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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Employee Engagement & The Smiths: What Difference Does it Make?

Todd Johnson | Program Manager II, Expedia Group in Seattle, WA

“I was looking for a job, and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” -Morrissey, lead singer of The Smiths, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now

 

[ Note: If you’d like musical accompaniment while reading this post, recommended Smiths’ songs have been provided for each section.]

We’ve probably all had jobs like Morrissey. Jobs that made us miserable, cranky, and unlovable—susceptible to the melancholy songs of the Smiths.

But sometimes you get lucky and land the other kind of job: the type that inspires you to give your best effort, to collaborate with panache, and to deliver value to your customer. These types of jobs typically don’t happen in a vacuum. The job is engaging in some part because of the work environment and the culture that each employee helps create and cultivate.

As part of an Employee Engagement Team at Expedia Group, we think about these topics (culture, environment, engagement) all the time. We ask questions daily, like:

  • What makes Expedia Group a desirable place to come and do our best, most passionate work?
  • How do we ensure our customers are satisfied no, ecstatic about “the product”?
  • And, who is our “internal customer” anyway?

The answer, of course, is that it is the people who make the workplace, the people who create the product, and the people are the customer. It’s really all about the people. Or it should be!

When your customer is your co-worker.

[Read to the tune: Is It Really So Strange?]

For my team, the idea of an internal customer can get pretty meta.  We focus on those focusing on the external customer (i.e. our travelers and travel partners). In Employee Engagement, we serve our customer by proxy, by helping to catalyze* the job culture through various programs, communications, trainings, and offerings.

This means we take on a variety of roles:

  • We are administrators: planning large- and smaller scale team meetings, sending out the invites to meetups, bringing speakers into our offices, and hosting brown bags.
  • We are researchers & scientists: creating and evaluating surveys, implementing practices based on a growth mindset and behavioral studies, and letting data drive our decisions about the workplace.
  • We are networkers and leadership gurus: kicking off mentorship and technical programs, offering internal training opportunities, and innovation building activities like hackathons.
  • We are celebrators of differences: conducting allyship workshops, diversity and inclusion practices, and listening tours; making our programs scalable, social, and extensible around the globe.

We refer to these activities as engagement. It is rewarding work that also has its challenges. Like many programs focused on internal customers, our product often falls victim to its own intangibility. Our metrics can be squishy and subject to debate, and our product (i.e. the many programs we offer) is often only noticed when something appears to be lacking or malfunctioning, in the same way that the squeaky wheel gets all the proverbial grease.

But in a large corporation, not devoting time and energy to engagement can be even more costly because environmental neglect leads to job dissatisfaction, poor team performance, and employee attrition and detractors.

So why do we care so much about engagement?

[Read to the tune: These Things Take Time]

Since we spend such a good chunk of our lives at the office, it just makes sense that we would want to come work at a place that was engaging, inviting, inspiring, and supportive of both our career and life goals. A place with great culture, vibe, and people; and (of course) with incentives that encourage us to actually leave the office and travel the globe like our customers.

Learning from the insightful research Google did on work culture and effective teams, we know that having the most highly-skilled specialists populating teams has some importance, but matters much less than having specific qualities and traits in a team. The crucial traits they defined were:

  • Psychological safety
  • Dependability
  • Structure/clarity
  • Meaning
  • Impact

Digging a little deeper into these traits, it’s not hard to see how the culture (an engaged culture) is foundational to health; it’s what makes good teams possible.  (It’s also no coincidence that Google invested time/energy/resources into this extensive research because of their understanding of the importance of engagement in corporate settings).

Engagement, then, is more than a backdrop to business-as-usual; it’s more than just a set of inter- or intra-personal skills (please don’t call them soft!); it’s more than “optional-tasks-not-related-to-my-real-job”.

In some ways remaining highly engaged in the corporate environment is the hardest “work” each Expedian aspires to each day. But it’s also the work that sets great tech companies and professionals apart.

It can be challenging to perfect the art/science of engagement. We’ve built business objectives and measurements around our engagement goals, and we’ve asked our employees to ask some simple consumer questions about internal products.

Asking consumer quality questions about your work life

[Read to the tune: Ask, or Shoplifters of the World: Unite & Takeover]

When we think about engagement and the products we “consume” at work, we can recycle simple consumer questions we pose unconsciously all the time and make them work-relevant

Does the new smartphone have the features I use most?
BECOMES
Is this corporate email or blog post at all helpful?

Will attending this college help me / my children have a better chance at a good career?”
BECOMES
Did this online training give me skills to improve a customer’s travel experience?

Should I invest ten hours into the next season of < Insert favorite Netflix or TV show here>?
BECOMES
Should I invest ten hours to coach a fellow employee to receive dividends in career growth and greater connection?

Do these clothes make me look dashing?
BECOMES
Do I like the person I am becoming at work?

Is Disneyland really the happiest place on earth?
BECOMES
Am I helping to make Expedia Group the best place on earth for technologists to work?

I know these questions sound perhaps overly simplistic, and perhaps naive. Work is work, after all, no matter how meta you get about it, but at our core, we all know what a “good” work environment looks like and why it inspires us. At Expedia Group, we have healthy debates and may disagree about the nuances and preferences for our culture, but we know what is engaging to us and we know what isn’t.

We even have a mantra that reflects one of our core practices of improvement. You can find visual reminders, couch pillows throughout the office that contain the keywords of this principle: “Better.” “Every.” “Day.”

We encourage those in our teams to ask the consumer questions above while keeping this mantra in mind. Whenever the answer is “no,” there is a built-in opportunity to innovate, to grow, and to offer some change to the current culture/programs. But that requires that we be engaged enough to suggest, to offer, and to emulate the changes we’d like to see happen.

It really helps to have an Employee Engagement team that can help catalyze those changes to culture, because, in the words of the writer, Chuck Palahniuk, the real job is to, “Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home…it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it.”

And when it comes to changing your workplace for greater job satisfaction, we can all agree with this charming man** who said, “Please, please, please, let me, let me, let me / Let me get what I want this time…”


* I like the word catalyze because it means to cause or accelerate a reaction usually one that is chemical in nature, without necessarily changing the fundamental materials or sequencing of the reaction. A catalyst kick-starts a process, speeds it up, or keeps it going through to an outcome.

** Morrissey again, duh.   

5 tips to owning your career

Jennifer Dixon | Content Analyst, Expedia Group in Bellevue, WA

When it comes to your career, you can’t stand by and expect results. You dictate what you want out of your career and you are responsible for your own success. No one else can do it for you.

I’ve been working at Expedia Group for four years now. During my time here, I’ve had the opportunity to work on several projects that have forced me to continually seek new ideas and different ways of thinking. I am continuously pushing myself to be better and I’m always looking for my next challenge.

How do I do it? One of the Expedia Group Guiding Principles I live by is to “Relentlessly Strive for Better” which gives me the energy and encouragement I need to challenge myself every day. I am always thinking of ways to better myself – and you should too.

Here are my tips for career development and how I relentlessly strive to do better.

1. Know your legacy

Your legacy should exemplify the kind of impact you want to make on others. For me, I have a true passion for helping others and I love presenting people with new possibilities and new ways of doing things. My legacy is to make a meaningful and positive impact on people by removing obstacles, providing creative solutions, and improving experiences.

So, what are you passionate about and what do you value most? Combine these with your strengths and you’ll be able to define your legacy. Your legacy should dictate the work you do and why you do it. Knowing your legacy will help you to stay centered and keep you honest.

2. Create obtainable goals

Once you know your legacy, it’s time to start setting measurable goals for yourself. Start by setting smaller, obtainable goals that motivate you and inspire you to do better. Consider what you want to achieve or what’s important to you.

Now write them down. Seeing your goals written out makes them more tangible and also helps to keep you accountable.

3. Find a mentor

At any given time, I always try to have at least one mentor or coach who challenges me to think differently.

Find someone who will push you to be better. Someone who will challenge you on your ideas and keep you honest. Of course, you can do this on your own – but having someone there to push you will only speed up your learning and your growth.

4. Be vulnerable

I ask a lot of questions and I have no problem admitting when I’m wrong. I have learned to embrace failure and I have learned from my mistakes.

This is probably one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do but it has the potential of making you so much stronger. It will also make you more relatable and people will respect you more for it.

5. Keep learning

To be successful, you have to grow. Whether it’s through reading a thought-provoking book, listening to a PodCast or Ted Talk, or going to a conference. These experiences will revitalize you and motivate you to try new things and to do better. It can also help you to completely reset and ensure you are still on the path to achieve your goals.

When we strive to become better than we are, everything around us becomes better, too.

I am sure there are plenty of other things you can do to push yourself to be better but these will (at the very least) get you started. I learned far too late in my career that I am the only one responsible for my success and my career development – so for you, I hope these tips will help you to take charge of your career now. At least that’s my goal. 🙂

Your career development is completely up to you. So, what are you waiting for?

How Expedia Group teams help travelers deal with natural disasters (and more)

This September, Hurricane Florence hit the east coast of the US with wind speeds of 85 miles per hour (137 km/h). It went on to cause widespread flooding, large-scale power outages, and evacuations of entire neighborhoods.

It not only wreaked havoc on the coast – it also created turmoil for our customers in the region, and made many more rethink their planned trips.

Something’s happening, always

With hurricane coverage top of the news and thousands of people ready to call about changing their travel plans, our global command center team was at full alert, ready to help our customers — and our agents — make the best of a bad situation.

Split between Bellevue, Prague and Gurgaon, the team monitors large-scale events that could impact our customers around the clock.

As Florence grew and drew more news coverage, the team was already monitoring the developing storm for a while, along with a damaged airport bridge in Osaka, Japan, several other developing storms in the Atlantic and Pacific, and Typhoon Mangkut.

Keeping agents and customers in the loop

The first order of business is to create impact reports, because not every disaster that’s big in the news is big for Expedia Group. “It always depends on the area and how many customers we have there or going there,” said Geneva McMahon, director of the global command center. “Last year, Hurricane Harvey was big but low impact for us. Irma on the other hand almost brought us down to our knees.”

With the impact assessed, it’s time to figure out how our brands and suppliers want to handle the situation and get information to our agents as quickly as possible. Typically, our brands talk to market managers in the affected areas and then issue “flex policies” that allow customers to rebook their travel or cancel at no cost. Airlines are often the fastest to react — they really know what the weather is doing.

Getting our agents up-to-date is key for keeping call queues short. At the same time, the team is trying to communicate directly with our customers via email, text alerts, and warning notices on our websites.

It’s a team effort

Monitoring a potential crisis and getting information out quickly is an important step, but only one in a series of actions we need to take to make a bad — or potentially bad — travel experience less painful for our customers.

During Hurricane Florence, initial coverage mainly showed long lines of cars leaving North Carolina’s Outer Banks due to mandatory evacuation orders. Quite a few people in those cars were customers that had to leave their hotel and find another place to stay.

That’s a job for our relocation team in London. This team will help customers directly affected by a crisis event find alternative accommodations.

On queue: managing call center wait times

As Hurricane Florence approached the coast, the crisis team got to work collecting policies, informing agents and sending out alerts.

At the same time, several monitors in our command center took on a slightly ominous reddish hue. They provide a detailed look at what’s happening in our call centers, from how many people are waiting in queue, to how many called but hung up before getting to an agent (the abandon percentage), up to how many agents are on breaks or in team meetings.

This is the domain of the real-time team which monitors the performance of our call centers and takes action if customers have to wait too long. “We declare what’s the impact on the business because of this event,” said Houston Chatham, manager of the real-time team. “We look at the last six 30-minute intervals and see how the performance for the service group or brand is trending. If it hits a certain level, we declare a severity code and put some pre-defined actions in place.”

How did we do?

Hurricane Florence got a lot of media attention but turned out to be “only” moderate impact for our business.

Thanks to all the actions taken both in- and outside of Global Customer Operations (GCO), we highly reduced the hurricane’s impact on our customers. The Travelocity Brand and Orbitz Brand were most affected but fared much better due to the proactive mitigation management.

Houston Chatham takes a look at the screen showing call center wait times as Hurricane Florence approaches.
Houston, we got a problem! Houston Chatham, manager of the Real Time team takes a look at the screen showing call center wait times as Hurricane Florence approaches.

After an event is always before an event. Currently, the team is tracking seven new active events across the world and is taking a hard look at the response to Florence. At the same time, we are actively working on automating certain customer pain points like flight cancel and rebook.

Ultimately, one can imagine an AI-powered future in which we can automatically contact, reroute or rebook customers affected by a crisis event.

But that’s still a way off. Until then, it’s good to know we are ready when disaster strikes.

 

Career Check-in with Laura Gonzalez Lopez

Laura Gonzalez Lopez | Sr. Market Manager in Dublin, Ireland

Picture of Laura Gonzalez LopezWhat does your typical workday look like?

My role is to work in partnership with hotel chains and help them optimise their distribution through our channels with products that best suit their needs. Once I’ve checked in with my team to oversee their progress, I then get in touch with my clients. This will involve looking at any reactive email requests, setting up meetings in the diary, and discussing how their business is doing, what’s new and looking at the reports to understand market trends, performance, etc. I love the combination of analytical reporting and partner-facing time!

What have you enjoyed most about working at Expedia Group?

Every year in my tenure with Expedia Group has been different. I have looked after different clients and or markets, been part of different projects, and collaborated with several teams driving business initiatives. This has allowed me to grow and expand my horizons.

What makes your team unique?

We have really strong communication lines. Not only within our team (half the team is based in London and the other half is in Dublin) but also with our internal stakeholders. At any given point, I know what we’re working on and what the teams we depend on are up to. Strong internal relationships are essential for our success as a team.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I have been lucky to be part of the talent acquisition for different teams within Expedia Group. I really enjoy recruiting the right candidates for the role/team and seeing them grow in their roles and progressing in their careers

Who has influenced you the most?

My mother has taught me a strong sense of responsibility and work ethic. I have the utmost admiration for women that thrive in their career and have a balanced family life at home. Being a working mom isn’t easy. If you think you can have it all, don’t. Think what’s most important and make choices that support that.

How and where do you find inspiration?

We all lead busy lives. I find it very grounding to take the time during the week to appreciate the things around me. I try to look out for new things, people with different views and challenging situations, to see what I can apply for.

How did you learn to embrace failure?

I have learned to make decisions based on enough solid information to ground my logic. If the decision isn’t the right one, I like to always go back and see what went wrong. Failure is part of success as long as you learn from it.

What is your favorite piece of career advice?

Lean on your strengths and keep developing your softer (weaker) areas.

Tell us about your favorite vacation?

South Africa. I went a few years ago with my husband for a couple of weeks and I left in awe of the country. To me, it was the whole package: good weather, beautiful scenery, good people, excellent food & wine, and I had access to the ocean! I truly recommend it to anyone, whether you want a chill or an active holiday.

What is your favorite weekend getaway?

Any European city within a short flight. Good company, plenty of sightseeing, and good food. Wine also helps 😉

Why I love working for Expedia Group

Antoinette Moliterno | Market Associate in Sydney, Australia

Picture of Antoinette Moliterno and co-workerWhen I stepped through Expedia Group Sydney’s doors as a University Intern in November 2017, I only knew that I wanted to work in Tourism, but had little idea of where or how I could fit into this enormous and booming industry. It didn’t take long to realize that Expedia Group was the only place I wanted to be to launch my career, and I haven’t looked back since.

Fast-forward a year – I’ve transitioned from Intern to Market Associate, settled into a new team, and spent the last six months dedicated to the Acquisition of Accommodation Supply and new Partnerships for our global marketplace. In that time, I’ve assisted in nearly one thousand properties going live – from luxury to boutique themed hotels, eco-lodges, retreats, glamping, and a wide variety of vacation rentals!

Each day, while not without its challenges, is rewarding and personally fulfilling both in the nature of what Expedia Group achieves as the world’s travel platform, and the high energy that drives our internal operations. I go to work feeling incredibly lucky and proud to be an Expedia Group employee, and here are just some of my top reasons why…

1 ) The Expedia Group Culture – Expedia Cares

The culture at Expedia Group far surpasses any organisation I have previously been a part of.

Our leadership is committed to creating an environment that is positive, open, supportive, nurturing and also incredibly fun! From day one, I could sense a genuine family spirit and this has only continued to strengthen since. Our recently launched Guiding Principles not only perfectly captures the essence of who I felt we already were as a company but drives us onwards to always be the best versions of ourselves as individuals and a Group.

The company also demonstrates a true care for the well-being and work-life balance of its employees, both within and outside the workplace. We are given plenty of opportunities to pursue our interests and passions, whether that be in our own time (e.g. Travel!) or through our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, Sustainability Committee, or Social Committee.

It’s an amazing feeling to be able to go to work and be surrounded by so many like-minded people who thrive off each other and work together locally and globally towards one common purpose.

2 ) Change & Innovation

In my short time at the company, I’ve seen so much change – its one of the many thrills about being at the crossroads of the Travel and Technology industries. Our workplace is dynamic, stimulating and inspiring as we both ride the waves of change, and also invited to be the change.

I love knowing that there is always something new around the corner, something to learn, to innovate, to make the world of travel even greater – it never gets boring!

In our own corner of the business, I really believe in our ability to help our local lodging partners put their mark on the map and keep up with the growing online game. I’m proud to be apart of a team where innovative ideas are born at a grassroots level and allowed to develop and be shared on a much larger regional or even global level.

3 ) Learn, Grow, Succeed

With no prior industry experience, my first year at Expedia Group has been a huge learning and personal growth journey. The internship in particular was a leap outside my comfort zone, and I was challenged to develop skills from weaknesses, think critically, and ultimately path the way for a career ahead. From the outset, I’ve been empowered to take ownership of my roles and progression, given great freedom to own my projects with individual flair, and the opportunity to evaluate and redesign processes and tools for wider business purposes.

With this comes tremendous support from peers and managers who never hesitate to provide guidance, share in both successes and challenges, and assist in reaching our goals and ambitions.

While I’m only at the very beginning of what I hope is a long career in Travel, I really believe in a future at Expedia Group. There are seemingly endless opportunities out there in completely different business divisions, in locations all over the world. Right now, I love what I do, but I’m definitely excited to discover what possibilities lie ahead.

Antoinette Moliterno and team

Leveraging military talent to take on the Travel World

Jordan Rusk | Senior Project Manager in Bellevue, WA

Ever wonder how flying planes, collecting intelligence, driving submarines, and doing pushups relate to working in Travel?

At Expedia Group, we are committed to being the place where exceptional people who share a passion for tech and travel do their best work, and on Veteran’s Day, we looked at how our former Military Service Members are doing just that.

On November 8th, HomeAway’s Veterans, Family, and Friends Affinity Group and Expedia Group’s Military Veterans Association (EMVA) co-hosted a Veterans Panel made up of Senior Executives across several businesses who have experienced the impacts of bringing the skills they learned in the military into the corporate world. The afternoon was filled with personal stories, challenges they have faced, an open Q&A session, and of course delicious food. Some highlights from the Panel included:

  • Successful ways to translate military skills in the civilian world
  • What sets Veterans apart in the hiring process
  • How to approach mentorship in a business environment
  • Ways Expedia Group is learning from their Veteran employees

Diversity here at Expedia Group means bringing together incredible talent from all walks of life. We are proud to support the friends, families, and individual who have served in the Armed Forces throughout the world as we continue to bring the world within reach.

We also engage with veterans in our community by supporting veteran transition and attracting top veteran talent to Expedia Group. If you’re interested in applying, visit lifeatexpedia.com/jobs today!

Photo Collage from the EMVA Panel

3 Things I’ve Learned Since Joining Expedia Group

Becky Waller | Program Manager in Bellevue, WA

Becky Waller smilingI didn’t take a traditional route getting to Expedia Group. I’ve never coded anything. I’m not techy. I didn’t go to business school, nor did I ever think the idea sounded appealing until entering the corporate world.

Before joining the Expedia Group family as a Program Manager for Brand Expedia, I was a high school AP English teacher. At heart, I am a writer and I always will be. But when my career in education began to feel stale, I decided to take a flying leap into the private sector. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to convince people who had grown their entire careers in this world that my skills from public education would translate, but I knew that once I cleared that hurdle, I would be ready to take on the challenge.

I have to be honest – I had a lot of preconceived notions about what life at one of the world’s top travel giants was going to be like. I was right about a few things – namely, that people here LOVE to travel – but many of my ideas were, at best, misinformed.

So, what have I learned since joining this team back in February 2018?

1 ) People here are genuinely good people.

I had seen lots of movies in the 80s and 90s about corporate America. Everyone wore suits and carried briefcases. They were always in a hurry. Every woman wore shoulder pads (okay, maybe that was just in the 80s). People were ruthless and bloodthirsty, and they would stop at nothing to climb their way to the tippy top of the corporate ladder.

It’s not like that. Not even a little. My teammates are more kind, more caring, and more genuine than I would have thought possible. They return with gifts when they go on trips. They bring chocolate chip cookies and cheddar popcorn. When they show up with food to share, they never forget about the people on our team who are gluten-free, or who are vegetarians, or who just don’t like eating vegetables.

It’s been a refreshingly genuine experience coming to work for Expedia Group. I miss my friends that I taught with from my days as a teacher, but the relationships that I’ve built in a short amount of time at Expedia Group have made the career change an incredibly easy and rewarding one.

2 ) Not everyone in leadership here is male.

Again, before I came here my preconceived notions about the corporate world had me envisioning myself as one of only a handful of women swimming upstream against a raging river of Brooks Brothers suits, Louis Vuitton loafers, and male dominant egos.

I was, again, painfully mistaken. First of all, most people wear Star Wars t-shirts. Second, my boss is a fiercely intelligent and highly respected woman who handles herself incredibly well in any conference room. Her boss is a woman who is smart, kind, visionary, and a servant leader. The men in positions of leadership at Expedia Group that I have met are good at what they do, they are there for a reason, and they listen. It isn’t what I expected.

Expedia Group prides itself on its ability to recognize, reward, and promote people for their contributions and for their potential as leaders. A lot of time, the ones who are promoted are women and people of color. This is no accident. I’ve learned that in this world, our leadership at the top recognizes that when we have homogeneous leadership, we suffer from a lack of creativity and a deficit of new and fresh ideas. So to counteract that, they push to diversify leadership. I mean, it’s 2018, right? I think this company has figured that out and is actively working to fight the good fight.

3 ) A work/life balance is not only valued, it’s encouraged.

Becky Waller hikingEnding a 12-year career in teaching meant giving up a lot of time with my family. As a wife and a mother of two young children, I had a lot of soul-searching to do in order to arrive at the decision that I did. I had heard horror stories of promotion-hungry young millennials working 60 and 70 hour weeks and never taking a day of vacation in order to land the title that they were striving for.

That has not been my experience here. People work (I mean, you have to at some point, right?) and they dedicate a portion of their days to the company, but they also take time off and have flexible work schedules. Most people I associate with don’t work on the weekends – unless they want to. They don’t have a boss pressuring them to give up their Saturdays to wrap up a project before Monday. Expedia Group recognizes that it’s employees have families and hobbies and that we enjoy sleeping seven nights a week – sometimes for eight hours even!

When I’m at work, I put forth all my effort to bring about the best results I can for my team and for Brand Expedia. I want to be a high-functioning, high-performing member of an awesome team. But I also do a lot of backpacking and camping during the summer. I managed to take 3 separate backpacking trips with my daughter this past summer, a 10-day road trip down the 101 with my family to break in our new camping trailer, and since my team works from home on Fridays, I get to have breakfast with my kids, drop them at school, and then spend the evening with my daughter in Seattle for her ballet class every Friday.

From the top down, I’ve found life at Expedia Group to be extremely friendly to mothers who value time with their families, and I don’t know if that’s the case for all companies. When I come home in the evenings, I’m not bone-tired. I have energy to spend time with my children and my husband, and I’m happy to dedicate a portion of my life to a company who allows me to dedicate so much of my life to my world outside of work.

Expedia Group embraces web accessibility as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of disabled travelers

Toby Willis | Software Engineer in Test II in Seattle, WA

Did you know there are over 1 Billion people with disabilities in the World?

…that’s like more than 15% of the population. I’m learning these stats because I lost my vision due to a degenerative retina condition known as Leber Congenital Amaurosis. You can also read more about my experience in The Seattle Times and US News & World Report.

I functioned as a sighted person growing up and for the first part of my professional life; working with my hands in a variety of fields from construction to manufacturing and even sold a successful startup industrial maintenance business. I sold that business because my vision had deteriorated to the degree that I was unable to drive, efficiently read print, and QA my employee’s work.

Subsequently, I return to the University to learn a new skill set. That is where I rediscovered tech. I had done some simple programming throughout junior and senior high school but had not thought much about code outside of the simple scripts running on primitive manufacturing equipment I often maintained. I landed a job in the Adaptive Technology Center (ATC) at Middle Tennessee State University where I had enrolled to finish my undergraduate. There, I helped other students with disabilities access information and learn to use assistive devices and software to live more independently.

I decided to pursue a degree in Recording Industry Management being that I am a lifelong musician and already had a degree in music. As my vision got slowly worse and the recording equipment and software got smaller and more complicated, I found it increasingly difficult to be efficient and compete in Nashville where I lived at the time.

Working with other students with disabilities in the ATC gave me valuable insight into the challenges we face as users who depend on assistive technologies to access information and gain an education. My vision was gradually getting worse, and the magnification equipment and software just couldn’t make the print big enough any longer. I began relying on a screen reader application to speak the contents on the screen around this time in my life and started to realize how difficult it is for people with disabilities to be productive and independent in an increasingly digital world. That’s when I pivoted my career toward “Accessibility.”

After working my way up through the University, I took a Director of Student Disability Services at Nashville State Community College. It happened that the college had a large Deaf population which made for a great learning experience for us all in better communication. Later, I took a job at City University of Seattle. That’s how I got to the PNW. Although I enjoyed working with students at the University, I wanted to really dive deep into a problem and make a meaningful contribution. Being that our World was then and still is more and more on the web, I wanted to help solve the problem of web accessibility, or the lack thereof.

In 2014, I heard that Expedia Group was looking for a screen reader user to consult with the Client-side Engineering team to improve the usability of the website and mobile app for customers with disabilities. I jumped at the chance because I love to travel and was never able to independently book a trip using a screen reader. I came on board in August of 2014 and was pleasantly surprised to learn that Expedia Group embraced web accessibility as an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of disabled travelers while making our products better for everyone. We really dug into Inclusive Design practices, good markup and architecture, and building adequate testing protocol. I’m proud to have been a part of creating what I believe is the best eCommerce experiences a screen reader user can find on the web.

I am not disabled, there are only barriers that are more difficult for me to surmount. If we work to remove those barriers, people can live more independently, be more productive and make a more meaningful contribution to society. Disability is the largest minority in the World. Many individuals with disabilities want to participate in society but simply can’t due to the physical and social barriers that exist. Around 50 percent of people with disabilities are unemployed, underemployed, or marginally attached to the workforce. That means there is a huge untapped talent pool waiting to participate in making everyone’s life better.

You can help remove a barrier by opening your mind to disability as diversity, working to overcome the conscious and unconscious disability bias, and make an effort to include someone with a disability in your professional and personal life.

“Diversity is inviting me to the party; inclusion is asking me to dance…” Author unknown (possibly attributable to Verna Myers on Twitter)

Career Check-In with Norman Law

Norman Law | Sr. Director, Global Product Management in Bellevue, WA

Norman Law smilingWhat does your typical workday look like?

Most days, I meet with many of my peers to discuss what our plans are for improving customer experience. Usually, these discussions are around what the major customer pain points are and how we can address them. I also spend time working with my team on their plans and helping them with what I can.

What have you enjoyed most about working at Expedia Group?

I really enjoy working in an industry that can make the world a better place. It’s cheesy, but I really love working in travel – I really believe that if we enable more people to travel, we can make the world a much better place. Especially since travel challenges people’s preconceived notions.

What makes your team unique?

My team works on how we provide a great shopping experience for activities and things to do for our customers. We look to find how we can make our customers’ trips more memorable through the things they do on their trip – from visiting popular attractions to fun-guided tours.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

It’s exciting being on a team that has grown the rental car business leaps and bounds from when I first started. I was able to work with a wide range of people to make that happen, and all of it was a true group effort, which has been amazing.

Who has influenced you the most?

A lot of leaders at Expedia Group have had a major influence on my life. Three of the most influential moments were the leaders who 1)  took a chance with hiring me, 2) shaped my product thinking and approach, and 3) shaped my thinking and leadership capabilities. I am forever grateful for their time, advice, and insight they provided.

How and where do you find inspiration?

I do a lot of reading. I read everything from books to blogs and everything in between. I like reading things that challenge my perception of things and get me to think of new approaches.

How did you learn to embrace failure?

Once you realize that the mistake you made wasn’t going to end the world. I think that the realization that no decision is ever going to be 100% successful and that the real fun is figuring out what to do next, is really important.

What is your favorite piece of career advice?

Bias towards learning. It’s OK to make mistakes as long as you’re learning. Look for opportunities to learn or strengthen your skills. When you find you’re not learning anymore, it’s time for a new challenge.

Tell us about your favorite vacation?

The trip I took to the south island in New Zealand was one of my favorite vacations. We had the opportunity to explore the beauty of the south island via rental car, which is the best way to experience it. From exploring Christchurch to hanging out in Queenstown (and everything in between) was great. The natural beauty of the island is unmistakable and the people are so friendly. I need to make sure I make it to the north island next time!

What is your favorite weekend getaway?

My favorite weekend getaway is getting together with friends (and family) to enjoy each others’ company and have a place where the kids can play.