Maisie Lam, Director, APAC Community Operations at Uber, suggests that the ‘human side’ of technology is just as important as understanding complex coding if you are looking to pursue a career in the industry.

“You don’t need to have technical skills to be in the tech sector, there are many operational, support functions or strategic roles that drive the industry. This includes roles that bridge the technical applications with the customer experiences along the different customer journeys.” 

Maisie’s primary focus is on safety, regulatory and advanced customer support and identity operations which ensures the right people are on the Uber platform.

At Uber, Maisie has had to be flexible and comfortable with change – as a disruptor, the tech giant constantly breaks new ground. She’s had a number of different roles at the company, drawing upon her learnings from her AGSM @ UNSW Business School MBA to stay ahead of the curve. 

As an Asian female leader, Maisie understands how it feels to be in the minority in the tech industry and wants to encourage other emerging female leaders to explore opportunities in the tech sector.

“I believe that the industry needs more female leaders with a strategic mindset and strong commercial acumen; and who are adept at leading virtual, diverse teams.”

From art curation to leading in tech 

With an Honours degree in history and a Postgraduate degree in museum management from University of Sydney, Maisie’s path to a career in tech wasn’t exactly linear. 

It started with working for The Sydney Cover Authority that managed Sydney’s iconic Rocks area as a heritage site. But after an overseas backpacking adventure landed her in London, a job ad in the local paper caught Maisie’s eye. It was the role that ignited her interest in software and emerging technologies.

“It was for a consultancy, targeting the new, at the time, mobile services sector. The position was for a Test Consultant who would be responsible for implementing and testing software,” Maisie recalls. 

“After training I was sent to Switzerland to work on a Swiss Telecom project, testing the new CRM and billing systems.”

Since then, Maisie has lived and worked around the world, holding various roles – from program delivery to operations manager – but always with a sharp focus on the customer experience within technology centric-roles and companies.

In 2011, having returned to Australia, she decided to enrol in an AGSM MBA (Executive) to develop a more commercial and strategic mindset to complement her career experience – and open the door to new opportunities.

“Having a commercial and data-driven approach is really important in tech. AGSM’s courses such as Strategic Management, Data Analytics and Statistical Modelling, Corporate Finance and Economics were so helpful in navigating my career to a global tech firm.”

It was during her Managerial Skills subject in her 3rd year that Maisie mapped out exactly what she wanted to achieve in her career and where she wanted to work and live from a personal and professional standpoint.

“We had to write a 20-page career plan, which seemed like a lot of pages at the time, and I focused on integrating my personal and professional aspirations. I put down that I wanted to work in Hong Kong, where I was born. I also wanted to get a job at a global tech company, because I knew that was where a lot of exciting social change was happening.”

Soon after completing her MBA, Maisie’s plan came to fruition. She was appointed Chief of Staff for the COO of Telstra’s international operations, based in Hong Kong. 

And after three years of supporting Telstra’s Asian operations, Maisie wanted to return to Australia and work for a global tech company – and when saw an opening at Uber in Sydney, she didn’t hesitate to apply. 

Once again Maisie’s AGSM MBA played an important role in helping her take the next step in her tech career.

“While I'm not a technical person, I had good operational and customer experience which is critical in humanising the technology we use. Thanks to the data analysis and statistical modelling subject at AGSM, I got through an online analytics test at Uber, and after 4 months of interviewing, I became the Head of Greenlight Operations, ANZ & NA. This entailed providing in-person support for drivers and delivery people across a retail network.”

Maisie Lam, Director, APAC Community Operations, Uber

Navigating unprecedented challenges

When the global pandemic hit in 2020, Uber faced a number of unprecedented challenges. As Uber encouraged riders to stay at home during lockdowns, trips on the platform significantly dropped. And when riders started using the service again, Maisie’s team had to navigate changing local government area COVID regulations daily.

“We were constantly talking to the regulators, the councils and our policy teams to understand the latest mandates coming from the government, and making sure that was reflected on our platform and in our app.”

At the same time, Uber’s food delivery business was accelerating. 

“Our platform allowed restaurant owners a bit of a lifeline to offer food deliveries and keep some of their staff. We had to shift more of our focus to how we support our delivery business safely. For instance, we introduced contactless drop offs between delivery people and customers.”

With an incredibly diverse customer base of businesses, restaurants and the general public, managing customer experiences has always been complex at Uber. And while Maisie says the fundamentals haven’t changed, the environment in which customers live, work and play has. And this required new, innovative thinking in mapping Uber’s customer experience.

“Great customer experience is easy and simple for the customer. But it’s incredibly complex for businesses – especially in a marketplace, where creating the right balance of supply and demand is so important. I have a good appreciation from all the supply and demand graphs I had to do at AGSM in Economics.”

Driving a new way of work at Uber

Part of Maisie’s challenge during COVID was making sure her team stayed connected and engaged in the new normal.

“Hybrid working is here to stay – but for it to be effective, we’ve had to learn how to stay connected as a team virtually, and how we make sure we can uphold certain ways of working,” Maisie explains.

As a global co-leader of the Asian at Uber Employee Resource Group, Maisie also made sure Uber team members across the Asia Pacific region felt supported and connected to each other during COVID. 

“Some new starters had never met their colleagues before, so we organised virtual speed networking events and created some tips for working at Uber virtually. We had almost 200 people dial in to these events,” Maisie says. 

It was also important to encourage the ANZ teams to make time for their personal commitments as well.

“Monday, Wednesday, Friday from 9-11 was set up to be a meeting free time period. This gave people time for deeper thinking, self-reflection and planning. Because the whole region did it, there was a cultural understanding and people respected this no-meeting blackout time.”

Building connections virtually in a fun way was also important for Maisie. So, she introduced weekly trivia sessions where the team got to have a laugh and learn more about each other. 

She also reviewed her team’s operational cadence and implemented CODA, a collaboration tool to make sure people can work effectively without burning out across the Asia Pacific region. 

“We’re part of an APAC team – we don’t want to be working 16-hour days due to the time difference. So, I needed to make sure we had a digital tool that could help us manage our projects efficiently and virtually across different time zones.”

Paving the path for women in tech

Maisie wants to make sure she makes a sustainable contribution to getting more women into technology leadership positions. 

“Uber can be very fast paced. But it’s not about being seen by the boss – it’s about your outputs. Uber has flexible policies that allow parents and carers to take the time they require in supporting their families, alongside building a sustainable career.”

Maisie also participates in Mentor Walks, talking to two or three mentees regularly. She says it’s a great way to network and facilitate discussions about issues women might be facing in their careers or workplace. 

With a lot more work to be done to represent women in all parts of the industry, Maisie is proud to work in an organisation that puts equality at the forefront. 

“Gender representation is a metric we look at, and every leader is responsible for that at Uber. We can see where we are making gains and where we still need work. We look at our recruitment pipeline and our attrition and try to understand why things happen the way they do and if we can change it,” she explains. 

For Maisie diversity is incredibly important, especially in the tech industry. 

“Diverse representation – not just gender, but also socio-economic backgrounds, generational differences and different perspectives – is about being more democratic, being open to other ideas and having an open mindset. It’s what makes tech work well.”

“The more women we have in the industry, the more doors will open to other potential female leaders, ideas and perspectives.”

Driving towards the future

Today Maisie has checked off everything in her career plan she originally outlined during her AGSM MBA program, and she’s now focused on writing the next chapter of her career. 

“My MBA was such a powerful investment of my time and helped me get to where I am today. I use many of the tools and principles I learned daily; from understanding different business phases and models to analysing data and telling its stories,” Maisie really enjoyed every part of the course. 

“It gave me a much more commercial mindset – and opened doors for me on a global scale to not only enter the tech industry but to thrive with the opportunities and challenges.”

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