A Reflection of my User Experience Research (UXR) Internship at Uber
Updated: Mar 16, 2020
Let’s get some background
Hello, my name is Alexandra Nguyen and I am a master’s student at Georgia Tech studying Human-Computer Interaction. The Summer of 2019, I had the opportunity to work as a User Experience Research Intern at Uber.
On the very FIRST day of my internship, I was biking to work in San Francisco, cruising through a new, unfamiliar, busy city, anddddd I ripped the leg of my pants 🤭😓
OH YEAH. That’s an entire chunk of fabric of the leg of my pants on the bike gears 😱
Great first impressions, eh? Instead of going home to change and being late, I went to the bike room and ripped the other side to make it even 😂
If anyone asked, it's boho-chic 😂🙌🏽
Sometimes, I feel like that is what working in industry is about: You have do the best you can, with what you have. A good life lesson to have and a reoccurring theme throughout my entire experience at Uber. So, I guess I am already learning on Day One.
During my internship, I learned invaluable lessons about working in industry. I think is important to take the time to reflect on what you have learned from every experience - my experience has translated into learning, growth, and opportunities. It taught me more about myself, how I work, what I am looking for in a company. I have so much more to learn!
So here’s some real talk about my experiences at Uber: the good, the bad, and the ugly (ripped pants and all)!
What brought you to Uber?
1. I wanted to make a difference and promote change to impact lives
Uber has changed the dynamics of society today. Before ride-share, we learned to never get into a car with a stranger. Now, every day, millions of rides are provided. Drivers are entrepreneurs that control their work and have the flexibility to make their own schedules. Riders get from Point A to Point B without owning a car. Pedestrians hop on a Jump Bike or scooter anywhere and everywhere without committing to owning a bike. UberEats provides accessibility for food & groceries with a click of a button. Essentially, Uber touches many practical aspects of our lives and wants to make the world a better place with their products and experiences.
2. Career > Job
I always wanted a career over a job — a career that makes an impact on the work you do and has opportunities to grow with encouraging people to help get you there (like your mentors, managers, and colleagues). From my impressions speaking to previous interns, Uber seemed like a place full of growth, change, and challenges. Therefore, I eagerly accepted the opportunity to jumpstart my career by working on the Driver’s Team at Uber. I was super excited to get the chance to utilize my background in psychology, sociology, and human-computer interaction to enhance the experience for immigrant drivers. I was keen to learn more about how Uber could support them. (Let’s chat if you wanna know more.)
What were your goals this summer? What did you do to accomplish those goals?
1. Learn relevant behaviors, skills, and attitudes to develop
…in order to be a successful UXR and build a stronger resume. This summer, I wanted to identify and assess my strengths and weaknesses. To do so, I constantly sought feedback, met with subject matter experts and probed about UXR processes, challenges, and best practices — especially when it comes to presentations and insights.
2. Make personal connections
I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to meet as many people as I could to build human connections. It’s not only about work but also about learning how you can grow and the real humans behind the people you work with — therefore, I wanted to take the time to learn from everyone and their experiences. During my time, I cast my net far and wide around the office by setting up 1–1 coffee meetings every week with someone new. Additionally, I also wanted to be the 'intern wrangler' by building a community of interns to offer support, share advice, and plan weekly events (feedback/design critiques) during and outside of work (for play!). They literally called me Intern Mom and I never been so proud of a nickname. (Miss the Dim Sum gang already!)
3. Learn what I wanted and where I want to be in terms of a workplace
People always asked me, “Is Uber what you were expecting?” This was my first ever internship and “big girl job” that didn’t consist of part-time work being a hostess, waitress, student assistant, or conducting academic research. I did not have a baseline of what to really expect from the workplace. For me, I came to Uber with the mindset of: Is this type of work environment where I want to be? Is Uber a good fit for me? Is this where I can thrive and grow? Do I want to work for a big company vs. a startup? The list goes on. I wanted to learn what I liked/disliked about a workplace so I could start to figure out what I wanted (or didn’t want) in terms of full-time positions.
What was your experience like as an intern?
1. Transitioning between school & working a full-time job
As students, we have the ability to set our own schedules. Some days, I have time to go home in between classes to take a nap, run errands, work on my backlog. However, as a full-time employee, we are expected to work 8–9 hours a day. At first, I thought that was going to be really challenging for me — to feel ball & chained to the man. However, I realized that working in a tech company, you can still set your own schedule. As long as you get your work done and attend meetings, you can do what you please. We are all adults here.
2. As interns, we are learning, we feel tons of pressure, and we kinda feel like imposters.
Interns want to demonstrate that they have what it takes and the necessary skills to do the job. We feel like imposters because we feel like we don’t belong and we aren't enough. We feel the pressure of succeeding, exceeding, but also about receiving a return offer, which looms in the back of our minds. But you gotta remember that you are only human. We are learning and we will make probably make mistakes, young grasshopper. However, coupling mistakes/learning opportunities & reflection means growth. Don't forget it!
3. Turn off your brain! Work/life balance is important.
Being in academia, we are used to taking our work home because we had to — in order to succeed. There was never enough time in the day to meet the expectations of our professors or group mates. While working for Uber, I had a difficult time defining boundaries after I left work because I enjoyed what I did. Though I am learning how to work smarter and not harder, I also need to leave my work…well at work, especially when I am spending time with work friends. This way, I can be more present with all of the new people I am meeting and spending time with.
During my internship, though I prioritized work, I loved working hard, but playing harder. Spending time exploring what San Francisco had to offer was a great way to recharge during the weekend and feel refreshed to tackle on a new week!
What did you find challenging about the internship at Uber?
To give context, my manager lives in London and my mentor was conducting research overseas for a big chunk of my internship. For me, it was challenging to be more visible with the work that I have been doing here while the “boss” is out of town. Therefore, I created a documentation report, not only to stay organized and on top of things but to show my superiors what I was doing. However, this was not exactly helpful because I didn’t relay this information to the people that matter. What helped was daily check-ins (online or offline) with my mentor to verbally tell her where I am, what I have done, and what I need help with.
What I learned: Visibility and over-communication are vital to success, especially when you are working on teams that are global.
2. Academia vs. Industry
There is a mismatch between expectations & what we learned in academia vs. what really happens in the real world. Research at Uber is very autonomous. This is incredible because you own your work from start to finish. However, the Human-Computer Interaction Master’s Program at Georgia Tech is very team-based and collaborative. In all of our core classes, we work on interdisciplinary teams with aspiring product managers, software engineers, designers, and also researchers.
We have four to five months working on multiple projects with multiple people who are dedicated to the same project. We are able to divide and conquer and easily get feedback from different perspectives from people who are involved in the same problem space. However, in industry, at least as an intern at Uber, we had about ten weeks (twelve weeks total: one week for on-boarding and the last week for presentations) and I was all on my own.
Because of the mismatched expectations between academia and industry, working with shorter timelines in a fast-paced environment, not having the luxury of working collaboratively with teammates dedicated to the same project, I had to adapt to a new timeline and learn new processes. Talk about growth!
What I learned: Do the best you can with what you have! Time is of the essence. Take shortcuts when necessary, be scrappy, learn how to do the types of work the way that teams are able to implement, and deliver the best version that you can do for a given time frame.
What did you like MOST about Uber?
Enough about challenges, let’s chat about positives and what I enjoyed about working at Uber:
Excitement for change: impact, impact, impact. We share our insights with the team and try to ensure that our findings are positively impacting the world for our users. My project insights were shared throughout the organization with leadership, PMs, and other teams. I was even invited to team meetings to share out my findings. It was exciting to see that my work was important and relevant.
Uber values research: Uber UXR is HUGE with different product teams and endless opportunities. If you have a question about any research method - someone is an expert and can give you advice or point you in the right direction.
Diverse problem spaces: There are start-ups within Uber that are expanding — which means there are always new problem spaces to learn about and work in!
Uber takes action: We identify and address problems that we have as quickly as possible, whether it’s at the team level or organization.
There’s never a dull moment: Time FLIES! As a UXR Intern, there was not a day that went by where I felt bored; I always had something to do whether it was a meeting, work work work work, catching up and helping a colleague, or even utilizing the massage chairs.
Open Google Calendars and flexible schedules: The culture here provides room to set up coffee/tea 1–1 with anyone in the company to share your ideas or just say hi. You can also choose what time you need to come to work and decide when you can leave.
Perks: Free snacks, lunch, dinner, and random Pop-Ups. Happy belly = happy and productive Alexandra.
What did you take away from your Uber Internship Experience?
1. Your research is only as good as how you present it
This summer, I learned how to make an impact with evidence-based insights to impact lives. To do so, you have to ensure that you understand the technical limitations of your insights and how they may impact the product. You have to relay the right information to the right people in the right way. This is crucial to promoting change!
During my internship, I had the opportunity to share my work with different stakeholders (& leadership!!!) multiple times (which was scary and my palms were perpetually clammy since I never presented in front of a room on my own before). However, good storytelling is how we exchange knowledge and leads to impact! Being concise and highlighting what you want people to know is important.
2. Mentorship is key to success
Wisdom and guidance are crucial for a successful internship, especially at this point in a fledgling’s career where interns are seeking to learn. My mentor, who was a UX Designer turned UX Researcher, guided me throughout my internship.
Even though she was traveling to conduct research at the time, she was available to provide constructive feedback and the help and support I needed. She challenged me to be the better version of myself and taught me so much, especially in terms of communication, what I need to know as a UXR and up-leveling my insights to the team.
Opportunities: I learned that I want to mentor someone to help prepare them from going from academia to industry. When I return to my program at Georgia Tech, I am excited to take on a protégé to share my experiences, guide them, and better prepare them for the ‘real world.’ (Spoiler Alert - I took on three mentees!)
3. People matter.
One of my favorite sayings is:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
This isn’t just your friends, family, and significant others. These are also the people who you work with. The community at Uber has challenged me but yet supported me by helping me hone my skills in UXR. Working with people who are so talented, willing to help, driven, dedicated, and passionate about working towards the same goal to make an impact for millions of people worldwide is VITAL to making change. Even though we may own our projects, it still takes a village to make an impact.
I just want to thank Uber, my mentor, my team, and my manager so much for the opportunity to be apart of the team this summer. I have learned so much about UXR, about myself, and opportunities for growth as I progress into my early career stages.
I also want to thank my intern family who made an impact on my life this summer. These relationships that I have built and grown here in just twelve weeks are so invaluable. (Intern Mom is going to miss you all but I'm sure I will see you all soon!!!)