She plugs into big data and gets free avocados at Uptake

Blue Sky Innovation

What's it really like to work at Chicago startups and tech companies? Blue Sky's Inside Job lets people on the ground tell us in their own words.

Hannah Baptiste, 26, Product Manager at Uptake

Uptake basically tries to take big data problems that industry has and gives them usable solutions. Productivity, reliability and safety are the big things for us. There are applications of our products in rail, in wind, in aviation, in construction and mining, retail, agriculture, smart buildings, smart cities.

As a product manager, my overarching responsibility is to build a product that people use, and it solves a business problem. Right now, I’m focusing exclusively on wind, but earlier in my career at Uptake, I worked on rail, and I worked on aviation. And construction. I’ve been on wind the longest, for about a year.

I was born in D.C. My parents immigrated from Trinidad. I went to Howard (University); I actually studied political science, specifically political theory, black political thought, community development.

I graduated in 2012, and then I worked at the Susan Crown Exchange here in Chicago. We had a total of two full-time employees, so I was one-half of the organization. I helped to devise our social emotional learning strategy within education.

One of the former directors at Susan Crown is now an Uptaker, and I was motivated by, if he worked here, it must be an awesome place, but also because my dad was a software engineer in the ’80s. He passed away when I was really little — 10 years old — so I felt a connection to him in a way. Going to work in tech, I would learn about software development in this much closer way.

We have about 800 employees. I started in March 2016. I was employee 300-something. I interviewed with like 10 people; it was pretty intense.

We have close to 700 here in Chicago (in the 600 W. Chicago Ave. building on the Near North Side). This is the headquarters. We have an office in Toronto, as well.

There’s so much energy here around putting people where they naturally can float and make a difference and help. You can find your niche in a way. It’s not so bureaucratic. It’s not overly structured. You can find a place here organically.

The whole wind working team meets once a week. We have quarterly retros, or retrospectives, and we also have twice-a-year unwinds. In those, the entire team gets together, each functional unit shares what their biggest wins were, and we just have drinks and hang out.

I have a live plant at my desk. It’s called an angel plant. That’s important to me. It’s something living that grows, and it’s something I can take care of other than work.

I have this personal whiteboard to track thoughts and things like that. It’s like a whiteboard graveyard up here because the dev teams used to be up here, but they moved. I wish I could take it home and make my grocery list on it.

One of the fun perks is Uptake University. It started off as once-a-week philosophy classes, and now it’s grown into all these different learning opportunities. There’s a whole Uptake U. space on (floor) three. It looks like a lab, but like a social studies lab. There are different pop-ups that happen. There was one from an Uptaker on distilling liquors.

We have an Uptake summer camp. It was super awesome. There’s an outdoor space that we got for a big cookout, basically. There were different food trucks and ice cream and a photo booth and a band and games for kids and all this stuff.

I think my favorite perk is the avocados (a basket sits next to cereal in the second-floor kitchen). We also get Fooda, the food delivery service. We get a $5 stipend for food every day and $10 on Fridays, which is really nice. You can totally spend five bucks on cake balls if you want.

Uptake is really promising as a company. What we can do with the technology we have and the problems we can solve, that’s what’s really exciting. That’s what keeps me here. There are similar roles at other companies, but there aren’t similar companies.

As told to freelance reporter Erin Chan Ding. Stories are edited for length and clarity.

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