How Uber’s CEO recruits his top staff

by Miklos Bolza12 Apr 2016
Even before he began in April 2013, Thaun Pham, current chief technology officer at Uber, found out why the company is at the cutting edge.
Speaking with GeekWire, he went over his very first job interview with CEO Travis Kalanick and how it went above and beyond the typical interview experience.
After announcing he was leaving his previous employer, VMWare, Pham was approached by Uber board member Bill Gurley who asked if he could spend one hour with Kalanick. If he didn’t like it, he could always say no, Gurley told him.
“I met with [Kalanick], and that one hour turned into two. He cancelled his subsequent meetings, which seemed like a good sign,” Pham said. “He invited me back for more talks and ended up interviewing me for 30 hours straight, one-on-one, over two weeks.”
All interviews were conducted over Skype since Kalanick was busy travelling around the world. He sent Pham a photograph of the topics he wanted to discuss.
“That was a result of our very first meeting in his office. We’d pick each topic and drill all the way down.”
These topics could range from hiring & firing people to project & engineering management, he said. They’d just pick a topic and debate it, each with their own views and ideas. The two of them didn’t always agree but – after some discussion – always found a decision which was mutually acceptable.
“It dawned on me afterward that he wasn’t looking for someone that shared his view – he was looking for diversity of thought, someone who could challenge him and who he could challenge.”
During these 30 hours, Pham said he actually forgot it was a job interview.
“It was just like a discussion between two colleagues. I got to know how he thinks, what he cares about, what he’s passionate about, what he hates, etc,” he said.
Finally on a Sunday morning, Kalanick stopped the session midway through, Pham said. At that moment, the CEO had had enough and wanted to talk offers.
“I wasn’t ready. But of course, Uber and Travis move at Uber speed,” he said. “I told him I needed 30 minutes. I went online, did some research, put stuff in my head, and called him back.”
Kalanick then contemplated for an hour and when he came back, a deal was struck.
“Once we decide to do something, we just lean in. Then the magic started,” Pham said.


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