Is this too good to be true?

Ana Maria Jalba | Associate Software Development Engineer, Hotels.com in London

I’ve just passed 300 days at Expedia Group and it feels like it’s been much longer. I no longer feel junior in the company and my confidence has increased dramatically. It’s amazing what a good workplace does! Before I tell you about my experience as a graduate software engineer in Hotels.com (an Expedia Group brand), I will first tell you about my interview experience. That’s because you can’t really have a job without an interview these days and an interview is useful for learning if you are about to join the right company for you.

hi it’s me – Ana Maria

Interview experience

Not gonna lie, this was the best interview experience I’ve ever had. After the last stage, I left the building smiling.

My stages included a HackerRank code challenge, then an interview with a manager, and finally, an on-site interview that included three stages: coding interview face-to-face with two engineers, a group exercise, and a 1:1 interview with a hiring manager. Between the on-site code interview and the group exercise, there was a lunch break. Throughout the day, all interviewers were engaging, and they listened to me in a way that made me feel like what I had to say mattered. However, what I liked the most was that during the lunch break, a few grads and interns joined me and the other candidates. They were really friendly with each other, they joked a lot, and most importantly, they tried to get us to join in. I already felt like I was part of the company.

In case you’re wondering, I did pass the interviews, otherwise, I wouldn’t be here, telling this story.

Once I joined the company, I got to meet my team and my fellow interns and grads. I also got to take a photo with Captain Obvious recently!

yes, the real Captain Obvious you see in the ads!

Team experience

I joined the Big Data Platform (some of my team members are in the picture above).

Never in my life have I been in such a diverse and fun group. It changed over the last year, but it remained full of happy and funny people. There are quite a few times when I cried of laughter because of the conversations in our team Slack channel (a chatroom). They are also very knowledgeable, so when I ask them for help, they have useful suggestions to make. (I’m not just saying nice things because they might read this.)

Perks of being in my team include getting cake(s) when we celebrate things, a flexible schedule, lots of amazing stickers, contributing to open-sourced projects and getting to laugh a lot.

lots of amazing stickers – only a few make it to my laptop

Groups you can be part of

Being in a group not related to your job makes it much easier to get to know other people that you might otherwise never meet, and you get to contribute to causes that matter to you. For example, there are two groups that I absolutely love: the Hotels.com Gender Balance and Code Academy group, which have people from all parts of the company.

Hotels.com Gender Balance group: I strongly believe that not enough girls/young women are interested in STEM subjects. And that affects a lot of things down the line, especially the fact that tech companies lack talented women in tech. It’s still fairly easy to find yourself as the only female engineer in a team (although not in my case) or in a meeting. But I believe that’s because there’s a supply issue, so that’s why I started getting involved in Hotels.com’s Gender Balance Outreach group. It aims to teach more children (and especially girls) how to program, in the hopes that they would find it interesting, or at least make them aware that tech is a career option in the future, no matter who/what they are.

Code Academy is a group that encourages employees to teach other employees. I used to be afraid of teaching. It was this thing that I’ve never done before and I would frequently think that I don’t know enough of anything to teach someone else. Now, I teach, assist another course and encourage others to teach. Also, because this is an Expedia Group initiative, I got to know amazing people outside of Hotels.com!

Another group I am part of is the interns & grad group. As part of the group, I got to go to social events (we even went to Sky Garden), learn about Expedia Group while getting free lunch, and volunteer for a 24h undergraduate hackathon held in our office. I also made good friends that remember vividly what it’s like to have exams. So glad to be done with those now!

The view from Sky Garden

Other good things to mention

There is a group chat with photos of pets*, everyone is friendly and unless they are busy with something important, they are willing to help, you sometimes get free food and/or drinks, and, if you’re in London, a beautiful office with amazing view (which was shared in some other blog posts).

Overall, Expedia Group is an amazing company to work for! I feel extremely lucky to have found out about this company and to get all these opportunities that allow me to enjoy my job. So, although it seems too good to be true, it’s real!

* The following species so far: dogs, cats, snakes, hamsters, scorpions, chickens, turtles, sugar gliders, chinese waterdragons, rocks (???), pigs, cockatiels, and geckos

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!

Vrbo Life Facebook

Vrbo Life Instagram

Vrbo Life Twitter

Vrbo on LinkedIn

Empathy: the most powerful of Analytics tools

Alexander Jing | Analytics Manager, Product Analytics in Bellevue

My journey with Expedia Group started 4 years ago, when I was hired for a contractor role. Initially, it was just a short-term gig. Yet the more I learn about Expedians and the work we do here, the more I am fascinated by Expedia Group.

Seattle skyline

What motivates me to come to office everyday – perhaps misnomer since I sometimes work from home– is the opportunity and the mission that lies ahead. Firstly, the opportunity is huge. Expedia Group is in a market with tremendous potential; as big as it is today, it still only has a very small market share in the global travel market. What intrigues me even more is the mission. As a travel company, Expedia Group brings all people and places in the world within reach. Travel breaks down barriers, helps people understand each other, and broadens one’s horizon. This understanding is more important than ever in today’s world.

How do I connect the big picture to my everyday job? As inspiring as travel can be, there is still friction to solve for. When we put a traveler’s journey under a microscope, we see many elements that could be smoother. A customer trying to fit a flight to her budget and schedule. A customer needing to book a hotel in a foreign country when they don’t speak the language. A customer traveling to a destination for the first time, unsure of where to look for things to do. These and many more are the customer pain points Expedia is trying to solve, and we at Expedia Group solve them through…analytics!

Seattle sunset

I am analytic manager in the product analytics team. Our mission is to resolve customer pain points, which we do by leveraging the tremendous amount of data we collect every day. I like to imagine myself as a detective: I collect and visualize data points in a meaningful way, and I analyze them, trying to recreate the travel experience behind numbers, and pinpoint anything that may lead to a better experience. Since we don’t see our customers, we rely on modern technology to make sure we capture customer behavior as truthfully as possible. When I look at a number, I see the customer behind it. And it is my job to make sure I understand that customer and I do everything I can to improve their experience with us.

Dressing up for Halloween with the team

So how do I do that? Aside from all the “required skillset” you might see on a random job posting – query, visualization, modeling, scripting – I like to emphasize empathy. Behind every number there is a customer, or a customer’s interaction with our website. Behind every interaction there is a need or a purpose. A flight confirmation number might be somebody’s first trip to a foreign country. An error code on the confirmation page could be the difference between catching the flight or missing it. An increase in bounce rate might indicates customers are not finding the information they need. A low open rate for an e-mail campaign could mean we are not sending useful information to customers.

We are best at our job when we put ourselves in customers’ shoes, and we analytic folks are best at our job when we see the human interaction behind the numbers. This is the critical skillset one need to be successful as an analyst. Most other skills can be learned rather quickly, but empathy requires a completely different mindset! And if you have what it takes to be a customer champion? Expedia welcomes you!

Expedia Group is important to me not just professionally, but also personally. My daughter was born 2.5 years ago. Life with a young kid is hectic and unpredictable and requires tremendous energy. Life with a young kid and a full-time job? Oh my, you have no idea! Fortunately for me, I have colleagues that are supportive and understanding. Flexibility of working hours and location is common in Expedia Group, and one does not need to hesitate to take a day or two off for familial obligation. I’ve been able to watch my kid grow, read books to her, teach her to talk, whilst maintaining productivity in my role.

Expedia Group is truly a special place to be! Every day I am learning, meeting smart and devoted people, solving puzzles, and bringing the world closer! If you are like me, and enjoy fast-paced, customer-centric, and mission-driven work, I’m sure Expedia Group will not disappoint!

My First 90 days at Expedia Group

Eleanor Evans | Reporting & Analytics Manager in London

Tell me a bit about yourself and how long you’ve been with Expedia Group?

I joined Hotels.com on 7th January; less than 3 months ago, having previously been an analytics manager at a big UK retailer

I first heard of Expedia Group from a Woman in Data UK conference. I knew that Expedia Group had good gender balance and were top of the analytics game, and wasn’t feeling as stretched on the technical side of things in my current role. I was doing a lot of people management but wanted to focus more on my technical skills. A recruiter approached me about a role, and it went from there…

What role are you doing now?

My role at Expedia Group is that of analytics manager, working on channel optimisation for Hotels.com. Questions I might answer day to day would be: how can we build models to help predict when people will cancel hotel bookings? How can we adapt our prediction models for seasonality? Can they scale to countries all around the world? I also work on Expedia Group wide initiatives to coordinate across brands; it’s great to break down silos and not see other brands as competition.

What was the interview process like?

I really liked that there was a phone interview first with the hiring manager, and then a case study with real data. There was an excel sheet which I had to analyse, turn into insight and present back to interviewers. It was a realistic insight into what the job would be like and an interesting example.

I also liked that one of the interviewers was not in Analytics, but a stakeholder. This meant that on my first day I already had a foot in the door with some stakeholders, which gave me the confidence to go ahead and book in meetings with the rest.

How has Expedia Group compared to your expectations?

Originally, I was a bit worried that some of the things said at interview were just “buzzwords”; I was told that everybody was using python, R, databricks, AWS. However, I soon found out this genuinely was the case – everybody uses these tools on a daily basis and is heavily encouraged to do so. Expedia Group sets aside a lot of time and money for training to improve on skills.

I was also impressed by how global the Expedia Group offices are; I feel part of a virtual team, and so integrated with the global business, that I can benefit from the insight of Expedians anywhere in the world.

The culture is also very nice; working at Expedia Group is very flexible, and people are open-minded. Expedia Group also shows it cares with a range of benefits; from the wellness allowance, travel allowance, free monthly breakfasts in London, and numerous socials.

What differentiates Expedia Group in the analytics world?

The infrastructure is really solid. When I did my PHD, I was used to booking in time on a server; in contrast it’s great having all the resources on tap.

For example, if you want to run Rstudio, you’re connected to servers running it. There are 20 clusters, and everybody has access to them. You never need to worry about computing power; and the same goes for Python.

If you have any problems then there would be investment in resources to handle that, whereas in my last role the company didn’t take data infrastructure seriously enough to keep on top of the latest trends.

Expedia Group is big on its “test and learn” culture, and this openness to trying new things carries over into everything. Whether it comes to running a test with huge potential business impact, or suggesting a new meeting format, people are willing to give new things a go. A lot of companies say they do this, but Expedia Group really has the culture to let that happen.

It’s also important to know that Expedia Group is a global company, and we work across multiple different timezones. This means knowing that, if you want a team in Dallas to productionize something, your team in London needs to finish the models on our side in the morning before they come online. This also might mean being a bit more flexible to get a call in the diary that works for all your stakeholders – be it in the morning for Asia or the evening for America. We really appreciate that different teams have flexibility around timezones and we try to show that respect towards each other. 

What are you doing when not at work?

In my free time, I’m pretty sporty; playing squash with a local club and going running with my partner. I also like hiking and travelling; especially when going back to see my family in Scotland.

I’ve also booked my first trip with the Expedia Group employee perks; in Croatia to do hiking and kayaking. My partner’s favourite thing in the world is visiting waterfalls, so that’s the plan for Easter weekend!

What advice would you give to a candidate for analytics at Expedia Group?

Be yourself. Don’t be intimidated by technical side of things. Approach challenges with curiosity and enthusiasm. Everybody interviewing you wants you to succeed, and we look forward to meeting people with right mindset to respond to a challenge, learn quickly and get stuff done.

I was recommended for this job through a recruiter, and when I looked at the job I thought “I don’t have this experience. I don’t use R and Python regularly and have only done online courses.” Once within the process, the interviewers explained that those skills were not mandatory, as long as I was willing to learn and give it a go. At Expedia Group, you just have to be willing to get up to speed quickly – I am really grateful to my manager for having that faith in me!

Expedia Cares: The best perk of working for Expedia Group

Kayla Ferdon | Global Campaign Manager, Orbitz in Chicago

Besides my actual day job as a Global Campaign Manager, my favorite thing about working at Expedia Group is Expedia Cares, our incredible charitable giving benefits, that extend well beyond just monetary donation match.

Before working at Expedia Group, I worked for a wonderful nonprofit organization. Unfortunately, that nonprofit didn’t have a physical office, and after a few years, I was craving a job that allowed me to interact with fellow humans, face-to-face, on a regular basis. An opportunity opened up at Orbitz, one of Expedia Group’s many travel brands, which sounded great, but I was hesitant to make the move from the nonprofit sector to a large, corporate company because I was afraid I’d be losing my ability to give back and feel fulfilled.

My concerns disappeared when I learned about the company’s incredible charitable giving program.

Most companies today have a corporate match program where they will match every dollar you donate to charity. Expedia Group goes well beyond that. They understand that not everyone can donate money all of the time. EG also matches the time you donate to charitable organizations.

For every hour you volunteer (that does not conflict with your work hours), you receive $15 (or local currency equivalent) in donation dollars that go into a bank where you can allocate the funds to the charity of your choice at any time.

I volunteer with the Human Rights Campaign, Chicago Scholars and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. If I spend two hours on a Wednesday evening helping one of my mentees from Chicago Scholars proofread her college admissions essay, and then two hours on a Saturday afternoon helping HRC organize their annual gala, I can log those four hours and donate the $60 in donation dollars to Chicago Scholars, HRC, a different organization, or split it between a few. I can also save them to build up a bigger balance for a larger donation to one organization. This is seriously my favorite work perk ever and I hit the maximum time-match benefit every year.

If that wasn’t enough, we also empower our employees to volunteer together, building community within the organization. Each September, we organize the Expedia Group annual Day of Caring, a day when all Expedia Group employees are given a day off of work to go out into the community, as a group, and volunteer. I’m a member of the Chicago chapter of the Expedia Volunteers affinity group and for Day of Caring 2018 in Chicago, we organized opportunities everywhere from the Greater Chicago Food Depository to animal shelters to beach cleanups to preparing for a bike race to fight AIDS.

Throughout the year, we organize other activities too, in and out of our office. This year for National Volunteer Week, we planned different activities each day for the whole week. Last October, we hosted a volunteer fair where we invited nonprofit organizations to come into our office and tell our employees more about who they are and how to get involved.

And I’m not done yet! Expedia Group also has this really special Global Ambassadors Program, a yearly organized trip where a few lucky employees are sent somewhere in the world and work to understand how we can support tourism and sustainable living in that area. It’s adventure and culture and philanthropy all tied into one, and I am dying to get invited. The ambassadors are selected at random from the pool of individuals who participate in any of our various charitable giving opportunities. Since I hope to stay with EG forever, I hope I’ll get picked someday.

I’m so thankful that I found an organization that allows me to work in, let me just say, the coolest office space ever, with some of the smartest people around, all while allowing me to feel good about our collective efforts giving back to our world.

Learn more about how Expedia Cares: https://www.expediacares.com/

Amazon DocumentDB Review

Gianluca Della Corte | Systems Architect, Hotels.com in London

Originally published on the Hotels.com Technology blog

On January 9th Amazon announced a new database service called Amazon DocumentDB that they described as a fast, scalable, highly available, and fully managed document database service that supports MongoDB workloads”.

Is Amazon DocumentDB a real MongoDB?

While offering a MongoDB-compatible API, DocumentDB is not running MongoDB software, but “Amazon DocumentDB emulates the responses that a client expects from a MongoDB server by implementing the Apache 2.0 open source MongoDB 3.6 API” on top of an undisclosed storage engine. From some information, it looks like it is built on top of the Aurora storage subsystem that is also used by both Aurora MySQL and Aurora PostgreSQL. In fact the following features/limitations are common to both DocumentDB and Aurora:

  • both replicate six copies of data across three AWS Availability Zones
  • both have cluster size limit of 64 TB
  • both do not allow null characters (‘\0’ ) in strings
  • identifiers are limited to 63 letters for both
  • both persist a write-ahead log when writing
  • both don’t need to write full buffer page syncs

High Availability

Amazon DocumentDB is designed for 99.99% availability and replicates six copies of your data across three AWS Availability Zones (AZs). DocumentDB availability goal is lower when you have less instances or when it is deployed in less than 3 AZs:

Fig. 1: DocumentDB availability

An Amazon DocumentDB cluster consists of two components:

  • Cluster volume: cluster has exactly one cluster volume, which can store up to 64 TB of data.
  • Instances: provide the processing power for the database, writing data to, and reading data from, the cluster storage volume. An Amazon DocumentDB cluster can have 0–16 instances:
     – Primary instance: supports read and write operations and performs all data modifications to the cluster volume. Each Amazon DocumentDB cluster has one primary instance.
     – Replica instance: supports only read operations. An Amazon DocumentDB cluster can have up to 15 replicas in addition to the primary instance.
Fig. 2: Deployment scenario

If the primary instance fails, an Amazon DocumentDB replica is promoted to the primary instance. There is a brief interruption during which read and write requests made to the primary instance fail with an exception. Amazon estimates this interruption is less than 120 seconds.
You can customise the order in which replicas are promoted to the primary instance after a failure by assigning each replica a priority, note that it is strongly suggested that replicas should be of the same instance class as the primary. It is also really important to create at least one or more Amazon DocumentDB replicas in two or more different Availability Zones, in this way your datastore can survive a zone failure.

Scalability & Replication

By placing replica instances in separate Availability Zones, it is possible to scale reads and increase cluster availability.

Compute and storage scale independently. It is possible to scale reads by deploying additional replicas. Scalability and storage are scalable up-to 64TB. DocumentDB automatically adds 10GB whenever it reaches capacity.

DocumentDB is also able to automatically fail over to a read replica in the event of a failure–typically in less than 30 seconds. Currently Amazon DocumentDB doesn’t support any kind of multi-region setup.

Amazon DocumentDB does not rely on replicating data to multiple instances to achieve durability, data is durable whether it contains a single instance or 15 instances.
All writes are processed by the primary instance that executes a durable write to the cluster volume. It then replicates the state of that write (not the data) to each active replica. Writes to an Amazon DocumentDB cluster are atomic within a single document.

Consistency

Reads from Amazon DocumentDB replicas are eventually consistent with minimal replica lag (AWS says usually less than 100 milliseconds) after the primary instance writes the data:

  • reads from an Amazon DocumentDB cluster’s primary instance have read-after-write consistency
  • reads from a read replica have eventual consistency

It is possible to modify the read consistency level by specifying the read preference for the request or connection (it supports all MongoDB read preferences):

  • primary: reads are always routed to the primary instance
  • primaryPreferred: routes reads to the primary instance under normal operation, in case of failover a replica is used
  • secondary: reads are only routed to a replica, never the primary instance
  • secondaryPreferred: reads are routed to a read replica when one or more replicas are active. If there are no active replica instances in a cluster, the read request is routed to the primary instance
  • nearest: read preference routes reads based solely on the measured latency between the client and all instances in the Amazon DocumentDB cluster

Operations

It is possible to create an AWS DocumentDB cluster using CloudFormation stack (as described here).

Amazon DocumentDB is a fully managed solution that provides the following features:

  • auto scaling storage (up to 64 TB in 10GB increments)
  • simple compute resource scaling (resources allocated to an instance can be modified by changing instance class)
  • built-in monitoring, fault detection, and failover
  • daily snapshots

AWS DocumentDB vs AWS ElasticSearch

DocumentDB and ElasticSearch have a lot of features in common, in fact you could even use ElasticSearch as a primary datastore. Some of the features they have in common are:

  • document oriented store
  • schema-free
  • distributed data storage
  • high-availability
  • replication

However, they come from 2 different database families and are made for different purposes. DocumentDB is a document store while ElasticSearch is a search engine.

Here are some key differences between the two:

  1. Indexing — ElasticSearch uses Apache Lucene for indexing while MongoDB indexes are based on traditional B+ Tree. Real-time indexing and searching power of ElasticSearch comes from Lucene, which allows creation of indexes on every field of a document by default. In MongoDB, we have to define the index, which improves query performance, but affects write operations.
  2. Writing — ElasticSearch is slower on adding new data. In ElasticSearch indexing semantics are defined on client side. Indexing cannot be optimised as well as with DocumentDB.

In practice, ElasticSearch is often used together with NoSQL and SQL databases. A datastore is used as persistent storage and source of truth, and ElasticSearch is used for doing complex search queries.

Another key consideration while evaluating DocumentDB vs ElasticSearch is the effort/complexity associated with an ElasticSearch domains definition, sizing and maintenance. It is not so straightforward to do it (in fact it is hard to correctly size storage, shards and instance size). AWS provides some good guidelines, but it is more complex than working with DocumentDB which doesn’t require these considerations.

Hotels.com Architecture team’s advice

Currently in Hotels.com we use many different datastores/search engines, so it is good to summarise our advice on when Amazon DocumentDB is or is not a good option.

Amazon DocumentDB is a good solution when you need to store unstructured data that doesn’t require too many indexes or complex search features. 
A good benefit is that you don’t need to care too much about queries upfront. This is particularly useful when you are not the owner/producer of the data you are storing, so you don’t need to adapt your schema to a possible new data structure (like you must do with a SQL database like Amazon Aurora) and you can query data also using new fields (thing that you cannot easily do using another NoSQL solution like Amazon DynamoDB, where your data schema is based on your queries).

It is also a good solution when you don’t need rich indexing capabilities and complex/fast search support (ranked results, full text search with partial matching without using regex, complex geospatial queries with inclusion/exclusion). For these kind of scenarios Amazon ElasticSearch is a better choice.

Currently Amazon DocumentDB has two big drawbacks:

  • no multi-region support
  • just provisioned mode (not available in serverless mode)

References

Women Driven Development Hackathon @ Expedia Group – from the perspective of the host

Jenna Prescott | Recruiting Manager, Hotels.com in London

I heard about the Women Driven Development community through Ada’s List and after my initial call with the dream duo Phoebe and Misa there was no doubt that these were the type of people we at Expedia Group wanted to partner with. I connected with their genuine passion of giving back to the ‘Women in Tech’ community and concurred with their philosophy that sponsorship could make a huge difference when increasing diversity in tech!

Together we planned the amazing 3 part #TechitForward Hackathon that took place at the Expedia London offices over February and March.

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What we considered during the planning and organisation of the Hack;

  • Agile/constant iteration. I loved the way Phoebe and Misa had done a survey after their first Hackathon at Google so this 2nd WDD Hackathon could be even better. The results of that survey were used to make changes. For example, food choices and having a full 1 day hackathon alongside 2 initial evening events rather than a full 2 day conference
  • #TechitForward – we engaged with 6 local Islington charities through the Expedia Group Corporate Social Responsibility team. These charities shared their challenges at the first event and then worked with self-organising groups to hack solutions which were showcased at the end of the full hack day. Attendees loved that they were giving something back through their contribution to the Hackathon.
  • Inclusivity – We wanted the everyone who attended to feel included and comfortable in their surroundings.  We did this by food options for everyone, quiet places and thinking of every eventuality when planning
  • Collaborative, learning environment – we took away the competition environment traditionally part of a hackathon to make it centred around working in collaboration, helping and learning from each other and giving back to the community
  • Communication/Open Source – Slack set up for everyone attending so teams could communicate throughout the 3 events and attendees could also join remotely. All code shared on Github to encourage open source
  • Ensuring it was a special, memorable event – We wanted people to come away from this event feeling good and remembering it as a special fun day. We did this by little extras such as a Barista from Grind all day, a very cool SWAG bag, top quality food (not the normal pizzas and sandwiches!) and a photo booth so they could have a photo to take home and remember the event by!
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What happened at the three events that made up the Women Driven Development Hackathon:

Evening Event 1

6 charities shared their problems and the 90 developers self-managed into groups based on their interests. A self-proclaimed ‘Rebel’ group formed to create something that could be used by all charities.

Event 2 – conveniently the day before International Women’s Day

Now mostly in groups the idea precipitation began. During the event each team did a quick elevator pitch on want ideas they were working on.

#BalanceforBetter
#BalanceforBetter

Event 3 – Full day Hack

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Event kicked off with an inspirational panel sharing their journey from Engineer to Director and the challenges they had faced in their career as an under represented group in tech. Hacking began with a regroup at 2pm for groups to share what they were working on (and call out successes/barriers) and all work was showcased at 6pm followed by food and drinks.

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During the presentations the groups presented amazing work for the charities from building interactive dashboards, a slackbot for event subscriptions to a tinder like app which will match charities with volunteers

There was a lot of action on Twitter during the Hackathon this is what some of our attendees had to say:

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‘First Hackathon done! With the lovliest and most supportive people @WomenDrivenDev. We built a matchmaking app for charities and volunteers. Very well looked after by @LifeatExpedia; Unlimited super nice coffee all day and tasty food. Can’t wait to #TechitForward next time’

‘A wonderful day @womendrivendev – so lucky to have got the chance to work with incredible women in redesigning @Culpepergarden ‘s website. Thank you @ExpediaUK for hosting, and to everyone that was a part of this :star2: #TechItForward’

And what some of the charities shared;

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@BodyandSoul: ‘On Friday Body & Soul took part in @womendrivendev hackathon. What an amazing #womenintech event it was. And this badass team helped us tackle challenges re data & reporting #TechItForward #techforgood’

@LondonVillageNetwork: ‘Thank you to everyone @womendrivendev Hackathon hosted by @Expedia Friday. It was a long fruitful day. Looking forward to catching up with you again soon #TechItForward #womenintech #tech4good’

What’s next:

The projects with the charities will continue.. WDD are planning further evening events where attendees can get together and continue to work on their hacks! And I know some of the hackers have already continued to engage with the charities and their teams to do more since the Hack.

It was an amazing experience being part of the Hackathon across all 3 events and I loved every minute. I look forward to partnering with WDD on future events, as well as working with my lovely Expedia colleagues to organise more Hackathon and events.

If you want to check out more photos from the event you can do so here.

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.

Career Check-in: Divya Bhardwaj

Divya Bhardwaj | Supervisor, International Payroll in Gurgaon

What does your typical work day look like?

The beauty of working in a truly global & diverse environment – different time zones – is that there is no “typical” working day. There is a planned itinerary and then there is an unplanned one which spices up the day with new encounters. This is absolutely stimulating to the brain cells. But amidst all this excitement something that’s never off the radar is keeping a pulse of customer satisfaction through Service Now Dashboard.

What have you enjoyed most about working at Expedia Group?

It’s evolving each day – lightning fast! Working on multiple global & regional projects and initiatives sets a prodigious learning ground: “Fasten your seat-belts, we are in for a bumpy ride” – I JUST LOVE IT!

What makes your team unique?

The People! I love the One Team, Group First culture & the appetite for extraordinary customer service advanced from a diet of customer-centric values.

With my team in Tokyo

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Happy customers make my day and I strongly believe in “First Time Right Philosophy”. I am proud to have lived by both!

Who has influenced you the most?

The list is long & beautiful – all Women leaders starting from my working mother to business leaders like Indra Nooyi to political leaders like Hillary Clinton to my own Expedia Group leaders like Becky and Preet – keeps me going and motivated!!


Cultural day 2018 India

How and where do you find inspiration?

Crazy, but I am inspired by risk. An adventurous trip where the destination is yet not confirmed however the journey is bound to be exciting (full of potential failures & experiments)? That’s what gets my heart and imagination pumping

How did you learn to embrace failure?

Albert Einstein rightly said, “If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.” I have witnessed failures, but I am still on my journey to gracefully embrace failures. I believe in assessing potential risks and mitigating them to minimize the chance of failure.

Year end team lunch

What is your favorite piece of career advice?

Avoid being paralyzed by fear – Give wings to your thoughts and you will soar high. It’s a piece of advice I follow, too!

Tell us about your favorite vacation.

One of my most memorable vacation was with my family last year to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. From the multicultural town of Port Blair to picturesque pristine beaches, crystal clear water of Neil and Havelock Islands, Andaman offers a perfect choice for an exciting and peaceful vacation, and the more adventurous deep-sea diving – this place completely bowled me over for the second time.

What is your favorite weekend?

Lazing around in perfect peace in mesmerizing ambiance of my living room with my family (two naughty chirpy girls and a not so naughty husband) with some quick snacking & chit chat is the perfect weekend for me. Sounds cheesy maybe, but this comes as a gift of motherhood to me.

Career Check-in: Faisal Saiyed

Faisal Saiyed | Director, APAC People Services in Gurgaon

What does your typical work day look like?

In general, I have long days since I handle APAC. Being based in India, my first half typically is about engaging with my team, employees and managers in APAC. Evenings are often about hosting/participating in calls from US or other locations and thus I can often be found checking emails late in the night😊

What have you enjoyed most about working at EG?

The encouragement to think wide, to test and learn. There is a hugely supportive environment that allows one to risk failure without any negativity attached to it. Plus, I get to play out my role with a lot of freedom and autonomy.

What makes your team unique?

My team comprises of 6 nationalities and works across multiple time zones in APAC. They are incredibly passionate, driven and highly empathetic. I love their energy and ability to get stuff done.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

When we started off People Services team in APAC, there were many things that needed to align better. We were expending a lot of effort, but the impact on employees was sub optimal. Over the last 18 months, I am incredibly proud of the team that we have built, the technology interventions we have implemented and process excellence that we have fostered. While we still have a long way to go, we have already started impacting employees in a positive way. Our Employee experience is much improved and that such makes me incredibly excited.

Who has influenced you the mos?

Growing up, my father was a key influence in my life. Then, my wife and my daughter have two big influences on my life and I have learnt so much from them!

How and where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in little little things in every day. A kind gesture, a lovely song or beautiful scenery really charge me up. I often turn to poetry to sooth a troubled day. Finally, I am also inspired by how people surmount challenges and demonstrate an incredible will to live and live well.

How did you learn to embrace failure?

I have always taken failure ‘personally’ and often brood on it. Over time, I have pushed myself to ‘let go’ and not let my ego come in the middle. This has been a really tough and learning experience for me and I am still on that journey.

What is best career advice?

My most frequent recommendations in terms of career advice are two (i) strive to be awesome at the role that you are doing such that you are upheld as a role model, and (ii) create a wider spectrum of skills so that one is able to broaden one’s capabilities to take on different roles. That way, we can demonstrate excellence in the current role and have a bouquet of skills to offer that can help us go to new/different roles!

Tell us about your favorite vacation.

This has to be Scotland and Lake Districts in North England. Picture-post card perfect places, great weather and we had a lovely place to stay.

What is favorite weekend getaway?

I love the hills, so whenever I get a chance, I relish going into the mountains and spending some quality time.