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Working at Uber: High Stress, Lots of Controversy … and Surprisingly High Job Meaning

Topics: Career Profiles
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It’s been a rough year at Uber, the company behind the ride-sharing app that has become synonymous with the gig economy.

In February 2017, former Uber engineer Susan J. Fowler published a blog post, Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber. In it, she alleged that the company’s culture allowed her manager to sexually harass her without repercussion, while her own career was hamstrung by manipulated performance reviews, discrimination and retaliation. In addition, she described organizational chaos: “Game-of-Thrones” political infighting among managers and constantly shifting OKRs.

Then-CEO Travis Kalanick pledged an independent review, and Uber hired Eric Holder, former U.S. Attorney General, and Tammy Albarran, both from the law firm Covington & Burling, to conduct an investigation. In the resulting shakeup, 20 employees were let go for harassment and/or inappropriate behavior. Eventually, Kalanick himself stepped down as CEO.

So, Uber can be described as a company in flux, to put it mildly. If you’re considering a job there, here’s what you need to know.

Working at Uber

Uber was founded in 2009 by Garrett Camp and Kalanick as UberCab, and launched in San Francisco the following year. By 2016, Business Insider reported that the company operated in 58 countries and had a value of $60 billion.

“Part of the challenge Uber presents to its employees is the fact that our satellite offices are rather small and remote,” wrote Uber engineer Dom Anthony Narducci at Quora in October 2016. (Narducci is based at the San Francisco HQ.) “These offices are in the cities we are available in, and are just the support staff for that city. However, we try hard to keep the employee community (as I see it) active and interconnected, whether it’s through internal chat rooms, or our weekly all-hands-on-deck meetings for status reports. I also find a lot of fun in visiting other offices when I happen to be in the area.”

Jérôme Cukier, software engineer at Uber, wrote at Quora in 2015:

Uber is not a place where you’d be showered in outrageous perks and benefits. Costs are kept low and things are scrappy.

However, what we have are unique problems that anyone can help tackle that have great impact — an impact which can be witnessed in everyday life. [This is true] here in San Francisco, but this is also true of many places around the world — Uber which once was an occasional luxury is becoming a recurrent part of the life of many, removing a lot of pain points.

Uber is definitely a fast-paced meritocracy, but even though I’ve read it elsewhere, I don’t consider it more stressful or worse for work-life balance than other tech companies.

Of course, we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room: both these engineers are men. But not every happy Uber employee fits that demographic profile. For instance, Amy Sun, now a product manager at Facebook, wrote an essay on Medium called What I Learned From Working at Uber. In it, she describes a company that matches with Cukier’s “fast-paced meritocracy,” and which allowed her to move from a marketing coordinator role to product management after noticing a problem with the driver signup form:

When I pointed out the problem to our team, their response was simple: “Go design and test a new signup page.”

They didn’t care that I didn’t know the first thing about our webpages. Our design team explained our stylesheets to me, our engineering team gave me an overview of our web development stack and our data scientist taught me about good experiment design. Together, we designed a page, built it, and ran an experiment and shipped it. …This experience made me fall in love with Product Management.

I moved into Product Management because my leaders and peers were willing to give me a chance to solve problems. They believed in me and held me accountable. It made all the difference in the world, and helped me find the courage to believe in myself.

None of this means that Susan Fowler’s experience was an outlier, of course. For future Uber employees, what matters now is where the company will go from here. To that end, earlier this year the company published a diversity report, revealing — as Recode puts it — “that its diversity numbers are on par with much of the rest of the tech industry.” In other words: “not great.”

Currently, 15.4 percent of tech roles are filled by women, and fewer than 6 percent are filled by workers who are black, Hispanic, multiracial, or other. Again, not out of line for the industry, but not currently a diverse workforce.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Our Uber Survey Results

PayScale’s recent report, Tech Companies Compared, evaluates 52 top tech employers to see how they stack up in terms of pay, job stress, employer satisfaction, job meaning, tenure and intent to leave. So where does Uber rank? For the most part, somewhere around the middle.

As engineer Jérôme Cukier said, pay isn’t outrageously high at Uber, although it increases with time. While early-career median pay ranks 31st at $77,400, it reaches 15th for mid-career median pay at $149,000. Of course, you’re unlikely to reach that higher mid-career pay if you’re starting out at entry-level — like those at 11 other companies on our list, Uber employees have an average tenure of just one year.

Uber appears to be a fairly stressful place to work, coming in 6th with 70 percent of respondents reporting high stress. But, on the upside, it was also 6th for high job meaning, at 78 percent.

But perhaps most interesting of all, Uber came in second-to-last in terms of high percentage of respondents who planned to leave their employer in the next six months — only 33 percent said they were planning to do so. To put that in perspective, that’s better than the employer with the highest job meaning (SpaceX – 90 percent) or the companies with the highest average tenure (Nokia and IBM, 7 years each).

Despite high stress and relatively low pay, only 33 percent of Uber employees plan to leave within the next six months.Click To Tweet

It’ll be interesting to see how these numbers pan out over the coming months and years, as Uber attempts to find its cultural footing.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you work at Uber? We want to hear from you. Tell us about your experiences in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Quora responses were lightly edited for style and clarity.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
Read more from Jen

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