How Economists Are Changing the Future of Uber

Female representative from Uber stands near podium presenting

The future of tech lies in economics. At least, that’s what Data Scientist for Policy Research and Economics at Uber Olivia van Nieuwehuizen asserted at a recent visit to Drexel LeBow.

Nieuwenhuizen is a part of a recent effort at Uber to produce economic research to support and analyze company policies. And as the importance of economics at the company increases, so does the team.

Uber has recently hired five full-time staff economists, and the opportunities to expand are only increasing. “There are a tremendous number of roles for economists in Silicon Valley in the tech scene, and not just in Silicon Valley but in tech scenes everywhere,” says Nieuwehuizen. “We’ve more than proven our value to the company over time by putting out research that everyone can refer back to.”

Whether they’re doing business optimization work, analyzing marketplace dynamics, or examining policy, the economists at Uber are tasked with quantifying, analyzing and influencing the company’s outputs and direction. According to Nieuwehuizen, as the company continues to grow and become a staple in society, real data and thorough research must support the company’s business decisions.

While everything from potential earnings to impact on public transit may have been arbitrarily reported on in the past, Nieuwehuizen says those numbers aren’t holding their weight under increasing scrutiny. “If you think about the kinds of headlines that you may see associated with Uber – especially the negative headlines – those are the kinds of issues we need to do more research on,” says Nieuwenhuizen. “In the long term, as we share data out, as regulators request data from us and as frankly, people scrape our API or just observe our business activities, we can’t get away with that type of cherry-picking and that kind of selective PR fluff.”

And as the role of economists becomes more pivotal, the work gets more exciting. “We get to be involved in writing the book, in some cases, on what new policy looks like,” says Nieuwehuizen. “[We’re] using the information we have at our fingertips to inform the public and policy makers or even the rest of the company internally.”

For economics students looking to make waves in Silicon Valley, it appears now is the time.

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