How Vrbo Engineers Revamped Their Web App

What does it take to pull off a major brand refresh? A whole team of engineers, designers, marketers, and more! The Vrbo engineering team has been hard at work coding and testing to launch the new and improved Vrbo web app to coincide with the brand reveal. Three Vrbo engineers are detailing what went on behind the scenes to make the release possible.

Martin Note, leading the UI Toolkit team, has been with Vrbo for over seven years and one of his main projects during the refresh was inspecting and updating the old code to get everything on brand and implementing the new Vrbo font.

“Working at HomeAway I’ve heard a lot of “HomeAway what’s that? Is that like Vrbo?”, so it’s fun and exciting to work at a company that people recognize what our product is. Also, as a former musical theater kid I love the new commercial!”

The Vrbo brand refresh gave engineers the opportunity to improve and “housekeep” things like font and style on the website.

“We commissioned a bespoke font (Freight Sans LF Pro) which we’ve never done before. Our family of sites share the same code base so we needed to make sure the typefaces had the same lining figures to avoid excessive overrides. Then, we essentially had to reverse engineer what Google Fonts does and apply it to our own product to host and load web fonts in a performant manner.” – Martin N.

Bongo Russom, Software Engineer, said his biggest takeaway from the refresh was being able to look at Vrbo holistically and test the site as a whole to discover areas of friction.

“A good example of this was the social sharing link preview images. Previously there was no standard for social sharing links for our applications. One of my teammates pointed out that there were instances in which the old Vrbo logo was displaying in poor resolution. I worked with Martin (who really did all of the heavy lifting) to come up with a design for better images to use for social sharing.” – Bongo R.

Throughout the refresh process, employees from all areas of the business came together weekly for “testing DoJos” where everyone would get in a room and actually test the site. With a step-by-step guide,  they’d test specific tools and practice booking a property as a traveler would.

“The testing DoJo was the first time in awhile we could all get together and test things out as a whole. The refresh inspired us to schedule more testing meetings across all the teams and start discussions about looking into usability testing.” – Bongo R.

Thomas Cardwell, Software Engineer, dove right in with the testing and recently booked a property in Barbados on the new Vrbo app!

“My friends set up a Trip Board together (one of the new Vrbo app features) and we used it on Android and iOS so it was a real-life use case. They loved that we could comment and talk directly within the app about the properties and we even voted to decide on the house we booked. It was a cool experience testing out the app in real life!” – Thomas C.

The collaborative Trip Boards allows travelers to chat about specific rentals within the app. When launch day came around, the teams were excited to see these features come to life with just the click of a button.

“It was cool being in the office the night we went live and having a ton of engineers around pushing out the updates and the app. Leadership did a great job of prioritizing updates and releases so we didn’t have to have every single thing perfect for launch day, we could continue to iterate in the coming days and weeks.” – Thomas C.

For all three engineers, this was the first time contributing to a major brand refresh and they all consider it something special to be part of.

“Working for a tech company for seven years, some people think that’s a long time in the tech world, but I’m working on a product that I love with great coworkers and we’re constantly adapting so I still love it!” – Martin N.

Follow Vrbo Life on social to learn more about what their teams are up to!

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Get noticed by our recruiters with these 6 Tips

Originally published on our HomeAway blog in January 2018.

Our recruiters review thousands of applications each month so you can be sure they are eager for unique and eye-catching resumes. So how do you stand out from the sea of applicants? Our HomeAway recruiters are sharing their biggest resume turn-ons, plus cringe-worthy mistakes applicants should try to avoid.

The one name you don’t want to forget:

“My biggest pet peeve is when candidates don’t take the time to customize their resume and cover letter. Sometimes they will even address a different company! Take the time to customize your resume – not only for the position you are applying to, but also double check your application for grammar, spelling, and the correct company name.”  – Heather T.

Pay attention to the numbers:

“A resume showing tenure of a position title instead of showing total years with the company can be confusing. For example, 10 years with HomeAway is more eye-catching than five years as an account coordinator and five years as a manager. You can make that distinction within the description of responsibilities.” – Brittany H.


Don’t show up to the party empty-handed:

“When candidates come to an interview I advise that they bring a portfolio with a pad of paper and a pen. Before you arrive, do research on the interviewers you are meeting with and bring up something you learned during the interview. The other piece is to have five or six questions written down in your portfolio so when the interviewer asks you if you have questions you are ready to go. Interviews are hard enough and having to come up with questions on the spot can conclude an interview on a flat note. Make sure your last impression is your best foot forward!” – Adam F.


To cover letter or not to cover letter, that is the question:

“When it comes to the cover letter, it’s better to have one than not. When you write your cover letter the key is to be brief, be unique, and be accurate. That being said, cover letters often do get overlooked so it’s more important to invest your time perfecting your resume and mining your network for a quality connection that can help you get your foot in the door.” – Analisa F. 

Don’t overdress to impress:

“Wear something casual, but not too casual. I’d recommend jeans and a collared shirt but stay away from t-shirts with logos. I stress to candidates to wear what they feel comfortable in. Just leave the suit and tie at home unless you’re interviewing for an executive role.” – Clinton B.

Meet the HomeAway UX Research Team

After learning more about what our UX Research Team does, you may start to think their jobs resemble that of undercover spies. Between the two-way mirrors, eye tracking glasses, and emotion recognition software, it’s safe to say they get to work with some pretty cool technology. This group plays a crucial part in product development because they are constantly testing, reporting, and providing recommendations on the latest updates and additions to the HomeAway website and native apps.

Here’s a closer look at what they do and what it takes to be successful researchers in their words:

The team hanging out in their comfy observation room.
The team hanging out in their comfy observation room.

Q: Let’s start with the basics, what does the product release and research process look like?

“We start the research process by meeting with the design and product teams to gather feedback from key stakeholders on the specific goals of the study. Then, we prepare a brief to outline the objectives, the method of the study, and the profile of the participants. Once the brief is completed, other researchers typically review it.

Throughout the process, we hold several meetings with the project stakeholders to keep them informed and complete updates on the different deliverables needed such as the status of new study prototypes, the study guide, and recruitment of the participants. Once the sessions have been conducted, we spend time analyzing the data, then we write a report to present the findings and recommendations back to the project stakeholders.” – Sara, User Experience Insights Senior Manager

Q: What problems is your team solving?

“We do research to understand our users and optimize their experience on the HomeAway website and app.” – Aniko, Sr. UX Researcher

“One of my favorite (very Texas) quotes about the difference between UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience – the research we do) and how our work impacts users: “UI is the saddle, the stirrups, and the reins. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse and rope your cattle.” – Tim, UX Researcher

Part of the team at the 2017 holiday party in Austin. (Left to right: Karl, Aniko, Drew, Jenn, Stephanie, Tim)
Part of the team at the 2017 holiday party in Austin. (Left to right: Karl, Aniko, Drew, Jenn, Stephanie, Tim)

Q: That’s a great visual! What’s an interesting project you’ve worked on lately?

“I recently worked on a UX test for the Reservation Manager tools used by our partners in four different countries. It’s been very insightful because the test revealed some UI opportunities across markets and helped us to prioritize the right enhancements to the product and design teams.” – Sara, User Experience Insights Senior Manager

“I tested HomeAway television ads using methods from cognitive neuroscience to understand what engages our travelers. We used eye tracking, facial expression recognition software, surveys, and interviews to learn what makes travelers experience those heartwarming feelings you get when you’re on vacation. It’s been really fun working together with UX Research, UX Content, and the Marketing teams to apply the scientific mindset and help HomeAway’s content shine.” – Drew, UX Researcher

“I think the Northstar (new design) concepts are probably the most fun because they are progressive and it’s fun to work on the next big thing. I’m excited to contribute to the development of our latest designs by collecting traveler feedback on prototypes in our Austin lab space.” – Lukas, Sr. UX Researcher

“Working with our team and other stakeholders to make sure we’re doing the most impactful research, and planning for our next-generation labs.” – Karl, Director of User Experience Research

Aniko preparing a participant.
Aniko preparing a participant.

Q: What does it take to be successful on your team?

“Good communication, be personable and understand when to speak and when to listen.” – Tim, UX Researcher

“Great people skills and attention to detail.” – Stephanie, UX Research Producer

“The curiosity to want to understand ‘why,’ the discipline to employ the right scientific approach to uncover answers, and the passion to see the answers get turned into positive changes to the product.” – Karl, Director of User Experience Research

Q: What’s something you’ve learned since joining this team?

“How expansive the research is at HomeAway and how wonderful it is to have buy-in from so many different teams regarding our research.” – Tim, UX Researcher

“Using the emotion recognition software and survey tools” – Aniko, Sr. UX Researcher

Prioritizing one project over another can be tough because we want to answer ALL the research questions we can. We’re problem solvers and answer seekers.” – Lukas, Sr. UX Researcher

A HomeAway employee trying out the emotion recognition software and eye tracking glasses.

A HomeAway employee trying out the emotion recognition software and eye tracking glasses.
A HomeAway employee trying out the emotion recognition software and eye tracking glasses.

Q: Any funny stories you can share from past studies?

“Funny stories? You have to sign a nondisclosure agreement first!” 😉 – Jenn, UX Researcher

Q: Ah we get it, you can’t tell us because of privacy rules. Do you have a favorite program or tool?

“Python, specifically the Pandas, NumPy and SciPy libraries” – Drew, UX Researcher

“Eye tracking and the two-way mirror in the London Innovation Lab. I also enjoy using our emotion recognition software.” – Sara, User Experience Insights Senior Manager

“I’m really interested in all of our lab equipment like PTZ cameras, rack-mounted recording and streaming, and figuring out how we can incorporate future technologies into our testing.”  – Tim, UX Researcher

Q: Last question, do you celebrate a little after you wrap up a test or move on to the next project?

We do celebrate sometimes after we successfully complete a user study or after our recommendations are well received. – Aniko, Sr. UX Researcher

“I get a little adrenaline rush when the last participant completes the session. Then it’s time to debrief with any observers and start thinking about what all those observations mean when taken together. – Lukas, Sr. UX Researcher

The moderator workstation, aka: what it looks like to be on the other side!
The moderator workstation, aka: what it looks like to be on the other side!

Want to join Team HomeAway or check out other cool perks we offer? Visit our careers page!

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9 Things You Didn’t Know About Working at HomeAway

Kayla Chance | Employer Brand Digital Media Specialist, HomeAway in Austin, Texas

1. HomeAway is actually part of Expedia Group. By working here, you get the best of both worlds – access to lots of data AND the opportunity to directly impact the vacation rental marketplace.

Employees of Expedia GroupPhoto taken outside of Expedia Group HQ Office

2. Our “Domain Free” Slack channel is the most happening place to be. Employees offer up free lunch and other goodies. It’s always a race to see who can snatch them up first.

Photo of cupcakesPhoto of cookies

3. We’re scientific AND creative. Our UX and Product Design teams practice the creative process of user-led design thinking to continuously improve the HomeAway app and website.

4. We’re very passionate about diversity. Women are represented in leadership across all functions of the company, including Tina Weyand, our Chief Product Officer and Katrina Riehl, Director of Global Data Science.

Photo of HomeAway employeesPhoto of Tina Weyand, Mark Okerstrom, and John Kim

5. With offices around the world, employees frequently pop in to visit HomeAway in other countries to say hi and to take a few photos.

Picture of Golden Doodle dog in HomeAway officeHomeAway employees standing in front of Christmas TreeHomeAway employees eating a meal

6. Giving back to our local communities around the world means a lot to us. Team HomeAway is encouraged to use two paid days a year to get out and spend time with the charity of their choice.

HomeAway employee posing with a childHomeAway employees volunteering

7. We like being active as much as we enjoy coding and creating. HomeAway Runners, HomeAway Hoops, and our cricket team are just a few ways we break a sweat.

HomeAway employees playing volleyballHomeAway employees running marathon

8. No matter which team you’re on, you’ll be implementing tests. We love to test and learn then iterate so there’s always something new happening.

9. Our Penn Field office in Austin houses the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from National Lampoon’s Vacation. It makes for a great Instagram pic!

 

Want to join Team HomeAway or check out other cool perks we offer? Visit our careers page!

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