Standing for Safety: Meet the Uber Sao Paulo Tech Team

Located in the heart of Latin America’s largest city, the Uber Sao Paulo Tech Center was founded in late 2018 as a company-wide hub for Safety Tech. The team 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 Sao 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 Sao 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 Sao 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, Sao 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 Sao Paulo Tech Center, and what excites them about their roles: 

 

Marcello Azambuja, Site Lead and Engineering Director

What brought you to lead Uber’s Sao 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 Sao 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 Sao 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.

 

Laura Garcia Barrio, Head of UX Design

When did you first get interested in technology and design? 

I was first exposed to computers at school, and started learning programming basics. I soon became curious about the possibilities of the internet and technology in general to facilitate more of our day-to-day interactions. My master’s degree in Interactive Telecommunications from New York University as well as my experience in design consultancies and working at Google made me extremely aware of the impact that digital products can have in our lives.

You’re the Head of UX Design for Uber’s Latin American markets. What makes designing UX features for this region more challenging than designing for other areas of the world?

Latin America and Brazil are markets where Uber has made a tremendous difference in people’s lives. It has provided both mobility in cities that lack sufficient public transportation infrastructure and flexible earning opportunities for those seeking another source of income. Sao Paulo is one of Uber’s most active cities, which means any initiative launched here will have a huge impact on the company. We see a lot more cash transactions, for instance, in this area than we see in other markets like North America and Europe. The vehicles per capita rate is also very different—between 300 and 350 vehicles per thousand people in Latin America, and over 800 vehicles per thousand in the U.S. These types of differences pose challenges for us, but also create opportunities to make a difference with our work.  

What makes being a designer for Uber unique to other companies you’ve worked for? 

We build globally and live locally. We are part of a network of highly talented professionals worldwide which makes the interactions and the exchange of knowledge very rich. Also, as a team and as a company, our goals are very ambitious. We want to be a platform that helps you go to places both physically and figuratively. The range of problems we are tackling is very exciting. Uber is an exciting place to be, and the positive impact we have on people’s daily lives is pretty amazing. 

 

Demetrius Nunes, Sr. Engineering Manager, Safety Identity

What makes working at Uber unique compared to previous companies you’ve been at?

For me, it’s mostly about Uber being such a global company. Sometimes in software, you work on products and services that are really hard to explain to the general public. At Uber, that’s never been an issue. Over 900 cities depend on our platform, so in that sense, being an engineer here is very rewarding work. 

What specific challenges do Safety Engineering teams tackle that other technical disciplines may not regularly encounter? 

Working in Safety Engineering is challenging because there are so many factors that contribute to consumer safety. For instance, if you look at airports and aviation, they manage to operate safely even when operating in challenging environments and taking into account thousands of external factors. In this same vein, our technologies make Uber safer for users in all sorts of environments. In our line of work, it requires both creativity, a lot of out-of-the-box thinking, and a thorough understanding of these environments to arrive at effective solutions. To achieve both, we work in lock-step with our UX and Safety Policy teams. This shared commitment to enhancing user safety across the board is critical to our team’s success. 

As a senior engineering manager, what is some of your best advice for managers looking to improve their sponsorship skills? 

I like to say that the engineering manager position consists of three vectors. One is the “technology” aspect, basically, having a robust understanding of the tools your team is working with and what they’re trying to achieve. A second is “process,” in the sense of making your team as efficient and as high-performing as possible. The third is cultivating your “people,” and that is definitely the one that takes the most time. And it should, because taking care of your team, making sure they’re set up for career growth and happiness, supersedes the other two parts of the equation. If all three vectors are balanced and accounted for, then you’re probably doing something right. 

Be as present as possible. Take part in every team meeting, even the most routine ones. Don’t skip your one-on-ones, and during your one-on-ones, think through technical problems out loud. Sometimes, talking about something or saying it out loud gives you the insights you need to improve and to make a change. 

How would you describe the office culture of Uber’s Sao Paulo Tech Center? 

We are the perfect size, where I still know everybody’s name and we still fit in one place—even if we need a very big table. Working at Uber is the first time that most of our engineers have been at a global company, so there is this excitement as we all learn to operate at Uber’s scale. It feels a little like working at a startup with the resources and opportunity of a global company-, which I love.

 

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 Sao Paulo Tech Center from Uber’s other engineering sites?

Brazil is home to people of all sorts of backgrounds, and the Sao Paulo Tech Center reflects the diversity of Sao 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. 

 

Aline Borges, Mobile Software Engineer, Safety Controls Engineer, Safety Controls

When did you first get interested in technology and engineering? 

When I was 14 years old, I had an opportunity to do a technical course at my high school and I chose electronics. I got to play with hardware, and soon after that I studied coding for microcontrollers and a bunch of other cool stuff. It was really fun. Eventually, I moved on from hardware and decided to tackle mobile engineering and mobile programming.

 

What makes mobile engineering at Uber unique?

The scale, for one. Even a small feature will be seen by a lot of users, and if you have a bug or a problem that impacts 1 percent of users that is still a lot of people when you consider that 14 million people use our platform every day. As a result of our massive impact, developing new features is challenging because we need to make sure everything is working before we roll it out to customers. We have to do a lot of checks and testing, which is an exciting but tedious process because everything must be very precise. We work quickly though, and once one features launches, there’s always more to do!

What advice would you give to aspiring engineers in Latin America who want to work at a global tech company like Uber? 

If you find a technical subject that you really like, dive deep into it. It’s good to know a little bit about everything, but if you specialize in one thing, especially something you like, it will show. You are going to be more enthusiastic and more interested in learning outside your day job. And prepare for your interviews! If you prepare even just a little, you will have a huge advantage.

Outside of your work at Uber, what inspires you? 

I really like mentoring and giving tech talks on various subjects, especially related to UI development. New developers often feel like they don’t know a lot, but I love showing them that it isn’t as hard as it seems to brush up on engineering skills. 

 

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. Sao Paulo has more Uber trips than any other city in the world, so we feel our influence on people every day.

Learn more about Uber’s Sao Paulo Tech Center.

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