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The Suicide of an Uber Engineer May Have Been Caused by Corporate Racism

Last April, news broke about a wife who tried to sue Uber for “killing” her husband — Joseph Thomas’ wife blamed Uber for its unsupportive job environment that led to his suicide in August 2016.

Originally from Atlanta, Thomas taught himself how to properly operate the computer, eventually gaining the recognition as a computer engineer. Attracted by the $170,000 salary, Thomas decided to leave his former job (a site engineer at Linkedin), to become a software engineer at Uber. With his vast knowledge, Thomas quickly became the smartest man in the room there. However, he always came home with distress and anxiety, saying things like: “My boss does not like me. I feel stupid, they’re all laughing at me”.

Thomas had all of the potentials and capabilities, yet he still felt insecure until all of his confidence was torn down to the bone. According to those who knew Joseph well, if there was a coding language he did not yet understand, Joseph studied diligently and even got certification for it — this fact alone hints at how passionate he was in engineering.

During the period of working in Uber, Thomas became stressed out and began having panic attacks and constant anxiety. His condition was atypical, coming from a man who had no history of stress whatsoever under any working conditions. Then, in August 2016, his wife found Thomas in his car, dead. The wife, who was close in attaining her master’s degree in computer science at the time, seems to not be able to complete her own goal. Being too heartbroken right now, her main priority is to raise both of her children well, without their father’s presence.

Attempting to protect its company, Uber refused to give any general information about Joseph Thomas — everything coming from the company was heavily edited as benign. Many believe that Joseph Thomas’ case is about racism. Being the only smart African-American in the room, coworkers may have felt jealous towards his brilliancy. Recently, Uber released its first diversity report, showing how out of 12,000 U.S employees, only 8.8% were black. Ironically, only about 2% are in leadership positions. Like many other tech companies, Uber employees are predominantly white and Asian males. This is a chart on the demographics:

Uber has a history of being in hot water; earlier in the year,  a video of the CEO shouting at a driver went viral. Additionally, the company underwent allegations on sexual harassment and faced client outcry after it announced its support of the U.S President Donald Trump. People have started voicing the movement #DeleteUBER and downloading a competitor transportation app (LYFT) instead.

The suicide of Joseph Thomas is an eye-opener; it shows how working in a big corporation might not be an actual “dream come true.”  A toxic working environment, anxiety, stress. . .  is this worth the $170,000 salary? Is one’s life worth $170,000?

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Celine Christina
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Hey, I'm Celine from Indonesia. You can visit my blog here: I was born in 1997.

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