What I Learned in My First 120 Days at Uber
I’ve been at Uber for four months. It’s been an exciting ride, and full of surprises. For example, I didn’t expect one of my best moments at work would be overlooking Chengdu, China riding up an elevator on the way to lunch with our local city team. Nor did I expect to be editing this post from an airport in Manila, Philippines. But then, the platform we are building is global, and the speed we’re scaling is accelerated, and so here I am at Terminal 3 in Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport having been to 4 countries in as many months. And — because it doesn’t look like Uber will be slowing down anytime soon, I’m committing myself to documenting my experiences on a semi-regular basis. In the coming months I’ll write about what we’re working on, and explore the systems, teams and processes we’re building to solve insanely interesting problems and scale quickly at warpspeed.
I hope you find this and future posts as interesting to read as I have found them to experience!
Why did I join Uber?
It’s fitting to begin by answering the question: why Uber? After all, when I left Google four months ago life was great. My team there was amazing. We focused on fascinating domains. I had good work/life balance (which means a lot to this father of two). Further, I loved — and still love — Google as a company for its ambitions, its transparency and objectivity, and for the way it values its employees. So why did I leave?
What is Uber’s Mission?
First, I’m inspired by Uber’s mission. At Uber, we’re focused on two key areas. First, we want to make transportation as reliable as running water, and second — we aim to celebrate cities by making them better. Better how? By making them more efficient, less congested, less polluted, and more vibrant centers of culture and commerce. We do this by eliminating parking lots, reducing traffic, lowering drunk driving rates, and solving the last mile problem by amplifying access to public transportation. We also do this by driving traffic to local businesses and making the act of getting to work, home, or everywhere in between as easy and affordable as possible for people across 6 continents and 60+ countries.
To me, the first mission, when accomplished, will result in more economic opportunities for driver-partners, lower cost transportation options available for people everywhere, higher utilization of vehicles (more butts in seats), and most importantly — carbon reduction. Each of these are great goals I stand behind. Especially carbon reduction. I can’t think of a more important goal towards which I can contribute my energy.
Our second goal — of celebrating cities, and through that celebration improving them — is a bit more amorphous, but entirely fascinating.
Why Cities are the Ultimate Service Design Problem
Transportation is a fundamental component of any city. Urban environments, and the economies and cultures they create are massively influenced by the quality of transportation. Throughout my life, I’ve been influenced by the work of Kevin Lynch, William Whyte, and the impact of Robert Moses. It’s exciting to work at a company whose mission is to transform urbanism worldwide, and in ways uniquely beneficial to individual cities. It’s the ultimate service design problem. And now, with the advent of autonomous vehicles, that future — and the city of the future — is waiting to be defined at the very intersection of software and streets. Uber is both a driving force of that intersection and a bridge between bits and bricks. As both a citizen and a designer, I find this totally inspiring.
Why My Team Inspires Me
The second reason I joined Uber is for the team.
During my interview process, I had the opportunity to meet with folks who work across Uber’s product and design organizations. Everyone I met was smart, high-energy, and passionate. I aim to work with people who challenge and inspire me, and I came away from the interview process confident that at Uber, I’d find both. Four months into the job, that hunch is confirmed.
Full-Stack Product Design Meets Full-Service Agency
First, let’s talk about the design team. Uber’s design team contains the broadest spectrum of creative roles I’ve experienced at a company. We’re a big happy team of Product Designers, Visual Designers, Illustrators, Prototypers, Researchers, Copywriters, Content Strategists, Producers, Communication Designers, Brand Designers, Video Editors, Photographers, Industrial Designers and, yes, we even have an Interior Designer on the team. That mix of disciplines adds a richness to our organization that is unique in the tech industry, and new to me. The best way to describe it is a combination of a product design firm coupled with a full-service agency. We work and play together, sharing techniques, practices, and collaborating without ego. And we all share a common goal to do the best design and research possible in the service our our riders and partners, our cities, and our mission.
How Product Works With Design
But attaining great design doesn’t happen in a vacuum. To accomplish truly great design, it takes an entire product organization. And it’s at this junction of design and product execution where I’ve found that Uber shines, especially in comparison to past companies I’ve worked at. At Uber, design works side by side with our product management and engineering partners, developing strategy, planning product, and executing operationally together. This team collaboration can get fierce and passionate, but it’s always respectful. Our PMs do a great job of providing impactful feedback on designs (it’s part of what we look for in a great Uber PM), but they always defer to the designer to make the final call on the delivering the experience. And when it comes to product execution, our engineering team is highly dedicated to excellence. They care about the details, they focus on shipping code with pixel-perfect beauty. I experienced this first hand in a design review with an excellent engineer who, in response to viewing a series of design options, stated firmly:
The bottom line is that Uber is obsessed with quality and product excellence. Everyone across the entire organization is aligned around this. It’s refreshing, inspiring, and makes for a great place to work on design.
How We Work at Uber
The third reason I joined Uber was to experience a new way of working. After four years at Google, I had learned an enormous amount, but I was ready for new challenges. I had heard about Uber’s rapid growth, which was intriguing to me. And I used the app frequently, which was a good sign. But what piqued my interest the most was an analysis of Uber’s operational model by General McCrystal. He described Uber as a constantly evolving group of teams structured to quickly take on new challenges at a global scale — like a special forces unit. I’m an operations wonk, and so was naturally excited by his depiction.
General McCrystal Hit the Mark
Here’s an illustrative — albeit dramatically simplified version — of how we work. At Uber’s HQ in San Francisco, we build core products that are distributed across the world. Once released, city teams can customize our products to meet the distinct needs of their local markets. Occasionally, these city teams invent a new product or tool to accomplish their goals. Driven by their goal to succeed, they just get scrappy and do it. They don’t need to ask permission from HQ to accomplish their goals. Then, the best of these innovations cycle back into HQ, where they contribute to the next wave of core product development.
At Uber, we live and breathe innovation at a global-scale. It’s a part of our DNA. It’s a virtuous cycle that allows us to adapt and evolve to meet the needs of our users across the world. And, as I’ve travelled to China, India, and South East Asia over the last four months, meeting city teams and learning about their unique challenges and opportunities, I get increasingly excited about Uber’s positive, measurable, and visible impact on the world.
Want to Learn More?
In this article, I’ve only lightly touched on my experiences at Uber. There is much more to write about. If you have specific areas you’d like me to cover, drop me a line via LinkedIn. Also, if you are a designer, writer, or researcher and are interested in careers at Uber, we’re hiring. Send me a note! I’d love to learn how you can help us grow.