When my college professor in Management asked my class where we wanted to work after graduating, I was the only who answered “tech company”. Everyone else wanted to work in banks or in finance companies. Not me, I told myself that I will stay as far away from staid suits and stuffy environments. I wanted to change the world, and technology was the future.
Reality however, had other plans. The universe played a cosmic joke and soon, I landed in the middle of the very place I swore off. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed working there so much that I forgot about my initial dream.
I remembered that dream of mine when I picked up my friend at Google’s headquarters at Mountain View. We toured the place and met some of their employees. While I was impressed with the place, I was more in awe of the corporate culture. Coming from a place where dress down Friday meant “no tie”, and employees worked in desks, the vibe in Google was so different that it intrigued me. I wanted to try working in a place like it! So when I went back, I started making plans.
I shopped around for tech companies. Ironically, the idea to apply to Uber came while I was waiting for my Uber ride. My driver was late and had all sorts of excuse to justify his tardiness. And then we got lost because he insisted that he knew a better route than was shown in his phone. His star rating and my patience were down to zero midway to my destination. I was working out in my mind the best way to get back at him when I hit my Eureka moment – I will join Uber. There, I can influence the policies so that no other riders will experience the hell I was going through. Truth be told, it would be fun to see the faces of erring Uber drivers once I told them where I worked (if I got hired!).
Upon arriving home, I went straight to my computer and drew up a battle plan. As a young tech company, Uber’s primary hunting ground for employees is the internet. I searched for openings online and found some interesting ones. To distinguish myself from thousands of interested job hunters, I drafted a short but sweet letter of interest. I outlined my qualifications, told them how and why I wanted to join Uber, and ended the letter with a statement of my availability for an interview. I also asked a fellow alumna to write a referral letter for me.
It worked! A few days later, I received a call from Uber. This was sort of the initial stage interview. Then, they wanted me to take Uber’s online test and the whole shebang. I outline the whole Uber interview process here. You should definitely check it out if you are interested to work with us. Also, I have developed a course that will help you pass the Uber’s analytics test and the interview question, which you can hear more about here.
That was 4 months ago.
Today, as I sit here contemplating on the turn of my career, I know that I made the right decision when I signed on the dotted line. Uber has become my new home. I don’t drag my feet to the office anymore, and instead, I look forward to every new day.
But that’s me. This is not to say that Uber is perfect – far from it. If you are reading this because you are interested in joining Uber, a discussion of Uber’s strengths and weaknesses from an employee’s point of view will be helpful to you.
Let me outline what I think Uber’s Strengths are
Again, Uber is not perfect, but I have learned during my stay that it has more strengths than weaknesses:
It’s a well-recognized brand these days, so every time I say “I work for Uber”, I would inevitably hear “wow” or “awesome”. It’s a conversation starter because most of those I talk to would ask how I managed to get into Uber. It’s gotten me through a lot of awkward situations. I work long hours, and sometimes, I question the sanity of what I am doing. But when I hear or see other people’s reaction, it boosts my spirit.
Plus, it’s good for my resume. A few headhunters have been sniffing around, and I have gotten some show of interests especially when they see where I am currently working
A feeling of satisfaction
I wanted to change the world when I graduated. I’m sure every young employee feels the same. At Uber, you will have that feeling of satisfaction that you are doing exactly that – change the world. What I love about it is that you will feel this every working day. The problems that we try to solve are the ones that every person, working or not, face daily. How do I get from point A to B? Sounds simple, and yet so ubiquitous that the solutions we offer impacts a lot of people. It’s satisfying to know that the company you work for offers solutions that have eluded politicians for decades.
On a personal level, I have seen how I make an impact. In the beginning, I was part of the team that created incentive programs for the drivers. They are an important part of our team, and we want drivers to feel that they are part of the company. I guess it was a success because we experienced a sharp increase in the number of drivers signing up. One driver even told me that the incentive program was the main reason that he started driving for Uber. Every time I read about a driver bragging about his income from driving Uber, I experience that feeling of satisfaction that I at least, indirectly, changed his life. I have listened to taxi drivers for years complaining about their dismal working conditions. Knowing that our drivers do not experience those hardships is a source of comfort to me.
Viewed from any angle, Uber is a truly a gamechanger. Every time I sit in an Uber ride, I marvel how much it has changed the landscape of the transportation industry. Because it’s the leader in the industry, it has no one to look to for comparisons. Every idea we generate is a new idea. We know that our competitors are just following our business model. In other words, we have challenged the mold of the usual transport business and have come up with our own template, which our competitors have shamelessly adapted. If that’s not satisfying, I don’t know what is.
Work with the best and the brightest
While Uber paved the way to the future, its competitors have yet to catch up. As a tech company, its one of the smaller ones at about 10,000 employees worldwide. They are dispersed in cities where Uber has a presence. Each team has only a few employees, with each one having a definite place and purpose.
Uber strives to be a lean organization. Unlike 20th century companies where size mattered, it aims to stay on top with just a few employees. Thus, every applicant goes through a rigorous application process. As I expected, the written exam was hard. The interviews were likewise challenging, but there are only so many questions a recruiter could ask. Preparation is key, if you don’t want to stammer through it. Let me just say that the interviewers in Uber really know their business. While the questions they asked were not new, I could sense that any they can spot BS a mile away. My advice is not to give motherhood statements, or you will stink of … you know what.
From my first day, I felt welcome by my teammates. Most of them were young professionals, but they were easy to work with. The best and brightest are usually competitive, but most of my co-workers can rein in their aggression. They are smart so issues get resolved quickly. If you’ve worked with smart people, you know how infectious their energies are. At the same time, my co-workers are not just book smart, but they have higher than average EQ. I found this important because Uber is a stressful place to work. You need a high EQ to deal with the stress. I’m able to focus more because there are no divas there with flairs for the dramatic.
Many companies claim that they hire only the best and the brightest. That usually means the best among the candidates at the time they were hiring. Uber does not believe in geographical boundaries. They will hire you even if you live in another state if you demonstrate that you are right for the job. This is why it is able to hire the best people.
Strong spirit of cooperation
This is a result of #3. As I said, Uber employees are smart people. While they are competitive, they also understand that there are problems that can best be solved as a team. We have weekly conferences with all other teams in other cities, and we prepare for this meeting so that it’s not a waste of everyone’s time.
We are expected to be flexible. We all pitch in where it’s needed, even if it’s not in our job description. If I have to sit there and count the number of cups needed for an event, then I do it. Without complaints. Any one of us will do it, and no one keeps scores. We have become friends over time, and so the success of one is the success of all. If you need help, just ask, and someone is bound to come forward.
Pay is good
Yes, like most tech companies, the pay is good. Uber values its employees and you will see it in your paycheck. It was one of the reasons why I jumped at the chance to work here. Of course, it comes with long hours. But the long hours have paved the way for good friendships and so we don’t mind spending time in the office. I have noticed though, that this is a problem if the employee’s partner is demanding. Mine is perfectly okay with the long hours I spend because I am well-compensated for it. Unlike in my previous employment where I come home bone tired, this is no longer true these days. It’s probably because I enjoy the challenges I face so when I come home, I am not as crabby as I was before.
Opportunities for learning abound
Uber understands that if the company wants to keep up with today’s fast paced environment, then its employees need to continuously learn. I am not talking about formal schooling. Oftentimes, most of the things that we deal with are new, and will probably be the subject of future case studies. There are no textbook answers to our problems, so we adopt what we know to today’s problems. Thus, we are always open to new learnings. You know the saying “it’s lonely at the top?” That is true in Uber because there is no one to ask! Learn or perish, those are our choices.
Every employee wants to have work life balance in their lives. Uber does not have set hours. The bosses don’t care how much time you log in. It’s all about results there. We don’t clock in, and are not paid based on the number of hours worked. If you want to take a vacation, there are no long forms to fill in or signatures to chase. As Nike said, just do it.
That said, I have many responsibilities in the office that I have not taken a long vacation. But my flexible hours allow me to take the kids to school, attend parent-teacher meetings, take them to the doctor when needed, and occasionally, take mini-vacations (but I take my laptop with me). I do spend long hours in the office, but I am not behind on errands. With a little juggling, I take care of my personal and work responsibilities. It’s not easy, but it can be done.
How about the flaws? Don’t we all have some of these?
Certainly, Uber has flaws. There are times when I throw my hands up in the air out frustration. Some of the downsides of working there are:
No work-life balance
I know I said that the hours are flexible, but the reality is there is just not enough time to do everything that needs to be done. No matter how I arrange my schedule, I end up working late into the night. The devil is in the details, and boy, there are so many details that need to be tied up. As the leader in the industry, I have no one to compare or copy. Coming up with answers takes a lot of time.
Technology cuts both ways. We work faster, but we are always reachable. Stakeholders have no qualms contacting you on a weekend or during holidays. Since Uber operations are 24/7, there are always “emergencies” that will interrupt your day. Despite widespread claim, multitasking cuts down on your efficiency. I cannot tell you how many times I have several half-done tasks left because I had to rush to another “emergency”. And when I attempt to return to what I was doing, I find that I lost my train of thought and had to start over again. What keeps me going is that I see my co-workers going through the same thing. I take a deep breath and power on.
Never enough employees
Not to make excuses, but I have concluded that Uber employees work long hours because HR is lagging in filling open positions. They say that they want to be sure that the applicants they hire are a good fit. In the meantime, work goes on. We are forced to do things ourselves if you want to fulfill your responsibilities. There must be a better way to balance these two competing interests and still come out ahead.
Costs are kept low
Uber is not swimming in cash like other tech companies. It has big dreams and I believe big potential. To achieve them, it tries to keep costs as low as possible. While we are paid well, we don’t have big perks or benefits. In short, we have what we need, and nothing more (although sometimes less). This does not bother me a lot. Every company would do well to keep their costs down. It just makes good business sense. The quality of my work is not going to change if we have espresso machines instead of coffee makers. Besides, a good corporate citizen is one that leaves as little carbon footprint as possible.
It can be unwieldy
Oftentimes I am left twiddling my thumb waiting for someone on the other side of the world to finish something I need for my project. It’s a huge company dispersed all over the world but are designed to be interdependent. You lose control as to when and how they will do what you ask. It’s nerve wracking for OCD’s like me. There are times when geography is a barrier to efficiency, and this is one of them. No matter how many times I tell them, emphasize to them, that what I need is time sensitive, I end up with frayed nerves.
Uber has grown so fast but it has not set up the right systems to address the accelerated growth. I hesitate to complain lest I be branded a whiner. There is still some amount of politicking even in tech companies, and so it can be difficult to get things done on time and in the way you want to. You need a lot of patience at Uber to survive.
I cannot end this piece on Uber without talking about the most important members of the team – the drivers. I have heard both good and bad things about driving for Uber. You’ve probably seen all those checks that Uber drivers have been bandying around in the internet showing how much they earned working x number of hours. Then there are those who come up with computations on how little Uber drivers actually earn driving for Uber. Let me just point out that in the strictest sense of the word, drivers are not Uber employees. They are more of partners. If they were, then Uber would have control over their working hours, for example. As it is, Uber drivers are totally free to choose when and how long to work. It is therefore, incorrect that Uber is the worst company to work for as a driver. The comparison they make is not apples to apples.
To Work or Not to Work
I have worked in metrics-driven companies and they can be brutal. People can get lost in the numbers. Uber uses metrics to measure the achievement of their employees. If you hate this kind of environment, you will not thrive in Uber. It’s stressful keeping up with your metrics. I have witnessed people crying because their numbers are “not good enough”. I have experience sleepless nights over them too, and have cried a bucket or two.
On the other hand, metrics are an objective tool to measure your progress. No one can manipulate -them except you. You don’t have to be at the mercy of whimsical and difficult-to-please bosses. There are plenty of those in workplaces, and they can make your life a living hell. It does not matter how hard you work, if he or she does not like you, your career is doomed.
That said, is Uber a good place to work?
It depends. Some former and current employees say that it’s not a place for people who are married or in a relationship. Inevitably, you will spend a lot of your time away working. Uber expects a lot, and if you want to deliver, you need to work, work, work. For me, it’s a matter of time management. A lot of people are bad at it, and that is why Uber is not a good fit for them. It does not really matter whether you are single or married. What matters is how you handle your responsibilities. Every job involves a trade-off. Work-life balance is well, a balancing act. It’s difficult anywhere. You can transfer to other places, but will it have the benefits I mentioned? How important are these benefits to you?
In the end, it’s your choice. You will have to live with it, so think carefully.