It’s been said that if you find a path with no obstacles, it’s probably not worth walking down. Brooke Steger, a passionate thought leader in the Seattle tech community currently serving as a General Manager at Uber, can wholly attest to this fact. Her path has been anything but ordinary.
What was your path to Uber?
Honestly, mine was not what I would call a typical pathway. I changed my major in college a few times but ended up studying physics because I was into math and science. For me, I found it was fun to study something that had a right answer. It was a comfortable place for me. While I was in college, I started an online business in the video game industry. Back in the early 2000s, the ability to make purchases in games wasn’t around so we created a company where we sold items and services in games – for example, you could buy items for a character in level in World of Warcraft – and truly, the experience made me see what it was like to run a business. I had to learn how to build a website from scratch. This venture exposed me to marketing, to the customer service side and ultimately, it exposed my desire to be involved in an end-to-end business.
As women in the tech/startup industry, what are some of the challenges you have faced? Have you ever felt as though you’re not taken seriously?
Interestingly, all of my mentors have been men and I never felt in any way that they treated me or women in general any differently. I feel very lucky that I have not experienced that [sexism] as an issue in the tech community in Seattle. That said, I would like to see an increase of available mentors, both male and female, and start to see more women in leadership positions. At Uber, even when the company was quite small and we were just starting out, there have always been very strong women leaders. I’ve also said that Salle [Yoo] has been an incredible example on how to lean in and you know, when she’s in Seattle she always makes sure she meets with the team and makes herself available to all.
Given your position within the tech industry, what are you most excited about in this space? What excites you about Uber?
For me, one is the ability to oversee the business as a whole. I am less of a specialist and more of a generalist and I like to understand every side of the business. Whether it’s P & L or marketing ROI, or the political communications content side, for me Uber answers all of that. As it’s grown, I have faced different challenges and learned something new everyday – it’s really unique. I don’t want be on autopilot in any way, I want to make sure that I’m continuing to grow.
At first it was about figuring out what the business model was – we only had black car and we had request for lower cost options so Uber x was the solution for that. But now, it’s all about the expansion and finding ways to make Uber accessible to lower income families and people. We can take vehicles off the road and help reduce the strain on the environment – what drives me forward is being part of that framework.
What do you know now that you wish you would have known when you started your career?
I think that there is a level of anxiety that comes when you’re entering the workforce around what’s next or the question of “When am I going to get promoted?” I see that a lot among younger employees. They always seem to be looking at what’s next instead of what’s in front of them. The most successful people focus on what’s in front of them and encourage people to be focused in the moment.
I try to stress to others that they should focus on learning and doing really good work because in the end, people will notice that. I tell people not to get wrapped up on titles and promotions, but to instead get wrapped up in the work.
What advice would you give to young women looking to work in the technology industry?
From an educational standpoint, I would give women advice to dig in and explore more technical degrees like math, science or just physics. These majors allow you to understand technical platforms. If I were to switch careers, I’d learn how to code. I think it’s very empowering. One, it’s a fantastic industry and the number of jobs available for computer science degrees is phenomenal.
At Uber, we always try to share our failures to show that everyone makes mistakes and we encourage our teams to share those mistakes with others so we can learn from them. There’s no one out there that’s perfect and hindsight is 20/20.
It’s the same approach with education. I don’t want people to be discouraged by having one bad class where they’re struggling. I once failed a math class before and now I understand that the teacher and I were just not a match. In education, it does matter what the teacher is like – some are good for one person and not for others but we can’t get discouraged and give up. You have to keep pushing forward.
Are you a female tech industry veteran or entrepreneur that’s excited to share your lessons with the next generation of technology leaders? Share your insights as part of this “In Her Own Words” series. Contact me to learn more.