We sat down last week with Laura Steel, Senior Technical Sourcer at Uber, who will join us as a mentor during our upcoming panel, Pivot: Lessons in Changing Courses, taking place on November 12 at 5 p.m. ET. She talked with us about her own career path and the importance of agility when finding your way. We also chatted about diversity in tech and how she works to close gaps through her role at Uber.
Girls in Tech: Tell us a little bit about your career path. How did you get to where you are today?
Laura Steel: It definitely hasn’t been linear. I started out as an English major at Boston University, and once I graduated, I wasn’t really sure where to go from there. I knew I wanted to move to New York, so I took a job as a contractor for a tech startup. I bounced around to a few different jobs early on; at one point, I was at The Guggenheim helping to build their app. Then, I got the opportunity to move into technical recruiting through a friend of mine. I spent a couple of years recruiting for smaller companies before I was contracted by Google, where I stayed for two years. And now I’m at Uber. It’s been an interesting path; I’ve learned a lot about technology in general and also the gaps you see in underrepresented groups.
GIT: Can you talk about how you approach those gaps as a recruiter?
LS: At Google and at Uber, closing those gaps has been a focus. And it’s become a passion of mine to find ways to recruit people with less traditional backgrounds. Many hiring managers are looking for people who have backgrounds similar to theirs, I am looking for people who maybe took a unique route. I try to get different kinds of people in the door not only for diversity of backgrounds but also to promote diversity of thought. That ultimately will make the entire organization more vibrant and successful.
GIT: How do you approach cultivating the culture at Uber through your work?
LS: It’s important to let candidates know what the culture is like overall before they come in. Once they are there, we try to make them feel comfortable. I have found that it is very important to have a diverse hiring panel, for example. After they accept an offer, we provide a host of resources they can tap to understand what we are about and what is available to them. As far as what we look for, it’s individuals who are open to feedback and different ideas when they are talking through an interview. You really need people who are open-minded and collaborative in this environment.
GIT: What is the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry since you started out?
LS: When I first started at Google, underrepresented sourcing wasn’t as top of mind as it is today. Over time, we saw this really large push for recognizing the gap in underrepresented talent. That’s that biggest change I’ve seen and the biggest change to my day to day. It became less about trying to fill a seat and more about getting creative and making an impact on the technology industry overall. I am not sure if it was a cultural conversation that started it, but it happened very suddenly. Being at Google was very interesting because they kind of set the standard for a lot of what happens in the industry. By the time I was interviewing for my job at Uber, recruiting with diversity in mind was central to what they were looking for from someone in my position.
GIT: What major moments in your journey come to mind when you think about pivoting or shifting gears?
LS: Moving into my role at Google was definitely a big pivot. It was my first foray into a large, global company. And it was really eye-opening to see how something at that scale operates. Sometimes things can move slowly or get bogged down, other times you have the ability to make a huge impact. Moving over to Uber has also been a huge learning experience. It moves at such a faster pace; it blurs the line between startup and large tech company. Learning to operate at scale and quickly at the same time has been challenging but also a good learning experience.
GIT: If you could go back to when you were just getting into the field, what advice would you give your younger self?
LS: I had a lot of anxiety about where I was going and figuring out what I wanted to do as quickly as possible. Especially in your early 20s, that is a very valuable time to allow yourself that exploration. I would tell myself to allow myself to try out many things without worrying about it or feeling guilty. I ended up finding a job I love by trying different things. I’d also tell myself to network more because that is how I got into recruiting. Networks are extremely valuable — leverage them. It’s also important to note that, even if you aren’t doing something in your core role that you dreamt of as a kid, you can do things on the side and express yourself creatively in other ways. I do web design on the side; I am actually volunteering with an LGBTQ+ organization right now to help redesign their website. Especially early in your career, you can keep doing things you are passionate about on the side to keep those skills fresh and keep that passion alive. You never know where it could lead.
GIT: Why is pivoting more important now than ever before?
LS: I think there’s a few reasons. One is that technology is changing and advancing so quickly that you really need to learn new things every day. The tech I was using at 25 isn’t the tech I am using now. I think being able to pivot technologically is really important. I also don’t think roles are black and white. Everywhere I have been, I have been asked to do things outside of my core role. At Uber, for example, I might be asked to give a presentation on creative sourcing techniques, or build an internal tool that helps our team operate more smoothly. Roles are dynamic, and it’s important to have a range of skills that you can pull out of your bag. Being able to do that is usually well rewarded in my opinion.
Laura will share more in her breakout session during the event, along with other distinguished panelists. You can sign up here!