dinner with your family is important to you, then you know when you need to wrap up your day to make that happen. It’s also important to re-evaluate your priorities on a continual basis, since your needs can change.

Another seemingly obvious thing that can actually be really helpful is just taking care of yourself. Making sure you are exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, and remembering to take the time to have fun can have a profound impact on your energy level and productivity. If I’m really struggling with a problem, I have found it’s often better to take a break and go for a walk, or make sure I get a full night’s rest, rather than staying up all night to try and solve it. Leveraging proper self-care always improves not only my work/life balance, but also my productivity.  

On the work side of things, I strive to avoid overcommitting. This can be challenging, especially when you’re pursuing your career. Unfortunately, you often have to experience what overcommitting feels like before you recognize it, and even then, it still happens. I try not to get discouraged when I overcommit and become overwhelmed. Instead, I just remember to be mindful of it for the next time. 

Christine Yost, Software Engineer, MapLogic

Christine YostTell us about your background and how you got involved in tech.

I first learned about coding when I signed up for a computer programming class as a sophomore in high school. I didn’t fully realize what computer programming even was at first, but I loved the course and continued taking programming classes through the rest of high school. I was very lucky to be introduced to programming at a pretty young age. I don’t think I’d be where I am today if I hadn’t taken that first course. 

Because of that experience, I’m excited to be volunteering with TEALS (Technology Education and Literacy in Schools), a Microsoft Philanthropies program that pairs coding volunteers with high schools that do not have computer science programs available for their students. Through this program, I teach computer science to high school students who might not have the opportunity to study programming otherwise.

What projects are you currently working on?

I work on Uber’s MapLogic team, which is responsible for providing continuously updated, publishable, high-quality map data to enhance our maps.

What makes the Boulder office special?

Both the people at the office and its location make it a great place to work. Everyone is so friendly that it’s easy to start a conversation with anyone in the office. In addition, since the office is located in beautiful Boulder, a lot of people have similar interests outside of work, like skiing, hiking, and camping. It’s nice to get recommendations from coworkers about what gear to buy and where to go on our next adventure. We also enjoy getting together outside of the office for outdoor activities like morning hikes before work, whitewater rafting, and tubing.  

Chrisil Arackaparambil, Software Engineer, MapDeploy

Chrisil ArackaparambilWhy did you choose to join Uber?

Uber is a recognized brand name and a business with a lot of potential. I wanted to grow with Uber and help transform transportation. In addition, Uber Engineering is a tight workforce, so there is more potential for each individual to make an impact. And the nature and size of the business means that there are a wide variety of teams and projects to work on.

What makes the Boulder office special?

The Boulder office is a small community, so I’ve really gotten to know my coworkers and the areas of focus for their work. Despite being a tight-knit office, there is always sufficient (and growing) diversity in the types of projects I can do. The Boulder office provides a warm, welcoming community, along with exciting opportunities. 

Ted Dame, Senior Engineering Manager and Site Lead, Boulder Office

Ted DameWhat do you like about working at Uber?

When I think about my experience working at Uber, the two biggest things that stand out are the mission and the people. 

Lots of companies talk about how they want to change the world for the better, and while a few might, most do not. I’ve seen firsthand Uber’s positive impact for millions of people around the world every day. Uber has fundamentally changed the transportation industry by offering many options to riders at the touch of a button. I really enjoy being part of something that can have such a significant impact on the world. 

I’m also excited about the scale of our work, which challenges me to think differently about how to solve problems. Some of the work requires processing billions of objects and petabytes of data, and to do that, you have to really think ahead. You can’t rely on brute force to just make another copy, or reprocess it all, since that could take weeks or months. 

In addition, I have never worked with a group that is as passionate as my coworkers at Uber; they are excited to work on complex technical challenges. Whether it’s processing billions of images or building back-end mapping systems that spread across thousands of machines, the team knows how to think about scale and how to balance short-term and long-term needs. 

I’ve also been impressed with how willing my team is to change, and how rapidly they adapt when they need to. We are constantly growing our site and adding new projects. Our engineers are always up for new challenges and regularly volunteer to help out. Uber is an exciting place to work because I’ve seen for myself that real change is possible here, starting with my team and rippling out into the areas we work in.

Tell us how you got involved in tech and why you’re passionate about this field.

I’ve been working with computers and technology since I got my first computer at age nine. I have always found a certain kind of magic in creating something in my mind and seeing it come to life through code. My passion for creating through programming has continued throughout decades of my life as I grew up, went to college to study computer science, and pursued my career in tech.  

I’m also in awe of how engineers can apply technology to all sorts of different problems. I’ve been able to observe this firsthand throughout my career. From computer systems for the insurance industry to email servers, mobile phones, maps, and transportation, I’ve seen technology unlock many doors. 

As my career has progressed and I’ve gotten more involved in leading teams, I’ve also gained a great appreciation for the importance of getting the human systems right to properly support the technology we build. It’s amazing when the human and technological aspects of programming come together to deliver innovative solutions.

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

I’m not sure everyone has a good grasp of how diverse my duties are. As an engineering manager, I get involved in the technical details of our projects, but I also manage our team, plan our schedules, travel to HQ, and more. In my role as site lead, I’m responsible for morale, site growth, recruiting, and sometimes even picking out floor tiles for the office.  

This variety of tasks makes my professional life interesting, but it can be a bit tough to find a good rhythm in my day-to-day routine. To help with that, I color code my calendar by different types of meetings (e.g. green for 1:1s, orange for recruiting, etc). In doing so, I can see my day at a glance and get an idea of where my energy needs to be spent, which helps me feel prepared. Other days, I just have to roll with my assortment of responsibilities and try to get as much as I can done across the different areas of my work.

What makes the Boulder office special?

The Boulder office captures an ideal intersection of Uber culture and Colorado culture. Our team members here are passionate about the work we do inside the building, but we appreciate all of the extracurricular opportunities outside of the building, too. This mix helps facilitate a good work/life balance for our teams. The size of the office also helps give it a special feel. It’s big enough that we can tackle tough challenges, but small enough that I feel like I’m part of a community, not just a cog in a much bigger machine. Working in a smaller office allows people to connect better to each other because they actually know each other.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

I’m passionate about the work that I do and am motivated to solve the complex problems we address here at Uber. At the same time, I have other interests and responsibilities outside of work that I’m just as excited about. In order for me to be the best I can be in both of those realms, I need to achieve balance. For this reason, I make it a priority to set clear boundaries between the two and strive to be totally present in whichever side of my life I am currently in. 

When I am in the office, I am going to be focused on work, and when I’m not at work, I focus on my personal life. Of course, there are exceptional times when I need to lean in to reach an important professional goal, but in the long run, I also have to give sufficient attention to my personal life so I can do my best work. Ultimately, I strive to enjoy the best of both worlds. 

Olivia Skari, Program Manager,  Hardware Support

Olivia SkariWhat did you do before coming to Uber? 

I was an IoT (Internet of Things, as in internet-connected devices) product manager and product owner at a small start-up in the Denver area. I worked on an industrial automation product, an IoT developer platform, and a vineyard irrigation automation system. 

Tell us about your background and how you got involved in tech.

I took a non-traditional route into tech. I’ve always been interested in technology and took a few computer science classes in high school, but at that time, I didn’t consider making programming my career. I majored in accounting, then worked in agriculture operations management for a few years after college. While working in agriculture, I became interested in the growth of tech in our everyday world. One day, I decided to take a bold step and email the CEO of FarmLogs, a Y Combinator-funded agricultural technology startup I was interested in working for. They hired me as a project manager, so I had the opportunity to work in many different facets of the business. I learned a lot about the tech industry and never looked back. 

What projects are you currently working on?

I manage global hardware support for seven different projects across Uber. If you’ve ever taken a JUMP bike or scooter ride, booked an airport ride through an Uber Kiosk at Toronto Pearson International Airport, or charged a scooter as a JUMP Starter, you’ve interacted with my team’s work.  

What do you like about working at Uber?

I always have a variety of interesting projects to work on, my work has a true impact for our riders and drivers, I have excellent benefits, and I work with great people. I also enjoy the fact that Uber is a global company, meaning that I get to work with teams from diverse backgrounds and countries. In any given day, I might talk to our teams in Hong Kong and Japan about Taxi Meter, our hardware device that makes booking a taxi easier, follow that with a JUMP meeting with people from three different countries, and then talk to agents in the Costa Rica call center supporting Uber Kiosk.

How does your work impact Uber?

If I do my job well, you’ll never know about it. I manage hardware and firmware support for a variety of products. This means that I help engineering and product teams to identify and fix any software and firmware glitches before they cause problems with our products. Since I help facilitate JUMP, other New Mobility products, and ridesharing services at Uber, my work has a global impact. Someone renting a JUMP bike in New York City, hailing a taxi through the Uber app in Osaka, or looking for quick support at the Daly City, California Greenlight Hub (a support center for driver-partners) would benefit from my efforts. 

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

I am very hands-on and have helped with many hardware product launches across Uber and throughout the world. One of my most memorable lanches was setting up JUMP Scooters in Santa Monica. I even drove around the city in a van and put scooters on the streets for our riders to rent. I’ve also installed hardware at a garage in Osaka and charged hundreds of scooters (I’m a JUMP Starter!), so if you ever need tips for carrying scooters around, I have various lifting techniques to share. 

What makes the Boulder office special?

The dogs at the office! In all seriousness, I love working here because all of my coworkers are very friendly, we have a beautiful office space, my favorite kombucha is on tap, and there’s never a dull moment. Since we’re located in Colorado, there are always people from the office enjoying the great outdoors. This past ski season, someone even set up a wax station in our bike room! In the last year, my team has gone skiing in Vail, whitewater rafting in Idaho Springs, and JUMP bike riding in Denver. I also enjoy our special office events, such as family day, movie night, board game night, and even office LEGO-building sessions. 

Vladimir Lyapunov, Senior Software Engineer, Uber ATG

Vladimir LyapunovWhat do you work on at Uber? 

I’m a software engineer in the Uber Advanced Technology Group. My team works on improving quality and coverage of the maps used by our autonomous vehicles.

What makes Uber’s Boulder office special?

The Boulder office is awesome for several reasons. First of all, I have the privilege of working with many brilliant people every day. Second, I love hanging out outdoors. Boulder is the perfect spot for anything from hiking to rock climbing to whitewater rafting. I have many opportunities to live my life to the fullest in Colorado. Finally, I love the local culture and attitude of Boulder. I’ve lived in many different cities in several countries, and I’ve never seen more smiles per day than here in Boulder. People often move to Colorado because they want a more laid-back, outdoor-focused lifestyle, and it definitely delivers. 

How do you achieve work/life balance?

Like most people, I sometimes have trouble mentally switching from one activity to another. This means that I might not end up being fully present with what I’m doing, since I’m still focused on something else that happened earlier. In order to combat this issue and achieve a good work/life balance, I try to get creative and switch things up with my friends and family. This might involve playing a new board game, cooking some extravagant meals, or simply doing something that requires my full attention. I also love being active and finding things that I enjoy doing, so I’m motivated and able to switch out of work mode when I need to. These strategies help me live a more full life. 

Interested in working at Uber from our Boulder, Colorado office? Consider applying for a role on one of our teams!

Header Image Credit: Adam J. Griff