Standing for Safety: Meet the Uber São Paulo Tech Team

Standing for Safety: Meet the Uber São Paulo Tech Team

Located in the heart of Latin America’s largest city, the Uber São Paulo Tech Center was founded in late 2018 as a company-wide hub for Safety Tech. Later, São Paulo also created new teams for different organizations, such as Insurance, Identity, and Money.

The Safety team specifically is composed of product managers, UX designers, engineers and data scientists. As part of Uber’s mission to put the safety of our users first, our São Paulo-based Tech team is responsible for improving our global processes and services to keep riders, drivers, eaters, and delivery-partners safe.

Our teams in São Paulo are responsible for planning and developing new features that help to prevent incidents on our platform and help users travel to their destinations safely and securely everyday across the world. All Safety projects at Uber are part of a strong collaboration between teams located in São Paulo, San Francisco and India. 

The Safety Team sits at the core of our business and is redefining what it takes to be safe on the roads at global scale. We use real-time telematics and motion sensing technologies along with multi-faceted machine learning algorithms and user-facing mobile products in order to reduce and prevent unsafe driving and behavior on the Uber platform. The team is building low-latency data streaming infrastructure that ingests terabytes of data daily before applying statistical modeling and signal processing algorithm, NLP auditing as well as other multiple solutions.

Once someone joins our team, this person will soon be allocated to one of our projects. U-Check is an example of a project that belongs to Safety Identity, that works to validate user identity by leveraging technology to prevent incidents that may result from this. U-Check leverages Uber’s Schemaless datastore to manage people’s identity information, while it supports different forms of identification, like CPF in Brazil and driver’s license in Chile. And through the DocScan project, a document-scanning service built on top of the u-Check platform, we went even further concerning Identity. It uses Uber’s highly available open source orchestration engine, Cadence, to run its multi-stepped process of scanning, storing the document image, sending the image to be parsed, get the response back and extract parsed information from it.

U-Audio, a Safety Media project, was developed to provide choice for riders and drivers to record the audio of their rides, in order to feel safer and protected, in case anything happens. U-Elas is another good example of features developed so our drivers and riders can feel safer while a trip is in progress. With this feature, female drivers are allowed to choose to pick up only female riders. 

We also count on Safety Data, using machine learning and data analysis to predict and prevent riskier interactions on the platform. RideSense, a collaboration between our Engineering, Product and Data Science teams, is a good example, being trained and built on top of Michelangelo, Uber’s Machine Learning Platform. Finally, the Safety Eats team builds features that improve the safety of eaters and delivery-partners, including projects related to food safety and allergies.  

In addition to our core safety work, São Paulo’s Tech Center houses a design team. The Design team works on Safety projects with the local team, and also with other areas of our global platform. The Design team has design and user research professionals and partners closely with other product functions to understand complex problem spaces, identify business opportunities, create products that make a positive difference in users lives and drive growth. 

The daily routine of our 57 person team is filled with lunches at our Offices’s cafeteria, weekly All Hands (where we have the chance to get the whole team together and discuss projects or Site related issues), monthly teams outings, frequent BBQs, and a lot of board games! 

We sat down with members of the team to discuss why they decided to join Uber, what it’s like to work at the São Paulo Tech Center, and what excites them about their roles: 

 

Marcello Azambuja, Site Lead and Engineering Director

What brought you to lead Uber’s São Paulo Tech Center? 

Before coming to Uber, I spent 15 years at one of the biggest media conglomerates in Latin America as the CTO and Head of Product. But I was looking for a new, bigger challenge – I wanted to work with tech at a company where digital was in their DNA, delivering impact beyond São Paulo, but with services that were relevant to Brazil. As one of Uber’s biggest markets, Brazil is home to its own unique set of requirements and considerations when it comes to designing a ridesharing product. 

For those reasons, Uber was an obvious choice. When I heard that Uber Engineering wanted to open a tech site in São Paulo and was looking for a leader, I couldn’t join fast enough. 

How does your role at Uber differ from previous career experiences? 

First of all, the speed with which Uber moves is incredible. When I joined my previous company in 2003, it was the very beginning of the internet in Brazil. It was helpful because I gained 15 years of experience at a more measured pace, an experience that has helped me succeed in Uber’s faster-paced environment. The other major difference between my prior technical roles and my current job at Uber is the scale at which the company operates. Before coming to Uber, the companies I worked at served more than 100 million unique users in Brazil, which I thought was quite impressive at the time. Now, however, after working at Uber for a few years, my sense of scale has completely turned on its head. Uber’s Engineering organization is large and spans five continents. It’s been interesting to see how our diverse teams, from Infrastructure and Product Platform to Maps and Uber Eats, work together to deliver a centralized, cohesive platform. Despite being a large company, it’s been impressive to see how we innovate so quickly depending on the needs of our customers.

What are the Safety Team’s biggest technical charters for 2020? 

Safety is a very complex challenge. To tackle it, we leverage a variety of technologies, such as telematics, GPS, AI, and machine learning (ML), among others. For instance, we built RideCheck, a system that uses telematics to detect sudden and abrupt stops during a trip, which can indicate that an accident has occurred. Once initiated, RideCheck surfaces a notification to both rider and driver asking if everything is OK. They can let us know through the app that all is well, or take actions like using Uber’s emergency button or reporting the issue to Uber’s Safety Line. 

Another major charter for our team revolves around ways we can leverage ML to improve user safety. Currently, we utilize facial recognition to shut down account fraud, and ML models to assess payments risk

Ensuring the accurate identity of our customers is one of our chief concerns. To this end, we’re working on various in-app features that help users verify their identity and prevent fraud, particularly in markets that accept cash. 

Outside of your team at Uber, what are you most passionate about? 

My family, of course! But I think outside my family, one interesting thing is I practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a type of martial art evolved from judo that is very popular in Brazil. What I find really interesting about jiu-jitsu is that even when you face a heavier and stronger opponent you can defeat them with a better technique. It’s like body chess. For me, jiu-jitsu is interesting because it’s physical but it’s also a very heavy mental exercise.

 

Lucas Lazaro, UX Researcher, São Paulo Studio

What are the main responsibilities and challenges of the product designers and UX researchers in São Paulo Studio at Uber?

Designing for Uber is both hard and rewarding. We are working at the intersection of the physical and digital world. Which means designing for uncertainty, movement, and building trust.

From the São Paulo Studio, we think and design for the whole world. While bringing with us our unique diverse perspective, knowledge, and intuition. Thus what’s alluring to work at Uber is also the biggest challenge, which is the impact. Our work impacts communities, cities, and millions of people’s lives. So we need to strive to include the people who use our services in the design process. Consider their needs and be intentional about the impact our platform has on the world.

Compared to your previous experiences, what do you enjoy the most while being a UX researcher at Uber?

I really enjoy how global Uber is. As I mentioned before, the physical component of Uber experiences means understanding the context of use is paramount. In our global network context can vary widely, from urban landscape to socioeconomic differences. All of which impact product design. That means we often are not designing one product for the whole world but rather a product system.

The system needs to empower our Uber’s amazing Local Operation teams to customize the product characteristics to local needs. Some examples are: allowing local payment methods (from PIX to Paypay), establishing in-app partnerships with local vendors (SmartFit to Arizona State University) and etc.

As a researcher, how would you describe the culture in the SP Tech Center?

The São Paulo Tech Center is incredibly collaborative and open. And as the pandemic has put a strain on all our personal lives, the SP Tech Center remained attentive to debate work-life balance, how to improve working conditions, and promoting virtual gatherings for connection.

It’s also great and inspiring to see people devoted to contributing back to their communities and participating in important groups to advocate for diversity, inclusion, and social inequality, bringing fairness debates to help fight our unconscious bias.

 

Martin Norris, Sr. Software Engineer, Identity

What are the main challenges a Software Engineer is going to find when starting to work with the Trusted Identity team?

Among the most interesting challenges that are unique to Identity is the cross-product scope we deal with: we have use cases for Ride request and Eats order, and we also have traffic from use cases for compliance such as collecting identity data for drivers’ waybills (a legal doc generated for a trip in some markets), and collecting identity to process car rental agreements. 

This means we have requests from many different surfaces, where we integrate our common front-end architecture into different apps and pipelines, or provide direct access to the underlying services.  

Another unique challenge to highlight is the sheer number of downstream services that are used in different Identity processes. Some of these are Uber platform services (for example Bibliotek for document storage and Bankemoji for payment profile information) while others are external identity validators, like Serpro in Brazil.

What are the main differences between working at the São Paulo Tech Center and other offices at Uber?

Socially, the tech center in São Paulo is the best place to work, and I encourage all our colleagues in different offices to come to São Paulo, to help out on batch interviews, etc., and see for themselves!

From an Engineering perspective, the engineering process and organization is homogenous across all of Uber Engineering. However, there are obvious differences between offices, where different locations have one or more particular focuses for products. I think that São Paulo also has an advantage because the Engineering team is co-located with the operations team, allowing for better communications. Similarly the Center of Excellence for Brazil is in the same city, which allows Engineers to observe first hand interactions with our partners and customers.  

As a senior Software Engineer, what advice would you give to someone who wants to join our team in São Paulo?

The first piece of advice is “apply to be a Software Engineer at the Tech center in São Paulo!”, because if you do not apply then you are missing a very challenging and rewarding opportunity!

Also, get prepared for the interviews, which can be technical and practical. Practice your skills and investigate how big software companies create their systems and the growth and interaction between different parts of the system.

 

Mariana Esteves, Sr. Product Manager, Safety Eats

What makes being a product manager on the Uber Eats Safety team unique compared to other roles you have held? 

Working as a product manager at Uber is unique to other product management jobs I’ve had because of my role’s global scope and impact. While the product I work on–Uber Eats–is used by consumers across the world, the problems that each demographic faces differs regionally, and these challenges can be dramatically different from market to market. Now, as a product manager at a global company, I need to really understand the local implications of each product.  At my previous job, I focused on rolling out products solely for users in Brazil. Now, I’m not just thinking about Brazil, but I’m also thinking about Mexico. I’m thinking about Australia, India, Europe, Africa, the US. All of these places are different, and rolling something out globally as opposed to locally presents a very broad and diverse challenge for us. For any product launch, I need to be mindful of the type of communications we use and how we’re addressing user needs with both global and local impact in mind. 

What is most rewarding about your work?

In some industries, it’s hard to connect what you’re doing with the positive impact it has on people’s lives. But working on safety, there is a direct impact.  We think of the safety of our delivery persons bringing food to hungry eaters. We think of the safety of the person ordering food to their homes, having someone come to their door and hand them a package. And we think about food safety, in general. It’s been both challenging and exciting to dive into the issue of food safety since it’s part of a newer line of discussion in both the safety and food delivery spaces. 

 

Giovani DeMartini, Sr. Software Engineer, Safety Marketplace

What is most challenging about designing a technical system for a large-scale, global company like Uber? What is most rewarding? 

Uber faces challenges that are so huge in scale. Whatever is done in a piece of software impacts millions of people. For example, one of the projects that I was working on last year served tens of thousands of queries per second with the impact to improve the user experience for everyone on our platform. 

I think that’s what I find  rewarding as well. Working in safety, we can flag incidents and know that we’re actually preventing something bad from happening. That’s really rewarding.

What distinguishes the São Paulo Tech Center from Uber’s other engineering sites?

Brazil is home to people of all sorts of backgrounds, and the São Paulo Tech Center reflects the diversity of São Paulo. In addition to representing all sorts of experiences and walks of life, we are a friendly and helpful group that enjoy not just working together, but hanging out together outside of the office. These unique perspectives bring a sense of cultural awareness that would be difficult to achieve in any other city. 

 

Davi Costa, Engineering Manager, Safety Controls

What brought you to Uber?

While I was working on my master’s degree in Brazil, I got an internship opportunity at Facebook and that’s how I ended up in the U.S. Then at the end of 2015, Uber was going through an explosive growth phase and I had many colleagues moving to Uber. It seemed like an opportunity to join a company more or less at the same point as Facebook was when I first joined, but this time bringing all my expertise and experience.  It was a combination of wanting to explore a new problem space, bringing my knowledge to a company that needed to scale their technologies and processes, and the convenience of skateboarding 10 minutes to work instead of taking a bus an hour and a half each direction. I started out on the Financial Products Team in San Francisco, and then after three years in the Bay Area, joined the Safety team in Brazil to be closer to my family.

What services does your team work on to make Uber’s products safer and more reliable? 

I work on the Safety Controls team, with members at both Uber’s San Francisco and Brazil offices. My team builds features to help users feel safe while using our platform. For example, we are responsible for creating the feature that lets riders share their trips with friends and family, allowing users to set up trusted contacts to monitor and receive status alerts about their trip status. For instance, every time my wife requests a ride on the Uber platform, she shares the trip details with me. She knows that if something happens, I can keep an eye on her location.

Another project I’m very proud of is our Women Preferred feature in collaboration with the Safety Operations team here in Brazil. Women Preferred is a service provided in certain markets, including Saudi Arabia (which in 2018 gave women the right to drive), that allow female drivers to be matched with female-identified riders.  We believe this empowers our women drivers in these regions to feel safe while earning on the platform. 

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

Everything we do at Uber affects millions of users around the whole world. You need to make sure your solution meets all the local geographical needs but also meets the regulations of every country Uber operates in globally. Sometimes, something that works very well in Brazil does not work as well in Canada—and that’s expected, but we still need to be very data-driven and careful about every feature we launch.

We need very smart people that are capable of thinking and architecting solutions on this enormous scale. Scale often makes the work rewarding as well though, because it’s fulfilling to know you’re having an impact on the lives of millions of people. São Paulo has more Uber trips than any other city in the world, so we feel our influence on people every day.

 

Rafael Pereira, Sr. Engineering Manager (Insurance and Safety Data)

You work with two important teams at S&I Org (Data and Insurance). What are the biggest challenges for each of them?

The Safety and Insurance Data team’s main challenge is regarding the volume, complexity, and importance of the data that we have to capture, process, and store. We build several services and data pipelines in order to aggregate information from different sources, and to have them structured to empower our data science, data analytics, product, and business teams, and also our machine learning models. And all of this on a global scale, which means that we have a massive volume of new data being generated every day. So, we must guarantee data consistency, freshness, and availability to make sure that our data-driven decisions are correct.

The Insurance team also has a great importance for Uber. Our Insurance costs have a really significant impact in our financials and P&L, and are a strategic lever in our path to profitability. So our main challenge in Insurance is how to use tech to improve efficiency in claims processing, and also how to create new opportunities for Uber on the insurance landscape. We are constantly building automation and improving our insurance tools in order to better support our users and also to bring more intelligence and automation into our claims processing.

What do you like the most about being an Engineering Manager at Uber?

Being an Engineering Manager at Uber is definitely an amazing opportunity to have a real impact in people’s lives, at global scale, and at the same time is a great learning opportunity. There are very few places where you have a chance to build a global-scale product, working with the most advanced technologies, engineering practices, and tools available. Another really interesting component is working together with people distributed across the globe, from different cultures, backgrounds, and expertises, in a truly multi-disciplinary/multi-cultural team. Finally I would highlight the autonomy that we have as engineering managers, associated with accountability, that really allows us to maximize our impact.

In your opinion as an experienced Engineering Manager, why would an Engineering professional choose Uber?

Uber is a great place to boost your career. You will learn a ton of new things around engineering and business/product, which will equip you to solve the most complex problems you can face in the future. At the same time, it’s a great place to grow, with several opportunities to be explored, and a place that really empowers you to have a global impact.

 

Gabriel Saca, Applied Scientist

What would you say are the most attractive responsibilities of a data scientist at Uber?

The impact that we have on our users’ everyday lives and in so many countries is definitely something to look for. Uber has been transforming the way we move around and also how we get things to move around. Being at the forefront of such transformation is definitely humbling.

As a data scientist who works on safety, what really makes me tick is to prevent safety incidents from happening. The true sense of responsibility that the whole team has and all our successes so far make for a truly rewarding experience.

Having said that, Uber is almost like a playground for data scientists. There is a sheer amount of data to work with is staggering, and the problems that we tackle are both varied and challenging. The team is very strong on experimentation, and our data platforms are world class. For instance, Michelangelo has pioneered the machine learning platform space, and also the concept of feature stores. And that’s not to mention our top notch team, which makes Uber a great place for individuals to develop further.

What are the biggest challenges being a data scientist working for Safety org?

Data scientists in the Safety org often work to reduce what is already a small rate of safety incidents. The fact that we’re working with rare events makes everything a bit more challenging, but we definitely don’t shy away from complexity. We care deeply for our users and that often drives us to innovate. Solving difficult problems to achieve better outcomes for our users is something that we strive for on a daily basis.

Is it possible to describe the differences between working at SP tech center and other offices (from the data scientist point of view)?

While I haven’t worked at other offices, I have definitely benefited from the fact that so many people at the SP tech center work in the same org that I do. The team is tight and our tech talks are very informative. I often get to broaden my Safety knowledge by talking to engineers, product managers,  and designers from the SP tech center. 

In any case, as a data scientist I also interact on a daily basis with data folks from the Bay Area offices, so it’s a truly distributed team.

 

Learn more about Uber’s São Paulo Tech Center.

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