Building Locally, Scaling Globally: Meet the Tech Team at Uber New York City

From engineers and data scientists to product managers and designers, Uber’s tech team in NYC hosts our Observability, Uber Eats, Uber for Business, and Payments Engineering teams.

Our Observability team manages the reliability and stability of our microservice architecture, building and open sourcing such projects as Jaeger, our end-to-end distributed tracing system, and M3, our large-scale metrics platform. On the Uber Eats side, we build features and products for our restaurant-partners, develop and strengthen our payments systems, and build an efficient Marketplace for hundreds of cities worldwide. Our Uber for Business team works on Uber Health, Uber Central, and other products in the B2B space. And finally, our Payments team builds new financial products to improve the experience of Uber riders and enable our driver-partners to more effectively manage the money they make on the Uber platform.

When Uber employees aren’t working, they participate in a wide variety of programs and initiatives with non-profit organizations such as Girls Who Code, All Star Code Students, Pursuit, /dev/color, South Bronx United, Spectrum Designs, and Code Nation, to name a few. We also host events for various technical organizations in NYC, including the NYC Distributed Tracing and Go Language meetup groups. (Head to one of our upcoming meetups and you may be a lucky recipient of some neat Uber swag!)

With life-size Jenga waiting to be played in the cafeteria, 40-inch balloons celebrating “Uberversaries,” and kombucha on tap, life certainly doesn’t get boring in the Uber office. We sat down with some members of the team to learn more about their lives and work with Uber NYC.

Four women from the NYC Engineering team at Uber joined a Girls Who Code cohort for a panel at Morgan Stanley’s headquarters to discuss what it’s like to work in tech and receiving advice on their career paths.

 

Bo Young Lee, Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer

What do you work on at Uber?

I focus on diversity and inclusion (D&I) issues and opportunities, though I will say that the work of diversity and inclusion isn’t ever done in isolation, so I spend a lot of time collaborating with my team on larger cultural issues. Ultimately, D&I is about the culture that we’re building at Uber.

The great thing about working at Uber is that there are so many people across the organization thinking about how to best bring an inclusive mindset to everything that we do. In this spirit, I spend a lot of time with people on our product and engineering teams to advise them on how we project and integrate D&I into recruiting, community building, and professional development, among other parts of company life.

A typical day begins in the morning and ends late at night, since I’m based in New York and oftentimes am syncing with our headquarters in San Francisco. There’s a lot of meetings! A lot of what D&I does is often not so much in the product development or product design realm of the business, although there is a fair amount of that, but in the influencing and advisement of company culture.

Why did you decide to join the Uber NYC team?

I am someone who inherently wants to make things better. And I love to solve for and address some of the biggest and hairiest challenges. Uber has such a wide span of influence in the world, and when I joined, Uber had so many opportunities for growth from a diversity perspective. Once I decided to go for it, the chance was lighting little endorphin flashes in my head; immediately, I knew I could really make a difference.

In my opinion, NYC is the greatest city in the world. I have lived in NYC all of my life and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. There was no other option for me!

What is the most challenging aspect for you in this job?

From my understanding, 2017 was a traumatic and exhausting experience for this organization and a lot of people want to move on, so I’m very mindful of this as I work towards implementing some of the cultural changes my team is introducing.

Another challenge is that there is so much noise externally about our company from a D&I perspective. Once joining the company, I found out quickly that the reality of who we are as a company is so very different. We have so many amazing people focused on all of the right things, so if I were to share one message with people it would be that we all know how great we all are. We have those intimate relationships internally where we’re all like, “Oh I’m so glad that I’m working with Ali [Sofen, NYC Program Manager, Tech]. I’m so glad that I’m working with Marc [Donner, Director of Global Tech Sites ]. I’m so glad that I’m working with people like Thuan [Pham, Uber CTO].” And we have to base our own reality on the quality of those relationships and not allow that noise to affect us.

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

Probably the best advice about working in the D&I space was given to me almost at the very beginning of my my career by a partner at my previous employer, Ernst & Young. She said: “Regardless of what your title is, always keep in mind that the only power you will ever have, Bo, is the power of influence.” People may look at me and say, “Oh she’s the Chief D&I Officer, so therefore she has this ability to move all of these things and do all of these things.” and I say, “that’s absolutely not true at all.”

When it comes to things like inclusion, you can’t force a person to be inclusive—you can’t force a person to think from a diverse lens. The only way that you can influence other people is to build a trusting relationship where each person that you engage with trusts that you have their best interests at heart. And so that when you advise them to do something that’s different from their natural instinct, you’re doing it from a place of wanting to make things better.

I lead these interactions by asking myself, “How do I build a relationship with this person? How do I ensure that they see me as a trusted advisor? How do I get them to know that I have their best interests at heart when I am advising them?”

Outside of your work at Uber, what drives you?

Even when I was a very young person, I always had this weirdly established sense of what was right and what was wrong. I’ve always had this very clear sense of how I wanted the world to operate and so everything that I do in this work is about how do I leave this place better than when I started. Whether it’s an organization like Uber, whether it’s the planet, the world I live in, or the larger community, I just want to make things better. Because that’s a never-ending journey, I’m constantly motivated and I’m very privileged in that I do work that I truly am passionate about. Working in D&I is a core part of my own identity and how I define myself as a human being, so everyday I say I’m so lucky that I get to do work that I love. People joke and ask if I ever shut it off and I say, honestly, that I never really do. It’s who I am.

Nitin Joshi, Engineering Manager, Uber for Business

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

The sheer variety of business and product ideas I’ve had a chance to work on at UberUber Eats, Uber RUSH, Uber Health, and Uber Centralis something that most people don’t understand about my time at Uber. Given the scale and scope of Uber’s operations, there’s almost an unlimited amount of opportunities. This diversity of engineering work has allowed me to partner with some of the largest food, e-commerce, and healthcare companies in the world, while also providing interactions with teammates across the globe in operations, business development, and sales. It’s rare to have such a diverse set of experiences as an engineer.

As one of the first engineers in the Uber NYC office, I’ve also had a chance to shape the team culture and help recruit talented engineers to our organization. I’ve done close to 200 interviews at Uber since I came onboard and have helped hire engineers and managers at all different levels.

What is something special about your role that you’ve taken part in?

I was part of the original Uber Eats team that built the first iteration of the product that’s in use today. Seeing it launch as a small MVP in Toronto and then seeing it scale to be used by millions in three years has been incredible. It’s a testament to the talent of our team that we’re able to take products built by engineers and grow them across the world.

What does it take to get a job on your team?

In my opinion, it takes a strong passion for building user-facing products and working across teams to see them launch and grow. While we look for strong engineers, there isn’t one particular domain we fixate on. We aim to interview based on a candidate’s strengths and if you can showcase what you know well, along with a strong desire to grow and learn, you’ll be a great fit.

What is a big misconception people have about Uber Tech NYC?

There is often a misconception that remote offices primarily work on unimportant projects that are not core to the company’s bottom line. At Uber NYC, that’s not the case; our office has always had a strong set of independent charters from day one. It’s the center of many Uber Eats expansion efforts, an area that represents one of the fastest growing segments within Uber. Uber Health and Uber Central, products that are pivotal to our growth on the Uber for Business side, are also headquartered in NYC. In addition, we have a large infrastructure team tackling technical challenges such as distributed tracing, metrics collection, and time series databases.

Therese Lim, Senior Product Manager, Uber Eats

What is your background, and how did you get started in tech?

I graduated from Yale University with a double major in Economics and Political Science. I started out in the communications department at Google and had the opportunity to work with product managers who were working on very interesting projects where technology made a real difference in the lives of others, such as creating crowdsourcing tools to catalog evacuation spots on a map during natural disasters. I knew then that I wanted to build a career in creating those types of products. Since then, I’ve worked at the intersections of tech and media, tech and small and midsize businesses, tech and e-commerce, and now tech and food. I am proof that one doesn’t need a technical degree to work in Product; what one does need is the tech savviness to build bridges between business, customer needs, and technology.

Why did you join Uber?

In deciding to join a new company, I typically make sure that the trifecta of good people, good culture, and good problems exists. For me, Uber ticked all the boxes. I am fortunate to be part of an incredibly talented cross functional teamfellow product managers, designers, data scientists, engineers, marketers, sales and operations teams, and so onwhom I learn from every day.

At Uber, I belong to an organization that is nurturing and collaborative, where team-based problem-solving rules the roost and where good ideas can come from anywhere as long as the data backs them up.

Finally, the opportunity to solve problems at the intersection of bits and atoms—the digital and physical world—has been extremely exciting and impactful. There is nothing closer to people’s everyday needs than food. When we don’t get things right, there are real consequences–a hungry customer doesn’t get their food, a restaurant loses money, a delivery-partner doesn’t earn as much as they could have. Making sure we do all we can for our customers across the three sides of the Uber Eats marketplace is what gets me out of bed every morning.

What do you work on at Uber?

I co-lead our Restaurant Product team on Uber Eats, which has come into its own as a very successful business within Uber. Our team partners with restaurants to make sure food gets prepared and delivered to eaters efficiently and reliably. We use technology to take the guesswork out of the end-to-end experience, from helping a restaurant increase its delivery sales to managing live orders within a busy store, so that restaurants can focus on what they do best: making delicious food.

Walk us through a typical day at Uber.

A day-in-the-life of a product manager is always varied, but our most important task is listening to our customers: I spend a lot of time meeting restaurateurs, visiting restaurants, and participating in research studies. Because we operate at scale in every sense, it’s important to get a variety of perspectives. The owner of a small neighborhood Thai restaurant in Chelsea, New York, will have different needs from the rotating in-store staff of the busiest McDonald’s in Bogota, Colombia, but it’s our job to make sure our product works for all of them.

I also spend much of my time building a rockstar team: Uber Eats is adding new restaurants and markets to our platform at a dizzying pace, and we are fortunate to have plenty of interesting problems to work on. Finding people who are motivated, smart, and action-oriented to work on them is crucial, so I devote several hours a week to meeting prospective job candidates and making sure we are meeting the needs of an exponentially growing team.

Of course, I wouldn’t be a product manager if I wasn’t establishing product strategy. My team’s experience with Uber Eats is one of constant innovation. Being at the forefront of food delivery, we have to find ways to solve problems no one has encountered before. For example, we are thinking through how to ensure delivery, which now makes up a significant proportion of many restaurants’ demand, is done as efficiently and profitably for restaurants as their dine-in experience.

Finally, another core aspect of my job is reviewing new product features: We ship new features to our restaurants everyday, whether it’s an experiment to alert restaurants when we detect an order error, or the rollout of point-of-sale integration with one of our large enterprise chains. I work with my team to make sure we hold the quality bar high and are data-driven about the product decisions we make.

How does your role fit into Engineering?

Product works extremely closely with engineering to create the customer vision for our product and then implement it. Product managers drive to a cohesive strategy for the product, specify the requirements that need to be built, get buy-in from various stakeholders, and then join with engineering to build, ship, and iterate on the product.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Finding ways to scale our product is a big challenge that drives our team. We already have hundreds of thousands of restaurants on the Uber Eats platform, and it’s not hard to imagine a world where there will be millions. We are laying the groundwork for that world by fundamentally rethinking a lot of our approaches, ranging from how we onboard a restaurant to Uber Eats and get them receiving orders in minutes, not days, to how we create self-serve tools to address the most common restaurant support requests we receive from customers. It’s not an easy shift to think outside the norm, but it’s crucial to our future success.

Outside of your work at Uber, what drives you?

I get a lot of my energy from living in New York and seeing the hustle and drive of folks trying to make it in the city. I love the fact that tech is just one of many interesting fields based here, and routinely get inspiration from activities and friends who work in the arts, media, fashion, finance, non-profit, education, and so on. There is so much innovation and pure joy being created in the city, that it’s hard not to get swept up.

Members of the tech team at Uber NYC discuss an upcoming feature launch.

 

Fabrizio Lecci, Data Scientist, Uber Eats

What do you work on at Uber?

I am a data scientist on the Uber Eats Restaurant Experience team. Uber Eats is a three-sided marketplace: eaters, delivery-partners, and restaurants. My team makes sure that Restaurants are successful and have a smooth experience on our platform: from onboarding to receiving orders and interacting with delivery-partners.

I leverage Uber Eats’ data to predict future demand, detect trends, and develop features to automate processes for restaurant-partners. Currently, I am studying how a rich mix of different cuisines positively affects the marketplace, and I am supporting the development of tools that bring more demand to restaurants. One example: restaurants can now run special offers on our platform.

What is your background, and how did you get started in tech?

I have always liked mathematics and statistics. I moved from Italy to the U.S. to do research in academia. For a few years, I developed statistical methods to study geometrical patterns hidden in data, and conducted studies to understand the development and evolution of Alzheimer’s Disease. While my work was important and gratifying, I decided to leave academia to work in industry so that I could leverage these methods to tackle problems with more immediate and actionable solutions. Transportation is a very complex and interesting real-world problem, and Uber represented a unique opportunity to tackle it.

Walk us through a typical day

Right now, I am experimenting with something new: being a morning person. I try to be in the office around 8:00 a.m., when the NYC office is quiet and my colleagues in San Francisco are still sleeping.

This gives me three to four hours to focus on coding and developing statistical models. My afternoons are less predictable: I have meetings with different teams that are impacted by my work, I interview candidates for the data science team (we are hiring!), I participate in Uber NYC events, such as career panels for high school students in the Bronx, and teach seminars for our office’s growing community of data scientists.

How does your role fit into engineering?

I collaborate closely with engineers on the Uber Eats Restaurant Experience team. Any new feature that we release for eaters, delivery-partners, or restaurants requires testing. I work with engineers to plan and execute experiments, log and analyze data, and build models to surface data to restaurants. I help engineers by providing data, experiment results, and machine learning models, and they help me scale this information globally.

What makes Uber a fun company to work for?

There are many great things that make working at Uber fun. To start, the quality and quantity of data are impressive, and the platforms and tools to leverage them are top-notch.

Everything at Uber moves fast, including the products that data scientists build. One day you build a machine learning model that converts a 30-minute manual process into a 1-minute automated process; the next day your model is used in 600-plus cities. Every day I learn something new: a machine learning method, a coding trick, something about the business, or even something new about the many communities that Uber supports. But most of all, I enjoy working with the most brilliant and talented group of people I have ever met.

Celina Ward, Software Engineer, Observability

Did you always want to be a software engineer?

Well, I’ve enjoyed working with computers since elementary school, and based on how much I enjoyed solving technical challenges and creating nonsense trivial websites, I knew I wanted to pursue technology as a career.

I don’t think I ever fully grasped the concept of a professional software engineering role while in college, though, so while I loved studying computer science, I also wanted to pursue other interests, such as day trading, social behavior research, entrepreneurship, powerlifting—pretty much everything under the sun. Early in my senior year, I signed a full-time offer to work as a project manager for a technical investment banking team since it seemed all-encompassing, but as the year went on and I took more interesting computer science electives, I knew I would miss programming every day, so I decided to give the software engineering role a shot at the same bank. I was apprehensive about siloing myself into a one-track career for all of eternity (I had just graduated, so naturally the existential crises were at an all time high), but I was pleasantly surprised with the amount of collaboration and innovation my team had in their day-to-day work. I was especially excited to build something new everyday and go home feeling excited to come back to work the next day.

Why did you decide to join Uber Engineering NYC?

Being an engineer at Uber is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity! We get to work and change the world with some of the smartest and most passionate people in the industry at a company that’s recently become a household name. We’ve evolved from disrupters to leaders in a relatively short amount of time, and to experience the company grow its businesses, technology, and outreach is awe-inspiring.

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

I think a lot of people, including myself, come into these sorts of technical roles expecting a lot of mathematical rigidity and formalized processes for coding, and that the conveyor belt ride to becoming a great engineer is to really dig down deep into these core concepts and master a programming language until we finally know everything and unlock some secret key to ultimate success. While this isn’t necessarily untrue, I’ve found that what’s really fascinating and exciting about my role is that I feel like I’m constantly inventing and contributing new universally-accepted ideas to challenge the software community at large. Utilizing my creativity and continuously improving my communication and negotiation skills vastly contributes to feeling accomplished in this role.

What is something special about your role that you’ve taken part in?

Being a member of the LadyEng organization at Uber continues to be really empowering and inspiring. I’ve met such strong, motivated women who not only want to make a successful career for themselves, but also for the rest of the female software engineering community at large. We regularly discuss strategies on how to make the workplace feel more inclusive for female software engineers, and we also outreach to organizations (such as Girls Who Code) to communicate strategies for feeling confident and capable in one’s technical skills in a work setting where it’s too easy to feel isolated and discouraged.

What makes working at Uber fun?

In addition to how there’s always something new to work on, interesting people to meet, and endless snacks, I love how connected the organization is as a single unit. I have made friends at Uber across several offices around the globe whom I catch up with regularly about Uber topics and outside hobbies.

What is most challenging about building reliable systems at scale?

Challenges pertaining to system reliability come in all shapes and sizes when it comes to engineering for a large tech company, a small software vendor, or anything in between. Generally, in terms of “at scale”, I think the more ecosystems your software touches, the more that’s at stake, so making trade-offs between leveraging old solutions as opposed to introducing new ones, staying in-line with the company’s goals, and keeping the product relevant to the global tech community gets a lot more complicated, and then suddenly you have a bunch of software problems that can be basically described with game theory vocabulary. It’s too easy to engage in bike-shedding and prioritize what may end up irrelevant down the line, so establishing multiple clear, concise goals and requirements across the entire scope of your system is key.

Marc Donner, Director of Global Tech Sites

What do you work on at Uber?

I have three roles at Uber. I was hired in May of 2016 to be the NYC Engineering Site Director and manage Observability. In November of 2016 the head of Infrastructure asked me to add the role of Head of SRE to my portfolio. In May of 2017, Thuan [Pham, Uber’s CTO] asked me to drive the creation of an engineering office in Toronto, so I’m working on that as well.

On top of my work in NYC, I collaborate with the other distributed tech site leads to improve engineering in the non-HQ offices (Seattle, Boulder, New York, Amsterdam, Aarhus, Vilnius, Sofia, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Toronto, and Sao Paulo).

How did you get your start in software engineering?

Someone gave my high school an ancient computer and I learned to program in Assembler. In college, I studied electronics, but my first job after college involved writing software to manage some deep space data collection at NASA, and after that, I was off to the races. I enjoyed programming so much that I decided to go to grad school and learn computer science, so I attended CMU where I programmed Ivan Sutherland’s six-legged-walking machine for my PhD.

What makes working at Uber fun?

The people—they are so passionate and energetic. Our culture values humor and a slightly irreverent approach to everything, and that makes it a lot of fun to work here. For instance, at our first meetup, we heard from one engineer who makes furniture and sculpture with exotic woods and resin and another who does remarkable things with electroluminescent wire, among others. Who knew there were such interesting hobbies among our hard-working engineering staff.

And, what else would I do? I definitely have no future as a singer, but I enjoy blogging from time to time.

Interested in learning more about job opportunities at the Uber NYC 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! Keep an eye out for future event details.

Article photography by Cheyanna de Nicola

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