Graduate Business Student Association Visits Uber in Pittsburgh

Posted on 11/15/2018 3:33:59 PM

The IUP Graduate Business Student Association was given the opportunity to tour Uber’s office in Pittsburgh, where self-driving car research is being conducted and technology is being developed. GBSA Vice President Liam Carlin coordinated the visit. Our host was Pranav Bhatkhande, Control Systems engineer. Bhatkhande is an Uber veteran who had the distinction of helping build Uber’s first self-driving car and has been involved in each subsequent generation of their efforts—including top secret future versions that we were not able to see.

GBSA Uber Tour Group 11_09_2018In such a sensitive technology site, we were not able to take pictures, but, describing the facility, if one were to visit, they would see a facility that is full of energy and innovation. Uber provides many of the perks that tech companies are famous for, such as ample free snacks, comfortable lounge seating, and what was described as the life blood of the facility, gourmet coffee.

The Uber self-driving car effort is only 2½ years old, but already the team has developed a very strong culture. Looking around the office, one can see many artifacts of a work hard/play hard culture. Interestingly, the stereotype of a tech company is a bunch of 20-something young employees working crazy hours. The Uber team has a mix of the expected young dynamism mixed with experience and gray hair. Engineers were observed working with an air of intensity; but, as our group moved through the facility, everyone readily looked up and greeted us with a genuine smile.

GSBA President Yash Agarwal commented that, “it was amazing how strong the culture was and Uber Car - GBSA Tour November 9, 2018how committed all the small teams appeared. It was obvious that the teams had gelled.”

What surprises did the IUP students see? We were introduced to the engineer tasked with designing the Uber flying car (really? or were they testing these inquisitive MBAs?). Uber has artist renditions of future self-driving cars that look more like a rolling living room with docking stations to carry bicycles on the back and land drones on the roof. They clearly are seeking to demonstrate to customers that it makes more economic sense and offers better service to use Uber versus owning a car. 

John Lipinski, the GBSA advisor, was also impressed with how quickly a strong culture has developed. It seemed like every corner of the building had a nickname. There were video screens in the facility serving two purposes. One was showing the status of various initiatives for self-driving technology to provide both status updates and a little peer pressure to motivate the various teams. The other was flashing anniversary dates.

A quick observation reminds one A) how new of a company Uber is, and B) how fast they are growing. The screen first welcomed new employees, NUbers. Then it congratulated a number of employees celebrating their first anniversary, their second anniversary—and then there is a precipitous drop-off for third and fourth anniversaries. Finally, the screen congratulated one employee on his fifth anniversary.

Bhatkhande reflected on how far Uber has come very quickly in Pittsburgh. This new, super-modern facility is only about 2½ years old (Uber has been in Pittsburgh for about 3½ years). He reflected on his time in their original Pittsburgh facility where the ceiling dropped detritus into his coffee if he left it sitting uncovered on his desk.

The IUP MBA students had a wonderful experience glimpsing a piece of the future of transportation.

Eberly College of Business and Information Technology