Building Towards the Future: How uShip’s CTO Motivates Herself and Her Teams
Before the pandemic, Pari didn't worry too much about logistics. She ordered things online, of course and engaged in e-commerce activities. And her professional roles at tech giants like IBM, Google, and Microsoft had certainly exposed her to the importance of complex operations. Not to mention her stint as the Executive Director of Technology at The New York Times, where she had plenty of opportunities to think through how insight was delivered.
But it wasn't until the world shut down due to the pandemic and Pari and her family were stuck inside that she really realized the significance of the commercial transportation that kept everything moving.
"When COVID had essentially paralyzed our entire globe, not just our country and our economy, I realized the significance of the logistics industry," she says. "When the fear of the pandemic and losing lives literally took over humanity, and everyone transformed their lives to being fully virtual, fully remote, the only thing that kept us all living seamlessly was the logistics industry."
When the opportunity to join online shipping marketplace uShip as their Chief Technology Officer arose, she jumped on it, recognizing that there had never been a more important time to work somewhere that was supporting the future of commerce.
We sat down with Pari to hear more about how she's built her career, how her transition to this new role during the pandemic has gone, and how she's developed her approach to leadership and motivation during such a challenging time.
Strategic engagement from the start
As a seasoned technology leader, Pari is used to tackling real-world hard challenges. She began her career focused on Biotechnology, specializing in Genetic Engineering, doing her Masters in the field before deciding to do a second Masters focused on Computer Science, specializing in Software Engineering, with a dissertation in Artificial Intelligence.
"I love working in the area of data, [including] data engineering, data science, machine learning, and AI," explains Pari, who adds that some of her favorite past projects have engaged in building data science and engineering, applying the same to driving revenue for businesses, building next-generation platforms and future-proofing platforms against security threats.
As uShip's CTO, Pari is currently focused on transforming the EPD (Engineering, Product and Design) organization by hiring the right talent, driving transformation and building the next generation of their platform, leaning on data engineering and data science, to continue to differentiate uShip's product core IP.
Because uShip works by matching shippers and carriers on an open marketplace, it works with individuals and businesses of all sizes, explains Pari. "Building products in the logistics space is very challenging and very dynamic—nothing can get more real than logistics," she says, referencing the vital role the industry has played in distributing everything from PPE to furniture to cars, boats, RV's, over the last year and a half.
Motivation through change
Pari has never had trouble keeping herself motivated to achieve her professional goals. "For me, motivation is all about building a positive mindset and creating a feeling of gratitude for what we have and what we can do for others," she says. Still, she acknowledges that even as she took heart in knowing that her work was helping to drive a positive, real-world impact, it was hard to stay motivated during the extended isolation of the pandemic: "We humans are born to socialize, network, and work as a team."
But there's one piece of advice she returned to in the harder moments—"Get up, dust off, reload, recalibrate, re-engage"—and she applied that same approach to starting a C-suite role in an all-remote setting.
6 ways to manage, motivate, and lead at scale
Though stepping into a CTO role during a world-altering pandemic that only put more pressure on the importance of the logistic industry has certainly been complicated, Pari has been able to lean on her decades of management and leadership experience to settle in well and start making a positive impact.
Here are the guiding principles that will allow you to do the same thing, whether you're starting a new role or just looking to level up in the one you have now:
1. Set a vision—and then get out of the way. "It's our job as leaders to give a clear direction and then just get out of the way," says Pari. "Teams don't need micro management or over-focused process management, they need direction. Teams can tackle problems innovatively and productively themselves, and we can be there to guide the progress through workshops, demos or stakeholder presentations."
2. Connect with individuals. While providing team-level vision and guidance is important, it cannot replace building rapport on an individual level, says Pari. "With people I work very closely with, I engage in one-on-ones as often as I can. It's important to connect with people and understand what some of their challenges are." That's been especially important during the pandemic, she adds, when employees might be dealing with
economic or health challenges, losses in their families, or other hardships that require extra support. "I always sit down, listen, and try to understand what people are going through," says Pari. "No two people will go through the same sets of challenges in life, and trying to put yourself in the other person's shoes helps to solve for the challenges that people face."
3. Create a cycle of clear goals and clear feedback. "I focus on setting clear, attainable goals and objectives (Objectives and key results or OKRs, a goal-setting framework for defining and tracking objectives and their outcomes) for teams to chase after quarter over-quarter," says Pari, highlighting that she works to add development and cross collaboration opportunities into those goals whenever possible. "That helps teams reach their full potential, whether they're in-person, completely virtual, or working in a hybrid model," she says. She believes in getting creative with innovation too, and gives the example of uShip's three-day hackathon as a way to drive innovation and creativity organically by teams: "It promotes networking, collaboration, and socializing, and even in a virtual workplace, it enables people to foster those connections we've lost in the past 15 months and to build something ground up or organically that helps drive business."
4. Let people ask why. Pari says that the biggest thing she does in any tech leadership role is to bring alignment during times of change. "A lot of times when we are transforming in any organization, it can be painful for people...whether at the people level, the process level, the product or technology level, or the overarching company level," she says. "Being in groups where you can have open-ended conversations, have workshops, and ask the 'five whys'—like why are we doing this in the first place!—is very, very important."
5. Invest in your people, not just your products. "In business, I believe strongly in one core principle: 'a company is only as good as its employees'," says Pari. "So I believe heavily in: 'Invest in your people and you will see huge rewards.' which is critical to success."
6. Don't forget to celebrate the wins. "It is so important to pause frequently and celebrate wins," says Pari. "They can be small wins, they can be large wins; it can be in meetings, town halls, All Hands, or even small team ceremonies. That's how we motivate ourselves and keep moving no matter how hard times get," she says.