Uber’s Nicole Cuellar Stays True To Herself
At Howard University, grad, Nicole Cuellar wasn’t focused on technology at all. Her love for travel led her to major in Spanish and Russian, and landed her a Fulbright award to teach English in Russia for a year. When she came back in ‘08, finding a job in a rough economy proved difficult. “I was a waitress, a flight attendant, and I wrote a blog about my garden.”, Cuellar laughs. “Then got a job doing what I wanted in education exchange programs.”
Cuellar worked in the nonprofit world for 4 years, until she met the community manager of Uber at a happy hour. “I went out of my way to make sure I met him…I loved the product, I was always on the app.” Cuellar leveraged social media to make this happen, even using Foursquare to find out what bar to go to. “I was just using social media, getting out there, meeting people, and staying connected.” A year later, Cuellar went to Uber as a Driver Operations and Logistics manager.
Cuellar was drawn to Uber not only for their innovation, but because it fit her principles. “I’m more of an idealist, a save the world type, I like to make a difference. So when I fell in love with Uber it was because it was changing transportation. It was important that the mission of the company aligned with my own values and goals.”
Cuellar landed the role by focusing on how she could be an asset to Uber. “In my nonprofit role I was in an admin and support capacity and that was something necessary at Uber. When I packaged myself, I lead with my expertise in administration, and I was upfront about the marketing piece being a growth area for me. When making a pivot like that, you should be honest about your areas that need work”
In addition to driving analytics and the customer engagement of drivers in NYC, Cuellar is the co-leader of Uber Hue, a support group for black employees and allies at Uber. “Our CEO came up with the hashtag #allthegreatminds for us…when I started at Uber there were 200 people total, we knew all the black people, and we had a chat room to welcome newcomers.” This eventually evolved into Uber Hue. “We go to recruiting events, welcome people in our offices, and have a speaker series.” Past speakers have included David Drummond, Eric Holder, and Valerie Jarrett.
Beyond Uber, Cuellar sees herself creating a development coaching company, inspired by Jopwell and InHerSight.com. “I think I’ll be at Uber for a while, but after Uber I’d like to start my own company. I think working in tech gives you an entrepreneurial bug. [Development coaching] is not a million dollar idea, but it’s true to myself.”
Cuellar advises HBCU students to be patient with themselves while seeking dream opportunities. “The opportunity will not appear for you, but on the other side don’t be so patient that you’re just waiting. Try to drive forward. Give yourself time. Most people won’t land that dream job right away.” She says students should be proactive in seeking opportunites, and following up on them. “The squeaky wheel gets the oil”
Cuellar also says HBCU students should take more risks. “I think a lot of our parents encourage us to go into safe fields like law or medicine, to the point where we don’t feel comfortable taking a leap”, adding, “Progress isn’t easy and it’s not without risks.”