Recently, as part of a fundraising effort for Women in Technology International, I had the opportunity to attend a luncheon at Uber’s corporate headquarters in San Francisco. Several SumTotal and Skillsoft colleagues and clients met five members of the Uber team to hear their perspectives on Uber’s culture, and business growth, as well as the career paths that brought them to where they are today.
CEO Travis Kalanick may be the public face of Uber, but he hasn’t built the company by himself. He’s assembled a great team to ensure Uber runs as smoothly as possible, and empowers that team to manage all parts of the business, from internal operations to putting out external regulatory fires. Uber’s environment supports risk and boldness—in keeping with that, the company seeks to hire fearless team members at all levels. Uber has 14 core cultural values, including vision, quality obsession, innovation, “going toe to toe with colleagues,” fierceness, execution, communication, and “super-pumpedness.” Essentially, Uber employees must have a “hustle” mindset and a do-whatever-it-takes attitude to move the company in the right direction.
A variety of Uber’s leaders shared how they have built, managed, and developed their teams to support the company’s growth and long-term vision. We heard from Chief Technology Officer Thuan Pham, General Counsel Salle Yoo, and three members of Uber’s #LadyEng organization: Paulina Ramos, Vera Kutsenko and Tasneem “Taz” Minadakis.
Pham joined Uber when the company was still in its infancy. He started off making sure the Uber app stays up and running, with a team of 40. Since then, he has grown the tech staff to a team of more than 1,200 engineers. “If you are doing the same thing you did a month ago, you are doing it wrong. Things change so rapidly,” he said. In addition to application development, this philosophy applies to the way Uber recruits and develops its employees—Pham recognizes the need to innovate to take advantage of new ways of attracting and retaining top talent.
Uber’s first lawyer, longtime employee Yoo has tackled new legal ground (and all of the lawsuits). Uber is no stranger to being hit with legal action, and it’s been Yoo’s responsibility as general counsel to combat it—no small feat for a company that’s had more than 170 lawsuits in the U.S. alone and has been ordered to pay out $161.9 million since Uber’s inception in 2009. Since joining Uber about 4 years ago, Yoo has grown Uber’s legal team from one to 120 employees while the total employee population has grown to 9,000. Yoo also discussed her passion for equal pay. She’s known for asking HR to rerun offer letters if she doesn’t think it represents equal pay, and she hired female leaders early on for her teams.
Uber’s #LadyEng organization was founded in 2014 to improve the recruitment process, career opportunities, and general work environment for women in engineering and other technical roles. Lunch participants met with Paulina Ramos, Software Engineering Manager for Uber Eats mobile food delivery; Vera Kutsenko, Manager of Android Development for the driver-side tools; and Tasneem “Taz” Minadakis, head of rider growth.
Taz shared the story of how she became interested in technology—she grew up in India and didn’t have a computer at home until she was a sophomore in college, but a seventh grade computer lab and encouraging teacher started her along her path. “At the time coincidentally my brother had moved to the U.S. to do a computer science program, and that’s when I realized I wanted to do the same thing when I grew up. I did my computer engineering back in India and then came to the states to do a computer science program at USC.”
All five Uber employees discussed the challenge of finding talent. Thuan and Renee Tan, Manager of Training & Development for Delta Dental, had a dialog on the ways Common Core Standards have limited many students’ ability to attain high level math and science skills before graduating from high school. Families must assume more responsibility for expanding on learning through clubs, extracurricular experiences or tutoring to ensure children stay ahead of the crowd. This conversation was relevant personally (most of us have kids) and professionally for everyone in the room.
The energetic team from #LadyEng gave us a lot to think about. If the rest of Travis Kalanick’s employees are as enthusiastic and vibrant as the people we met at this lunch, the future for Uber, even with all the challenges and changes they are facing, is definitely a bright one.