Culture, Engineering

Building the Future of Mobility from the Pacific Northwest: Meet the Uber Seattle Tech Team

February 18, 2020 / Global

Uber is changing the way cities move globally through our transportation and mobility solutions. Located blocks from the iconic Pike Place Market with views over Puget Sound, the Uber Seattle office, home to nearly 500 employees, furthers our core business objectives across product and platform teams through product, engineering, design, data science, and operations. 

The Uber Seattle tech teams build a diverse range of technologies, from rider and driver-partner workflows to developer tools and our data platform architecture. On any given day, engineers in our Core Infrastructure organization work on projects to make internal processes run more smoothly; our Rider team innovates solutions and leverages user research to improve the experience of riders and drivers globally at airports and large-scale events; our Vehicles team finds creative ways to get drivers access to cars; and our Design team members come up with workflows to make our services as intuitive to use as possible. And this is just the beginning.

We sat down with members of our Uber Seattle tech teams to learn more about their work:

Craig Campbell, Director of Technical Recruiting

Why did you decide to join Uber?

I joined Uber primarily for the build that I could see ahead. I was already a fan of the product and could see the amazing things the company had already done. As I learned more about recruiting at Uber, I was excited by the runway to build, iterate, innovate, and help the organization mature to the next phase of performance. I saw that I’d be able to call upon so many experiences from my background in recruiting that I don’t always get to leverage, and I was excited by the opportunity to do that at Uber.

What makes recruiting for engineering teams different than recruiting for other roles? 

There is so much nuance when recruiting for a role in engineering. Among other factors, you have to take into account an individual’s skill set, technical knowledge, and past projects; you’re rarely looking for a generic profile. Technical recruiting is also super competitive, and in my opinion, probably the most competitive in the talent market. And we’re not just competing with the big tech companies; companies in all sectors who have recognized that they need technical teams are going after great talent. That makes engineering recruiting not only unique but also highly competitive.

What about Uber is most exciting to candidates?

I think there are two primary things. The first is how Uber is continuing to innovate in, and diversify beyond, the ridesharing industry. We’re already integrating scooters, bikes, and public transportation into our product. In the future, we’ll be adding autonomous and flying vehicles. This is all much more feasible now than it ever has been, and Uber has activated much of the effort in this space. I also think people are very attracted to the mission and vision of the company. 

The second piece is the upside to having a role in and an impact on that mission. We have to remember that Uber is only ten years old. When you think about where other companies were at ten years old, Uber’s impact is incredible. Uber is still in the early stages of our history and is moving on an incredibly fast trajectory. Candidates want to be part of that. 

Mon-Chaio Lo, Senior Engineering Manager, Driver Compliance

How did you get interested in technology and engineering? 

I was always interested in science as a kid. For a lot of children growing up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, if you had an affinity for the sciences, technology was a natural path for you to take. I also had a computer at a young age, an old Intel 8088, but didn’t start coding until my first programming class in university. That was when my love for engineering was first kindled. 

Why did you choose to join Uber Engineering? 

The timing was right. 2017 was a challenging year for Uber, but that was what made joining the company exciting to me. When a company, project, or charter is going through a period of change, that is when you can have the most impact. The other thing that really sold me on Uber was the people I met during the interview process. I was genuinely excited to work with the technical leaders I talked to at the company. That’s not something that happens often, so it really sealed the deal.

What do you work on at Uber? 

My organization is in charge of building systems to ensure driver-partner compliance on the Uber platform. We make sure that every trip is compliant with all local, state, federal, and internal regulations. This begins with collecting documents that prove compliance, vetting the documents’ legitimacy, ensuring they are clear enough to be transcribed, and building the tooling that actually transcribes them. 

What has been your experience like working at Uber Seattle?

It has been very positive. I worked at a Seattle-based site for another large company, and I think Uber has positioned its Seattle office and other distributed sites for success. Uber Seattle supports multiple technical teams and charters, so if you’re looking for a new opportunity, you don’t have to relocate to San Francisco–you can shift within our office. For a remote site to be impactful, you have to trust the site and give the site leaders autonomy to manage their teams, letting them make independent decisions while still feeling integrated with the larger organization. In my opinion, Uber has done an excellent job balancing both features of a successful distributed office. Uber employees pride ourselves on building locally (and scaling globally). I think this feature of our work shows in the way we manage our remote sites. 

What do you look for in an engineer when hiring for your team? 

There are always the standard things that everyone looks for, like writing clean code and being able to communicate well. Outside of that, there are three things I look for when hiring members for my team. The first is pragmatic execution, being able to push things to completion and moving past blockers. Did you just send one email, or are you actively pinging someone for the answer and following up in-person when you don’t get a response? 

The second thing I look for is obsessive collaboration. I’m a big collaborator. I truly believe that one of us does not know more than all of us and so, as an engineer, you have to figure out how to utilize your peers and stakeholders as much as you can. I call it obsessive because some people only collaborate when they absolutely need to, but a great engineer is building collaboration into the things they are doing every day to ensure they are using all the resources around them. 

Finally, I think about engineers as lifelong crafters or artisans. You have a skill, and it’s important to develop that skill. Developing your skill doesn’t just mean acquiring more tools or learning new languages; it also means improving your existing skill set everyday. You have to ask yourself: how do I improve and continue to get better at the things I am already doing?

Megha Jain, Senior Product Manager, Vehicles Team

Why did you join Uber?

When looking to make a change from my last company, what initially attracted me to Uber was the culture. The people I met while interviewing were smart, driven, and motivated to build a culture of inclusivity. The people on my hiring team were friendly, welcoming, and passionate about what they were building. 

Of course, I was also excited to work on a product that I believe in. My parents live in New Delhi, and as they get older, Uber has given them so many more transportation options. Thinking about the potential of our product and how it is impacting the lives of individuals around the world was very appealing to me. When I thought about the people I met and the product I’d be working on, I knew this was a company I wanted to work for.

What do you work on at Uber?

My team is part of the Vehicle Solutions organization, which focuses on how we ensure that individuals who want to drive with Uber have access to vehicles. Specifically, I lead a team that focuses on making hailable transportation solutions like taxis and three-wheeler auto rickshaws accessible and enjoyable for users. We focus on building positive relationships with partners across the globe operating these modes of transportation, including drivers and taxi companies, to ensure their existing modes of transportation can benefit from Uber’s platform and network effects. In my role, I balance both building the right product and scaling the business across international markets. 

How does your role fit into Uber Engineering?

I have a background in computer science, so I know first-hand the importance and power of engineering. I truly believe that you need technology to reach billions of people and effectively scale. I work very closely with our engineering team to identify both short and long-term scalable solutions that allow us to build a robust business in a given market. 

Our discussions are not just limited to what types of technologies we should use for a given product. In fact, we always start planning sessions by setting a customer-focused goal. For example, how can we help taxi companies in Japan and auto-rickshaws in India reduce their operational costs? What tools can we build for them to facilitate better visibility into their earnings? How can we improve driver-partner experiences across modes of transportation? 

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

What you do as a product manager depends on the company, the type of competencies they are looking for, and the type and stage of product you’re working on. In my role at Uber, everything I do involves answering the question: how can we bring the ease, reliability, and safety of Uber to riders in markets that don’t have a strong UberX-like product? In these markets, how can we partner with existing successful modes of transportation like taxis and auto-rickshaws and connect them with Uber’s platform? 

Sometimes, we have to tackle challenges you wouldn’t expect from a standard product manager role. For example, as an early employee on the hailable product, I have worked on writing a business case, providing key metric projections, taking part in international business development and sales conversations, and building roadmaps for product, marketing, and support teams. While these activities fall outside of the typical product manager role, I take ownership of our product and business and do what is needed to make it successful. 

What makes working at Uber fun?

The best part about working at Uber are the people. In my role, I spend more time talking to people than I do staring at my screen. It’s been amazing to work with a group of people who ask tough questions about how to improve the customer experience and still, at the end of the day, go to happy hour together. I love how our culture celebrates free-flowing communication, creating an environment where people trust each other. I also like working downtown, in the heart of the city. It’s easy to take a break during the day and walk to a nearby coffee shop, and it’s a great area for visitors from other offices to experience Seattle. 

What makes Uber different than other companies you’ve worked for?

What I have seen Uber do really well is adapt and be open to feedback and change. I feel that Uber has been very good about introspection and fostering a culture where people not only talk about how we can improve as a company but are also willing to invest in making changes to achieve these goals. This state of mind was the single biggest reason I decided to join Uber. 

Dianne Laguerta, Software Engineer, Core Infrastructure

How did you start your career in software engineering?

I started my career in software engineering about two and a half years ago as a student at Ada Developers Academy in Seattle. Ada is a year-long program based in Seattle for women and gender diverse folks who want to transition from a former career into tech as a software engineer. In the last half of the program, students participate in a five-month internship with one of Ada’s partnering companies. Uber is one of those companies–I actually started here as an intern from Ada, and became a full-time employee a little over two years ago.

What do you work on at Uber?

Until recently, I worked on two teams in our infrastructure organization. The first was the Chaos Engineering team, where we built a tool to test the resiliency of Uber services by injecting failure against those services running in production, and alert teams when their service’s performance falters. While on the Chaos Engineering team, I also supported a project called Uber’s Continuous Delivery System, which provides pipelines for automating the post-commit deployment process. On both of these projects, I worked to help engineers visualize what’s happening when their services have these failure tests run against them, or what happens after landing code.

Now, I’m working on the Core Infrastructure team to tackle a large migration to move our Golang developers and projects to a single Go monorepo. My team’s goal is to make the process as easy as possible, and provide tooling that will allow Go engineers to work quickly and efficiently in this new ecosystem.

Walk us through a typical day at Uber Seattle.

Some days I’ll have lots of meetings, where I’m syncing with my teammates on tasks that we need to prioritize or issues that arise. Other days are truly blissful, when I have no meetings and get to focus on writing a lot of code and reviewing the code of my teammates. I also teach an engineering new-hire onboarding course every few weeks, and I periodically visit our San Francisco and Palo Alto offices. 

What are you involved with at Uber outside of your role on the Core Infrastructure team? 

Until recently, I was co-managing the local chapter of Uber’s LGBTQ Employee Resource Group, Pride at Uber. I organized events, like Uber’s participation in Seattle’s Pride Parade and various Pride month activities in and around the office. I also ensured that members of Pride at Uber were seen and heard in various parts of the company. This year, I’m excited to further my involvement with Pride at Uber by representing Engineering on our global board of directors.

What makes working at Uber different from other career experiences you’ve had? 

Uber thinks very deeply about how we can do things efficiently and at scale. I’ve enjoyed being constantly inundated with different concepts and challenges. At the same time, I’m learning a ton as I go and have the opportunity to be mentored by and work with some really smart people who are all in different stages of their careers. It’s interesting and exciting to see all of these factors condensed into a single team.

Shawn Burke, Senior Staff Software Engineer, Core Infrastructure

Why did you decide to Join Uber?

I spent about 15 years at a Redmond-area software company, then had a few years of start-up adventures. When my wife and I were thinking of starting a family, I was looking for something that would be a bit more stable, and saw that Uber was opening a Seattle office. Uber offered an ideal mix of growth and stability, plus a product that I loved.

What do Uber Seattle’s Core Infrastructure teams work on? 

In Seattle, we have several Core Infrastructure teams. I work on our Developer Platform team. Every day I focus on how we can make Uber’s developers as productive as possible so that they are spending the least amount of time managing infrastructure and the most amount of time building products that users are going to love and will move the company forward.

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

I spend a lot of my time learning about and advocating for our broader developer audience. My role in infrastructure is to be involved in leadership discussions with senior management and represent the voice of the developer. As I’m not a manager, I often weigh in on issues that have technical facets, and I’ll also raise concerns and offer options when I think that something may not be well-received by developers. 

A common theme in feedback from developers involves their day-to-day pain points. They’ll share their challenges of how a logging system or a database works, and when we dig deeper, we find that these issues are often part of a larger, higher-level problem. Often, we find that engineers do more complex and manual work than is necessary. My role is to take in all that information and come up with the most impactful things we can do across all of the infrastructure teams that will bring the most value for developers.

What is most challenging about working for a global company like Uber? What is most gratifying? 

I spend a lot of time in meetings with other engineers from across the world. There is a lot of business that happens in conversation after meetings or when you run into someone at lunch and chat for a few minutes. As a truly global company, we have fewer opportunities for impromptu moments, so we need to be intentional about our communication to ensure we’re being efficient. 

On the flip side, one of the special things about Uber is that there is no limit to the amount of impact that an individual can make. If you’re good at seeing opportunities, understanding people’s needs, building support, and getting people on the same page, there’s so much you can accomplish. That can’t always be said for companies that are farther along in their maturation processes. Being able to get input from teams around the world who are very focused in their areas of the business and connecting the dots between them to help them see opportunities is incredibly gratifying.

What makes the Uber Seattle office special?

I feel super lucky to have ended up in the Seattle area in general and grateful to come to work at Uber everyday in this city. Our office is in the center of the city, close to all transit lines, with a beautiful view of Puget Sound. Plus we have a deck! What can be better than that? When Uber employees from other offices come to visit the Seattle site for the first time and walk into our coffee bar overlooking the water, their reaction is, “Wow, you work here?!” I try to recognize and appreciate just how lucky I am to have ended up in this area. I also grew up in Washington, so that makes it even more special to me. 

What would you tell an engineer considering applying for a role at Uber Seattle?

There are great days ahead here at Uber Seattle and I think there are a lot of really cool opportunities. For folks at bigger companies who are looking for a change, Uber could be a great fit that offers unique challenges and opportunities. The stakes and consequences of what we do here at Uber are very high. If engineers want to work on things that have direct, real-world impact for people in cities all over the world, Uber is a great place to be. 

Bryan Casper, Director of Security Engineering

How did you get interested in Security Engineering?

I started in the military back when cybersecurity was not at the forefront of technology. There were no college courses, it was a self-taught field. While enlisted in the military I performed various IT functions (network, infrastructure, managing servers) but didn’t find it challenging enough. I started to explore hacking in my spare time, nothing illegal, just learning about how it worked and playing with the techniques discovered. The cyber security group I belonged to were rolling out new security measures to secure a deployment of computer assets, and I told them I could defeat their security controls.  My sergeant didn’t believe me, but to his dismay, I hacked into the computers in under 10 minutes. At that point, I really stepped into the career path of cybersecurity. 

What do you work on at Uber?

I lead the Threat Response group for Uber. We protect, detect, and respond to adversaries, whether it be a nation state, a cyber-criminal group, or any other entity who wants to attack or affect our customers, infrastructure, or intellectual property. Our job is to build protective measures, detect malicious activity, research, investigate, and evict threats to our business and customers. As part of the program Uber has invested in a Red Team whose purpose is to act as an adversary to Uber, and to proactively attack our services and systems and identify weaknesses that need more attention . This group tests our assumptions and ensures we are ready to respond and defeat new kinds of attacks. 

What makes Uber different than other companies you’ve worked for?

The stakes at Uber are high. Our customers trust us to keep their information safe, and I love that my job is helping to make sure that happens.

How do we ensure that our security practices scale globally but also adapt to market conditions?

That’s a really interesting question, especially when we’re talking about regulation. At this point in time, the regulation industry is evolving around the world, so things are quite fragmented. This creates unique challenges for global companies like Uber who need to comply with regulations at the national, city, and sometimes county or airport level. To make our operations globally scalable, we try to aim higher than the requirements mandate with a common set of standards across all environments that meet regulatory needs and create a universal experience of our users.

Marcus Womack, Site Lead & Director of Product, Rider Verticals

How did you get started in product management?

I’ve always been interested in building things. From a really young age I wanted to be an architect, then I found my passion for computers. Beginning my career as a software test engineer, I focused on delivering seamless, high quality customer experiences. In doing so, I developed a passion for the customer journey and a desire to think more holistically about the who, what, when, and why of what we are trying to accomplish and the business more broadly. This led me to make the leap into product management. 

One of my early career mentors helped frame the importance of a customer-first mindset, which has been paramount to my values as a leader. I recall vividly a meeting where they outlined the importance of our focus: our customers, our team, our business and profitability. Focusing on your customers is ultimately the starting point to building business value.

What do you work on at Uber as a product lead?

Uber operates an open marketplace for mobility to help riders connect with driver-partners who can help them get from place to place in their daily lives. My focus is on bringing the Uber marketplace to airports, events, and high capacity venues and maintaining a premium experience for our riders in these dense pick-up zones. My day-to-day focus is about building a magical product experience that enables riders to connect with driver-partners to get where they need to go. 

What is the most challenging part about working at Uber? What is most rewarding?

Generally speaking, Uber is a young company. I often refer to it as the biggest start-up I’ve worked for. It’s been amazing to see the company’s growth over the last three years. The blend of the physical and digital world was my big challenge early on. Understanding ground operations and using technology to solve those problems was new to me. The stakes on the ground are high–an error can impact our customers’ ability to put food on the table or get home safely. 

The most rewarding part of my job is seeing my work have impact at scale. Changes you make daily have exponential impact. On my team, we operate at over 500 airports globally, and even small changes to the pick-up and drop-off experience can bring huge impact to the lives of riders and driver-partners. As a long-time business traveler, I see how my team’s work has improved the experience of getting to and from airports. It’s so rewarding to see the direct impact the work is having on helping the world move.

What makes the Uber Seattle office unique to other workplaces?

Uber is committed to growing it’s global tech footprint and Seattle is key to that strategy. In building a successful remote site, the small details matter. We obsess about candidate experience, onboarding, employee experience, and community engagement. We think about big and small ways to bring the cultural components of headquarters to our distributed offices while maintaining regional cultures at the same time. 

From an employee impact standpoint, we focus on landing large, autonomous charters in our Seattle office in order to enable teams to own their product’s vision, strategy, and execution. Consequently, teams in Seattle have the advantage of clear focus and ownership. Most importantly, we aim to create a high degree of autonomy to reduce dependencies, which helps get more done. 

The Seattle office has nearly a dozen major charters, which means greater mobility and growth opportunities for employees who work across multiple teams or organizations. At a high level, Seattle is a technology hub, and it’s also an amazing city and a great place to live. 

David Azose, Director of Engineering, Driver

Why did you decide to join Uber? 

I had been at Microsoft for a little over nine years and was ready to embark on the next phase of my career. A former manager of mine worked at Uber, so as I started exploring jobs outside of Microsoft I decided to consider a role here. Given that 2017 was a tumultuous year for Uber, I was initially hesitant about interviewing, but ultimately I felt that the experience would be worthwhile and decided to give it a shot. Everyone I talked to was open to engaging in conversation about the challenges facing the company, and I came away extremely impressed by the people and the mission. As I weighed my options for the next phase of my career, it became clear that Uber presented an opportunity to work on fascinating problems at unmatched scale. That, coupled with the challenge of evolving a culture with so much potential, was simply too good to pass up.

What are some of the Driver Engineering team’s top priorities for 2020? 

Uber has evolved quite a bit from its early days. We began as an innovative ridesharing platform, but have now expanded to be so much more than that. Uber has several lines of businesses that we support: Uber Eats, Uber Freight, and Bikes & Scooters, to name a few. Across these diverse offerings, however, the majority of customers on the supply side of our marketplace continue to be drivers. As a result, drivers tend to command the majority of our focus as we innovate around what it means to earn on our platform.

One of the priorities for the Driver team this year is to start thinking beyond the role of a driver and reason about what it means to earn, more generally, on our platform. Millions of people use Uber’s platform as a way to earn money, whether to drive users using UberX or uberPOOL or deliver meals via Uber Eats. For example, when people sign up to drive, they have to pass a vehicle inspection, which may take a few days to schedule and complete. During this process, we could suggest that these prospective drivers make Uber Eats deliveries in the interim. The more we can do to enable these kinds of opportunities, the better we can serve current and future earners on our platform. 

What is most challenging about working at Uber’s scale? What is most rewarding? 

As an engineering team, our greatest challenge is that we are responsible for building the technology that allows Uber to operate over 15 million trips a day on our platform. We’ve had to do a tremendous amount of work to ensure that our platform scales to meet those needs. Many of the engineering systems and techniques that worked well in the early days when we were operating 15 million trips a year simply didn’t scale as we grew to 15 million trips a day

That challenge, of course, presents an opportunity which is extremely rewarding. Prior to working on the Driver team, I spent two years on the Airports team, which manages riders’ and drivers’ experiences at airports around the world. This relatively small cross-functional group is responsible for every trip taken to or from an airport. It was exciting to influence the way travel works around the globe and we actually had the opportunity to evolve how airports think about infrastructure investments for the next 10-20 years. This is just one example of the difficult yet exhilarating challenges Uber engineers face. We have to make sure that we build systems for the future, and the foundations of what we’re building must continue to support the transformational growth we’ve experienced as a company.

What is your biggest advice to new engineering managers? 

When you first become an engineering manager there’s a natural tendency to stay very connected to the details—not surprising, given that most engineering managers start out as individually contributing engineers. Figuring out how to force yourself to take a step back and delegate is the trickiest but most important step as you move from an individual contributor role to a management role. 

When it comes to engineering, delegation is particularly challenging because, at the beginning, your individual contributor skills are much sharper than your management skills. While it’s easy to fall back on those skills, you will do yourself and your team a great disservice if you micromanage or fail to entrust your engineers with important technical tasks. It might be challenging at first, but ultimately, a good engineering manager enables and guides his or her team, and that’s where you start having multiplicative impact. 

Outside of your work at Uber, what drives you? 

If you ask anyone who’s close to me, they will tell you that I’m quite competitive. Whether I’m cycling, water skiing, or even gardening, I tend to be exceptionally goal-oriented and I love pushing myself to achieve more. I also have three young kids who keep me busy and keep me going even when I have no fuel left in the tank. 

Brook Sattler, Senior UX Researcher

What makes being a user experience researcher (UXR) at Uber different, compared to other companies you’ve worked for? 

A key part of UX research is adapting methods to the specific context. For various reasons, such as the nature of the product and business, being a user experience researcher at Uber requires researchers to combine or modify methods to the situation. For example, at Uber I’ve never used a traditional UX research lab set-up, but rather modified this approach. At Uber, I’ve adapted and combined contextual inquiring/lightweight ethnography to understand how large fleets run their business. Or when conducting interviews with drivers, I’ve adapted traditional lab usability to try to mimic the driver’s real-world context. I’ve used cognitive walkthroughs (walking through the user’s experience) to support the team in understanding the user’s experience. 

What is most rewarding about being a UX researcher at Uber?

In the last two years, I’ve worked on the Vehicles team, which provides access to vehicles for drivers who want to earn money by signing up for the Uber platform, but do not have access to a vehicle. This project tangibly impacts Uber users’ lives, opening up earning opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t exist for them. As the first UXR on the team, I’ve helped my colleagues better understand our users’ needs and pain points, which helped the team build a more user-friendly product. For example, for one driver renting a car through Uber’s partnerships with rental companies was his way out of homelessness. Through research with drivers, such as this one, we were able to understand how he learned about the rental program, identify rental program pain points, and determine ways to improve the product experience.

What makes Uber’s UX research approach unique?

Uber’s UX research approach is unlike any other because of our company’s distinctive global perspective. Uber recognizes the importance of truly understanding market differences. Since Uber operates in so many cities around the world, we deploy local operations, UXR partnerships, and teams of global researchers to better understand our diverse markets. For example, when I first start a study, I partner closely with local Operations team members to understand the local conditions. These insights build the study foundation, allowing us to probe deeper into topic areas.

What advice would you give to students interested in becoming UX researchers? 

I recommend that prospective UXRs figure out strategies for how to be the voice of users in all conversations. For example, identify key user needs and develop memorable talking points about the user needs. Also, use stories or use quotes to help your stakeholders better understand the user experience. As a UXR, you are often one of the closest people to a company’s users, which gives you an incredible wealth of knowledge about user behavior, needs, pain points, and more. Through this knowledge, you can be incredibly impactful. One way you can be impactful is to help guide the team on how to use the insights. For example, after conducting a study, you can run a brainstorming and prioritization activity or a design sprint to help the team make next steps.

Interested in learning more about job opportunities at the Uber Seattle Tech office? We’re hiring engineers of all levels! Discover open positions on our careers site and get to know us by attending one of our meetups!

Seattle and portrait photos courtesy of Aydin Ghajar, Uber Senior Product Manager in our Seattle office.