By Lili Kan
In this article, engineering manager Lili Kan discusses her decision to transition from Uber ATG to our Insurance Engineering team, a decision that may look unconventional on paper but turned out to be one of her most gratifying career moves.
Career exploration takes many forms. It’s not always a clear path, nor does it always lead you to where you expect to end up. From day one, however, one thing was sure: I wanted to be an engineer.
For as long as I can remember, STEM has been my main academic interest. I studied electrical engineering and computer science at the University of California at Berkeley, and have worked as a software engineer, then engineering manager, for a variety of enterprise technology companies. Along the way, I took a few minor detours as a marketing manager, product manager, and tech entrepreneur, but the road always led me back to engineering. And none of those experiences come close to the intensity, excitement, and satisfaction of my last two and half years at Uber.
My Uber journey
I joined Uber’s Core Services organization in April 2016. There, I built and led three engineering teams that developed scalable platform services and full-stack applications that enable efficient operation of Uber’s ridesharing ecosystem. Towards the end of 2016, I was tapped to build out a new engineering team in Uber’s newly established Advanced Technologies Group (ATG) based out of San Francisco. The mission of the new engineering team was to develop platforms and applications so that Uber can operate a safe, reliable, efficient, and productive self-driving transportation fleet. I loved my team, and, like a startup, we were lean and agile. Since my wheelhouse was in enterprise software, I quickly learned a great deal about self-driving technology. It was one of the most exciting and memorable experiences in my professional life.
While I have no doubt that self-driving is the future, and Uber is in an excellent position to make a difference in this technology space, after nearly two years on the team, I was itching for a change. Like self-driving, I wanted an area that was innovative and exciting, but also had a deep integration with our ridesharing business.
One thing that I love about Uber’s culture is that our leaders are very down-to-earth and accessible. I was able to start my exploration by chatting with our CTO Thuan and his leadership team, who helped me quickly identify opportunities that matched the type of role I was looking for. From there, I spoke with several teams across the company, and while they were all working on cutting edge projects with innovative technologies, the team that really stood out to me was Insurance Engineering.
Yes, you read that correctly, Insurance Engineering. When I had my first meeting with my manager on the team, I had no idea what types of insurance technologies Uber used, let alone what it meant to be an insurance engineer at Uber. In fact, my first reaction was one of hesitation. How could insurance engineering be as exciting of a career path as self-driving cars?
As the conversation continued, I learned many surprising facts: Uber is heavily invested in our insurance engineering solutions. Uber is an insurance pioneer in the gig-economy, having transformed traditional insurance models; Uber’s insurance program has provided protection for many driver-partners who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to earn money on the Uber platform; Uber has extended insurance coverage accessibility to driver-partners beyond auto insurance in some regions; and Uber’s usage-based insurance solutions require engineering to manage.
I became more and more intrigued by this opportunity, especially the impact insurance engineering had on our business and customers. I was introduced to the new Insurance Group Product Manager (GPM), Jolanta Szczerba, who just joined Uber after spending fifteen years at Google leading its Billing and Payment platform. Meeting the GPM that day was a major influence on my decision to join the team. The first things that struck me about Jolanta were her cheerfulness and energy. She told me her story of what convinced her to leave a very comfortable job and join Uber. She talked about what it was like when she first started in Billing and Payments at Google, when many people thought only about integration with banks and credit card companies, and how her job grew to became so much more, from building new user experiences and enabling new monetization models, to building a full stack infrastructure at a global scale.
She encouraged me to reflect on how new ways of purchasing and paying have transformed the payment landscape. Both established, large companies and smaller, new entrants have shown tremendous success in the payments space. She suggested that the insurance industry is at a similar tipping point as financial technology was over a decade ago, with evolving user behavior and new expectations forcing the change, big data and new technologies making innovation possible, and an accelerated VC investment in this trillion dollar industry, factors all clearly signaling the winds of change. Consequently, Uber’s unique position in the transportation space gives us a strong competitive advantage to drive and lead transformation of the insurance industry.
As we ended our meeting, Jolanta suggested that I do some research on gig economy insurance. Over the following weekend, I found a wealth of articles on how the gig economy could force changes in traditional insurance models. I also read up on various tech startups and the interesting things that they are doing in this space. I even learned the term “Insurtech,” coined to encapsulate all the work going on in this field.
It became readily apparent that Insurtech was a fascinating space in which existing insurance companies and platforms like Uber’s were in a position to make a major, positive impact in partnership with the insurance industry. The more I learned, the more I became excited about the possibilities, especially at Uber. How many other companies have the user base that Uber has? How many have the experience in navigating legal and compliance issues throughout the world? How many have the technological scale and engineering capacity?
After my research, I couldn’t join the team fast enough. It was a no-brainer that even if we focused on a small piece of this market, the efficiency gains could massively improve the experience of our driver-partners, as well as the economics of our company.
Insurance Engineering at Uber
So what, exactly, does Uber’s Insurance Engineering team do? Perhaps it’s most aptly summarized by our team’s mission:
Provide peace of mind for driver-partners and riders through innovative, transparent, cost-efficient insurance products, and assist them quickly with empathy and care when things go wrong.
Through our insurance solutions, Uber can deliver on this vision and enable a more seamless, stress-free experience for driver-partners on our platform. Our three main goals include: improving the driver-partner insurance experience, optimizing claims efficiency, and building a more scalable, extensible platform.
Improving the driver-partner insurance experience
Throughout a driver-partner’s life-cycle on the Uber platform, we want them to have a clear understanding of Uber’s insurance protection program. To achieve this, we build intuitive products that provide consistent experiences and communications across the mobile app, web app, marketing materials, and support channels, so that driver-partners have useful information and help at their fingertips at every step of their journey. To realize this goal, our engineers must collaborate closely with product teams, designers, insurance professionals, and end-users to build out full-stack applications across multiple platforms.
In the event of an accident, we want to provide simple, fast, and empathetic accident reporting through our mobile apps or web app for our driver-partners and riders. Our set of apps and services provide accident site assistance (i.e., roadside assistance, an Uber ride, and real-time claim submission), and manage the subsequent incident life cycle (i.e., rental car assistance and partner status management) until our driver-partner returns to the Uber platform. In the near future, we plan to do lots of exciting work in this area, such as incorporating video streaming, audio recording and dictation, and image capture and processing to assist with easy and accurate accident reporting.
Our crash detection model using mobile telematics data helps us respond to our users in the event of an accident and provides useful information related to the accident, such as time and location. We plan to build insurance systems that incorporate crash detection models and proactively provide real-time assistance.
By integrating our insurance solutions with the Uber platform, we can leverage user preferences and needs to provide customized insurance offerings.
Optimizing claims efficiency
We leverage technology (including crash detection, natural language processing, and machine learning) to provide fast and accurate data to automate and speed up the entire claims workflow, thereby reducing costs and increasing customer satisfaction.
While insurance claims on our platform are handled by external claims adjusters, we are working towards automating more routine elements of the claims process for a better customer experience.
Insurance claims data must be tracked and audited. Because claims involve financial data, the data we provide must be secure and accurate. To best service our driver-partners, we need to understand and map data lineage, as well as ensure it is validated and accurately meets compliance standards.
As one of the world’s largest automobile insurance buyers, Uber partners with leading insurance carriers globally to process accident claims. To provide a fast and seamless experience for our driver-partners and riders, we need to automate not only our own claims automation, but also our carrier-partners’ claims automation. We strive to maintain a quick turnaround time from accident reporting to claims processing and payout. To fulfill this vision of optimal claims efficiency, we plan to build out a comprehensive platform that supports both internal and external systems.
Building a more scalable and extensible platform
Not many companies can claim the scope and scale of Uber’s user base. Having a scalable and performant software system architecture to enable faster product development from the get-go is an exciting but essential challenge. Building out a strong platform of distributed services with the necessary reliability and performance requires deep technical expertise.
As we continue to provide more insurance offerings on our platform, our target user-base will expand. This means orders of magnitude increases in scale. Uber’s modality effort in food delivery, bikes, scooters, freight, transit, and self-driving will also increase the variation and complexity of the products to be built. Building an extensible platform for insurance will support the expansion of our insurance product offerings.
Another key element of the platform involves managing data. Insurance data has to be accurate, secure, and compliant. The data life cycle has touch points with many stakeholders, including driver-partners, incident operations, claims operations, and carriers. It’s important to build a data platform and pipeline that ensures integrity each step of the way that can support both real-time and offline analytics.
Reflecting on my journey
Two months into my new role as the lead on Uber’s Insurance Engineering team, I can honestly say that there’s no work I’d rather be doing. My first several weeks have been hectic, exciting, challenging, and rewarding, but it’s everything I was looking for and more. My role has given me wide exposure to stakeholders across the company, from business development, to operations, to product management and policy. I’ve had the privilege of diving deeply into the weeds of our platform, iterating on existing solutions, developing new ones, and planning for future growth. So far, I’ve been had the opportunity to:
- Learn about the current insurance product and platform architecture.
- Establish and refine the development processes to improve planning and execution, as well as transparency and accountability.
- Improve the communication channels for both team-wide information sharing and input gathering.
- Work with our product counterparts on our product roadmap.
- Brainstorm with other engineers on our tech roadmap.
- Drive current projects to completion with high quality and efficiency.
Last but not least, it was important for me to get to know each engineer on the team, listening to their concerns and suggestions and learning about their goals. Along with my counterpart on the Insurance Product Management team, our product and tech roadmaps are quite well defined and exciting. While we’re working hard and have already delivered some key capabilities to the product, we have also increased collaboration and rapport building through cross-functional workshops, brown bag lunches, team events, and much more. With team excitement building around the future of our product and its capacity for impact, I couldn’t have chosen a better time to join.
As I learned firsthand, Uber’s Insurance Engineering team is the place for substantial career growth coupled with challenging, but rewarding, technical work. From making our existing services more seamless to developing additional features to optimize the speed and efficiency of the claims workflow, we have a lot of engineering ahead of us.