Hotels.com at dotSwift 2019

Lewis Luther-Braun | Hotels.com, London

Photo provided by dotConferences

In the last week of January, two engineers from the Hotels.com iOS team went out to Paris, to partake in the 5th annual dotSwift conference. For those who don’t know what a dot conference is, let me bring you up to speed. dot-Conferences are the equivalent of TED talks but more focused on topics from the tech industry; there are 7 different flavours of dotConferences: dotSecurity, dotScale, dotAI, dotGo, dotCSS ,dotJS and our very own dotSwift conference.

It was a great day to meet with other engineers from across the industry, as well as meeting other engineers that work within the Expedia Group — namely, members of the iOS team from Traveldoo in Paris.

The day was broken into 3 sets of talks with breaks between them.
The talks ranged from the sublime, how ‘pure swift’ apps aren’t really a thing as they all rely on the Objective-C runtime and ways of embracing Objective-C (instead of trying to get rid of any mention of it as fast as possible), to the ridiculous, such as a proposal on why you should use unicode characters in your code for method and variable names.

I feel like I should give this one a bit of explanation: 
The talk was far from suggesting that you do something like this;

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⛵️⎈ ⬅

to tell your boat object that it should steer left. That notation could probably get away as a contemporary art piece but it’s definitely not useful as a standard for a naming convention. Instead it focused on scientific modelling and using the same notation that equations have, such as using Σ(sigma) for sum and λ(lambda) for wavelength as function and variable names respectively. This makes sense if you’re working with physicists who don’t want to look at long function names (no matter how descriptive they are) and also gives them an opportunity to debug the algorithm as opposed to your code.

Photo provided by dotConferences

It was brilliant to hear ideas from some very talented individuals — we even got to hear talks from people working on open source projects at Apple, such as SwiftNIO (an asynchronous event-driven network framework)— which gave real insight into what problems they were encountering and how they went about solving it.

As well as the main talks there were a number of lightning talks given by members of the Swift community. These were super quick talks that were straight to the point, often providing points of thought or presenting useful approaches to problems or tips.

Photos of the talks are available at https://dotswift.io.
Videos are available to watch: https://www.dotconferences.com/conference/dotswift

I’d highly recommend giving them a watch — maybe you’ll find a solution to an issue that you are currently encountering or learn something new.

Why I chose the alternate path as an apprentice

Lewis Luther-Braun | Apprentice, Hotels.com in London

Let’s start off with a question, what are your immediate thoughts when I say ‘apprentice’ – and I don’t mean the TV series hosted by Lord Alan Sugar. Chances are, those thoughts aren’t hugely positive. There’s this negative stigma (not everywhere, but in the majority of places) surrounding apprenticeships. This stretches from high school atmospheres all the way up to the mindset of those leading ‘innovative’ companies. Going through the sixth form, all I ever heard were that the next steps in a successful career meant going to university because that’s the way it’s always been done. That was all that was ever spoken about. While I was ‘deciding on my future’, I never even thought about apprenticeships. My naïve thoughts led me to believe that, apprenticeships were for people who couldn’t make it to university. Those who had failed to meet the requirements of the ‘standard’ system.

That was about two years ago.

Now I’m just over halfway through the first year of my degree apprenticeship with Expedia (Hotels.com Brand). So after confessing my prior belief of this negative stigma, why did I choose an apprenticeship? Well…

In December 2017 I thought I had the first steps in my career decided. I was 3 months into a gap year, picking up bits of freelance work here and there, building myself a small portfolio and working on things that took my fancy. I had a scholarship lined up to Aberystwyth University for the following September where I was going to be studying Computer Science with a flavour in either cybersecurity or robotics (which was quite exciting as they are developing pathfinding algorithms for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover mission).

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right – So why did I turn it down?

Well, over the gap year I came to the realisation that I prefer actually making stuff and doing something practical. So, as appealing as it sounded, sitting in a lecture theatre for however many hours per day listening to and taking notes of theoretical concepts that chances are, I would never use again – apart from maybe when I took my final year exams. I wasn’t buying it. I fancied something where I could put into practice what I was learning, almost instantly – so that I could consolidate my knowledge actually grasp what I was learning.

I had also heard that a lot of my friends coming out of university were having trouble finding jobs – not because they didn’t know their subject matter but instead because they didn’t have the required amount of experience to get a full time position.

Considering what I’ve briefly mentioned, in January I turned down my university place with no real idea of what I was going to do next. Writing this down, makes me realise that this idea doesn’t seem rational at all – I was turning down a secured place at university with a scholarship in place of… well. Nothing.

I had nothing lined up, no back-up plan. Plan ‘A’ didn’t quite cut it for me so I needed to find something else – On the bright side, there’s still another 25 letters left.

I started looking for extra freelance work to take up to improve my skillset and portfolio while I preceded to seek out what I was going to do next.

I started trying to answer the questions we’ve all asked ourselves; “Can I really see myself doing this as a job?”, “Am I actually any good at it?” & “Why exactly, does this capture my interest?”.

In the blind searching, that’s when I stumbled across mention of an apprenticeship at Expedia. I thought I’d try my luck, I had nothing to lose and so much to gain – the apprenticeship offered a full degree and 3 years ‘work experience’ at the same time, so those two points I mentioned earlier seemed to have been solved by this apprenticeship.

Practical: Tick

Work experience: Tick

BSc Degree: Tick

And now, here I am. One of Expedia’s first apprentices.

So what exactly do I actually do as an apprentice?

I work in terms of an 8-week cycle wherein I spend 7 straight weeks at Expedia and then 1 week at university, where I am studying a three-year course for a BSc in ‘Digital Innovation’. I usually receive a perplexed look when I tell someone what I study – so I’ll lay it out for you. In effect, it’s a computer science course but as defined by the industry as opposed to a university body who may or may not be currently involved in the industry. This means that everything we learn can be applied directly in the workplace, as it’s what the ‘industry’ have defined as what we need to know.

I appear to have tailored my next steps to what I was searching for. Since starting here, I’ve learnt so much. That in itself is a testimony to the team that I’m part of, where knowledge sharing is a basis of the team structure. One source of learning that I had overlooked when applying, was from the developers around me – people with years of experience are committing their code all the time where I can pick up on patterns they’ve used or hear why they did something one way but not the other and compare approaches. Plus I get insight into all their mistakes, in the hope that I can build on what they’ve learnt.

So it appears that not following the standard procedure has been an ‘Expedia-nce’ of a lifetime that’s led to some exciting new opportunities.