A little less than a year ago I had the “pleasure” to interview at Uber. I didn’t know much about the company at the time, other than that they were big. I was looking for work already and Uber’s recruiter reached out to me, so I figured to give it a shot.
Up to this point I’ve never used Uber and only used Lyft once. On my way to the job interview I was given a free Uber credit, so I decided to use it just so I can get some exposure to the app. I caught my Uber and began talking to my driver. I asked him how long he worked for Uber and if he was happy. The driver said that Uber gave him more business, but he didn’t make as much and that he would only turn Uber on during the off hours and normally would try to drive for Lyft. I told him that I was on my way to interview at Uber, and he said: “Good for you, I’ve heard they at least treat their corporate employees well”.
Shortly after we got to Uber’s building, I thanked the driver and left the car. I was planning to tip him well, but couldn’t find the tip option like the one I’ve seen in the Lyft app. I felt kind of bad that I was not able to tip the guy after asking all those personal question, but I shrugged it off and proceeded to hurry up to my interview.
A few weeks before my interview I finished reading a book titled Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble by one of the writers for the Silicon Valley show. The book has been truly eye opening and made me very skeptical of startups in general and Unicorn startups in particular. Everything that followed my ride, felt as if it was taken straight out of that book.
So here I was, in my suit (rookie mistake), sitting in the lobby of Uber’s building waiting for my recruiter to show up. I must say that the building looked pretty nice, but at the same time it also felt as if they have just moved in. After 15 minutes my recruiter showed up and proceeded to take me to my interview. He apologized, saying that there were some scheduling conflicts and that we would “have to play it by ear”.
My first interviewer was a very sharp young man who landed his first job at Facebook, but quit after a year to join Uber to “be closer to the city” and probably in the hopes of cashing in big on their eventual IPO. I liked the guy a lot, but most of the time I remember thinking, “I can’t believe you’ve left Facebook for this”.
I believe I had another one on one interview with an engineer, of which I remember very little, other than that he was a young guy, and that he seemed tired and overworked. If I remember correctly, one of the things that he shared about the company is that “shit breaks all the time” and it’s common to get woken up at night to fix things.
After that interview I had to change rooms. My recruiter came back and walked me over to my new location. He apologized again stating that they were “growing like crazy” and that the IT could not keep up. He also bragged that they were planning to DOUBLE their already sizable engineering force in the coming year.
During my next interview I had a lunch meeting with the hiring manager. The food was healthy and after a few introductory questions the manager asked me: “How would you deal with a situation when somebody asks you to do 80 hours of work in 40 hours of time?” I said that I can do it if something mission critical is broken, but I would prefer not to do that on a regular basis. He did not seem too happy with my answer, but felt pretty strongly about it. Unlike most of the people that I’d meet that day (including the hiring manager) who were young and did not have kids, I was pushing my mid 30s and had a family with 2 children. The interview at Uber was the first time in my life that I felt OLD.
After the hiring manager, I had a “remote” interview with an engineer from another team. The conference room was not connected properly. The video for our call worked, but the audio did not. We proceeded to spend 20 minutes trying to brainstorm how to get the video conference working, including me coming up with an idea that the guy can call me on my cell. This proceeded with me holding up a big sign with my phone number on it in front of the camera, gesturing the interviewer to “call me”.
After the interviewer made the call, the hiring manager left and the two of us proceeded to have a nice chat. The guy has been with Uber for a long time and seemed pretty happy, making me think that Uber as a whole was not as crazy as the team that I was interviewing for. He worked on the payment system and asked me what advice I would have for his team. I proposed adding a “tip the driver button”. He said they have thought about that functionality a lot, but were afraid that it would take away from user experience. As a user, it was nice to not have to worry about the tip.
My next interview was in yet another room. My recruiter once again came back to grab me and walked me to the new location. On the way I got to see a bunch of young Uber employees hanging out/working in various nooks and spaces that were designed to look like a mix between a Club and Google office, but were clearly neither.
Next interview consisted of two engineers (a guy and a girl, both young and smart) asking me some basic front end questions. By that point, I had a pretty good feeling that Uber was not for me, and I probably was not for Uber, but we went through the motion. The guy interviewer was so tired from “staying up last night working” that he drank two energy drinks during our interview and forgot his laptop when he left.
My next interview was in the same room, with two more engineers – an Uber old-timer and a recently hired engineer. The old-timer guy seemed completely checked out and the newer girl seemed not fully engaged. We talked for about 40 minutes about some random stuff and they passed me onto my recruiter.
The recruiter took me to another room and asked me what my salary expectations were. I told him my current salary and he said that it was a little high for their base pay and that they prefer to under pay on base but overcompensate with stock. I remember thinking to myself, so you are going to pay me less and will try to make up for it with your over-inflated Monopoly money stock? No, thank you!
He then asked if I had any questions for him. I asked if they had any plans to make thing better for the drivers. He said that they were looking at various things like creating tools that would help drivers understand the real hourly rate that they were making. As if the real issue was that the drivers just did not understand how lucky they were to be driving for Uber. I asked if they considered to pay the driver more? He said that it’s not ideal, since they want to keep their service as affordable as possible. He then added that I must realize that they were not competing with Taxis for the drivers, but rather with Walmart. Implying that if the drivers could earn slightly above the minimum wage driving for Uber, things were OK.
I thanked him and left. I knew in my mind that there was no way in hell that I would work for Uber. A day later I received a call from the recruiter informing me that the team decided that I was not a good fit.
I wanted to blog about my experience right away, but decided against it. It wasn’t until I read Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber today, a story by a woman engineer who was treated very poorly during her year at Uber, including sexual harasment, that I decided to write about my experience. I may not like Uber very much, but I do feel for those bright, young engineers who are wasting away the best years of their lives building this company.
Hopefully Uber will be able to grow up into a professional and respectful place of employment. Until then I am sticking with Lyft, even if it costs me a few extra dollars.
Since this post blew up, I’d like to point out few links:
- Reflecting On One Very, Very Strange Year At Uber Susan J. Fowler – Calls out some real serious issues, including sexual harassment at Uber and was the inspiration for this post. To quote a comment from Hacker New – “The post was prompted by the phenomenal writeup by Susan Fowler on her year working with Uber. If you can read only one, certainly read hers. If you can read only two, consider reading Susan’s twice as it’s exceptionally good writing. This is a nice (not exceptionally original) personal account of a bad interview experience.”
- Handcuffed to Uber – a great article by TechCrunch explaining how having stock options of a Unicorn startup like Uber can be a double edged sword.
- Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-Up Bubble – a fun, but also very educational book that explores the current startup bubble.