An uber-cool career
Julia Hempenstall’s solid work ethic, and bright and breezy approach, have facilitated a fascinating CV
You’re right on the digital disruption frontier at Uber. Can you talk us through what you’re working on?
I’m the Sydney City Lead of UberEATS, which we launched in July 2016. The service is all about drawing on the existing 18,000-strong Sydney Uber driver network to branch into food delivery. We started with 100 restaurants in 20 suburbs and now, six months later, have about 600 restaurants in over 100 suburbs, so it’s moved really quickly.
How did the launch go?
It was a real career highlight for me. We started with nothing and in six weeks we’d signed up the restaurants, had enough drivers ready to go, and had uploaded all the photography and menus into the app. Watching the first orders come in, and being delivered in half an hour, we were like “Holy sh**, the whole thing actually works!” It was pretty cool viewing.
What did you do before you joined Uber?
I studied Chemical Engineering at UNSW under a Coop Scholarship, and decided to work for a major oil company after graduating, so I’d have the opportunity to work overseas. I joined a graduate program at Shell and spent a couple of years as a process engineer on Sydney Harbour, spending my days cruising on a bicycle between tanks in Greenwich. I was actually the first woman ever to work on-site there, where just about everyone was a 50-year-old male. They had to put a female sticker on one of the bathrooms specially for me!
Then I moved into the more commercial parts of the business. I took an economics and scheduling role in Melbourne - a job that I used to liken to running a bakery. Every day we were baking gasoline cakes, jet fuel cakes and bitumen cakes and my job was to make sure we had all the right ingredients and the recipes were perfectly executed.
This led to roles in commercial negotiations and trade, and a lot of overseas travel throughout the Americas and Europe (for both work and pleasure). In 2015, I returned to Australia and started at Uber as an Operations and Logistics Manager, then took the UberEATS role in June 2016.
What was it like, being a 22-year-old female in the 50-year-old male dominated environment of the oil refinery?
To be honest, I take a pretty casual approach to most interactions and using humour has been a good way to deal with odd situations. I tend to either laugh things off or use them as an anecdotal story; that then becomes a bit of a joke I feel comfortable sharing as a learning.
I feel like the important part is trying not to see gender as a barrier, recognising that most people can be reasonable, and being confident in the way that you go about things.
What made you choose to study Chemical Engineering at UNSW?
I was inspired by an article I read that described chemical engineering as a really flexible degree that teaches you great problem-solving skills and how to think well. It talked about a bunch of CEOs from a wide variety of industries who had all studied process or chemical engineering.
Watching the first orders come in, and being delivered in half an hour, we were like holy sh**, "the whole thing actually works!”. It was pretty cool viewing.
Julia Hempenstall, Sydney City Lead for UberEATS
What’s a favourite memory from being on campus at UNSW?
I really loved my engineering degree for the fact that we all worked together. I remember friends who were studying law heading off to the library to steal a book so no one else could have it, while in engineering we were sharing around our assignments so everyone could benefit! This set me up really well for working in a collaborative business environment.
What innovations in your industry are most exciting at the moment?
Uber’s overall focus and mission of making transport as reliable as running water for everyone, everywhere is really exciting because it affects so many different people and businesses. There is this sort of feeling of “Uber everywhere”, and that you will be able to “on-demand” anything you want at any time. Making things accessible is a really cool way of thinking about it.
Underpinning that is the way Uber is now able to gather, visualise and analyse data. There’s so much in-the-minute feedback about exactly what’s going on that we will be able to train the machines behind our business to do amazing things in the near future.