Career Check-In with Garrett Vargas

Garrett Vargas | VP & CTO, Carrentals.com in Bellevue, WA

What does your typical workday look like?

It’s really hard to call a day typical in an environment like CarRentals! Since I’m responsible for all parts of the technology that we use, it’s not unusual for me to meet with my teams to understand how current tasks are progressing, meet with the leadership team to discuss a strategic challenge, and get hands-on playing with new technology all in one day!

What have you enjoyed most about working at Expedia Group?

As someone who’s been a software developer my whole career, I like that Expedia Group gives me the opportunity to work close to the underlying business. Even at junior levels, software developers are expected to understand how their work provides business value which I didn’t see working at a tech giant right out of school. I think this makes our engineers more well-rounded in their approach towards problem-solving.

What makes your team unique?

CarRentals is the smallest standalone brand in Expedia Group, with only 150 employees worldwide. This gives us all the benefits that come with the backing of a large company like Expedia, but the start-up feel and culture that you get with a small group of people. CarRentals gives everyone a chance to interact with all parts of the business, work on projects across the board with a high degree of ownership, and really see the impact of your work in a way that’s harder to find in a larger team.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

We recently completed a multi-year journey moving the CarRentals brands (in addition to CarRentals we operate two other brands – CarDelMar and AutoEscape) onto a single microservice-based technology stack. While we were a cloud-based platform prior to this migration, refactoring the code into microservices positions us for explosive growth and an ability to iterate and innovate much faster than previously possible. What I’m proud of with this feat is not just what we accomplished, but how we did it – making sure that we learned about and tried different AWS product offerings while building solid agile engineering practices that allow us to even better take advantage of this technological accomplishment.

Who has influenced you the most?

About ten years ago, I was at Microsoft working in an incubation group within Windows, and a large part of our efforts involved developing new business models. I found this interesting and decided to go to the University of Washington for an evening Technology Management MBA. One of my classmates worked at Expedia and sold me on the ability to work in a technical environment but much closer to problems that moved the underlying business. A few years after graduating, she had an opening for a development director at Expedia, and I moved here. She really focused on the transition process for me and helped ramp me on several aspects of Expedia which set me up for success here.

How and where do you find inspiration?

I am inspired by a learning organization – I like working on side projects playing with new technology to learn what’s out there. One of my favorite interview questions is to ask someone to describe some side projects or hobbies. When I see someone who gets a spark in their eye and a passion in their voice as they talk about their “labors of love,” I know I have someone who is a continuous learner and will do well in my group.

How did you learn to embrace failure?

Learn from it! When I first became a development lead, I thought my job was to divide up tasks for my team while keeping the “grunt work” that no one wanted to work on for myself. While it made my team happy, it kept my focus off the big picture while I gained a deep understanding of the mundane tasks (not exactly what you want your dev lead doing!). I didn’t have that leadership position for long – and by reflecting on this failure, I was better positioned when the next lead opportunity came along.

What is your favorite piece of career advice?

Be an owner. No matter what you do or what you’re responsible for, think like an owner and understand the big picture. You’re not just working on a small feature in isolation – it’s part of a larger customer experience or product offering, and if you think about what you’re building end-to-end not only will you be able to do your job better (delivering what *actually* needs to be done, not just what you’re told to do), but you’ll demonstrate an ability to understand and take on larger projects to grow your career.

Tell us about your favorite vacation?

Two years ago, my family went to Europe. We wanted to visit England, France, Italy, and Germany and decided to take a train to get from city to city. Traveling by train in Europe is a wonderfully scenic experience, and as I was working on our new Rail product offering at the time, it gave me an opportunity to experience first-hand the full travel experience – from booking through various methods, with a different website for each leg, to actually relaxing and enjoying the ride.

What is your favorite weekend getaway?

I’ve always been a fan of Las Vegas – so many different experiences in one area, located out in the middle of the desert! While I’ve been going to Las Vegas for several years, this last summer I drove there from L.A. for the first time, and I really appreciated that “middle of the desert” aspect!

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