Becoming better together

Nadja de Oliveira & Birta Marlen Lamm | Market Associates in Copenhagen

Starting a job at the world’s biggest travel company is both exciting and overwhelming. Here’s the experience we had, two women where one of them is Birta coming from Iceland, where the whole population is only a few times the size of Expedia Group and the other one is Nadja, raised between big and busy Copenhagen and a small, quiet village in sunny Portugal.

What we found unique was how the team welcomed us, the people at this company are so open and united, just like a family. It truly sets the tone and vibe for the one-team feeling, even across locations and offices.

Despite Expedia Group being an excellent company, both in terms of work environment and in its core business, Expedia Group acknowledges that we can still do better on every level. Therefore, one of our guiding principles is to relentlessly strive for better. This makes you rethink your day, your calendar, the email that you are writing, the meeting you are attending and even the presentation you are creating. It keeps the questions present of why do I do it this way, as well as, how can I make it better.

In the spirit of relentlessly striving for better, we decided to start a WELL (Women at Expedia Learning & Leading) chapter in Copenhagen. WELL is the organization in Expedia Group, that aims to empower women at Expedia, provide company-wide awareness of women’s leadership initiatives and provide an opportunity for career development. There are many local WELL chapters around the world and we kicked it off with a Lunch and Learn session centered around why words matter, inspired in the article written by our very own Expedia colleague Karen DeJarnette. This session centered around expressions or words that are excluding, misused or can be misinterpreted – f. ex. guys, bossy and man up. Even though it is a chapter centered around women at Expedia, we included everyone for us to grow as a team, to become better communicators together and learn from each other. We were honored that every single person in our office attended the session. Crammed up in our cozy meeting room, we came together and discussed this sensitive subject. We emerged as a better team who are more conscious of our communication with each other internally, as well as externally.

Having an environment that allows and encourages these sensitive and difficult topics somehow takes the pressure of thinking you have to be perfect from the start. We are not expected to know all the answers. Instead, we need to be humble and acknowledge our limitations and be open to ask and learn from our peers and team. Being humble is also a guiding principle at Expedia, which is a meaningful topic on its own, but for another time or another post.

If you want to join a company where you’ll be part of a family and where you know we are all working to becoming better together – then Expedia Group is the place for you.

All Things Agile – The Importance of Team Norms

Mouy Loeung | Software Engineer in Test II in Sydney

This article aims to answer the following questions around team norms:

  • What are team norms?
  • What is the importance of team norms?
  • How do we set our team norms?
  • How do we follow through?

What are Team Norms

Team norms is a relationship agreement or a social contract between the team members regarding the way they operate, interact with each other, deal with conflict and what is expected of everyone. This, in turn, will help promote positive behavior and discourage negative behavior.

What is the Importance of Team Norms

To understand the importance of team norms, I want to touch base on the agile definition of the stages of a team

Team norms help the team to focus on outcomes and drives towards a high performing team by:

  • By allowing the team to agree on a set of team behaviors, they will stick to instilling trust and respect within the team
  • Creating a safe and desirable working environment for open and constructive feedback and healthy discussions
  • Holding each other accountable for their actions and provides a sense of responsibility to promote self-growth
  • Removing assumptions by setting concrete points on what the team expects from their members and what is expected of them
  • Making teams self-organizing by promoting decision making within the team
  • Emphasizing communication, knowledge sharing and belonging to a “team”

Research indicates that team norms a.k.a  social contracts, if implemented correctly, have many positive benefits, such as giving employees a feeling of control and security in their relationships with their leader and teammates. These contracts also instill a sense of responsibility, accountability, and trust among team members. For the leader, these contracts help motivate desirable workplace behaviors and can discourage dysfunctional behaviors without heavy-handed surveillance.

How Do We Set Team Norms?

To make team norms brainstorming sessions successful, participants should come with an open mind and be willing to actively participate.

There are a few ways to set team norms:

  1. Split teams into 3-4 members and brainstorm, then come as one team and combine each team norms. This allows a more intimate feeling as there are fewer people to discuss with
  2. As one team, brainstorm together

Having a facilitator is also a great way to help move questions and suggest topics along if teams are struggling to build team norms. The following can be some discussion pointers that may help:

  • Working agreement – How decisions are made, core time and availability, expectations
  • Sprints – What is expected in sprint planning, standup, retros, day to day sprint activities, and achieving our goals
  • – Best way to communicate
  • Status reporting – blockers, updating the team, and communicating to stakeholders
  • Meetings and discussions – What is expected of each of the members in meetings
  • Conflict resolution – How do we solve them, what is expected of each member during times of conflict
  • Team expectations – What my team can expect from me, What I can expect from my team
  • Definition of Done – When is a story complete?

NOTE: It is important the team comes up with what they want to discuss as their team norms as opposed to providing them with a list of already made discussion points

How Do We Follow Through?

Once team norms are set, it is important the team continues to visit these norms so it is engrained into their day-to-day work. Here are some ideas:

  • Revisit 3-4 team norms every retro
  • Regularly update team norms to improve the effectiveness
  • Find creative ways to incorporate team norms in things such as bookmarks
  • Make copies of the team norms and make sure everyone signs it as a contractual agreement
  • Print out norms posters and put it around the team where it is most visible

Why not create a team norm bookmark so members can use them while reading agile books”  (smile)


Career Check-In with Garrett Vargas

Garrett Vargas | VP & CTO, in Bellevue, WA

What does your typical workday look like?

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

What have you enjoyed most about working at Expedia Group?

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

What makes your team unique?

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

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

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

Who has influenced you the most?

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

How and where do you find inspiration?

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

How did you learn to embrace failure?

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

What is your favorite piece of career advice?

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

Tell us about your favorite vacation?

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

What is your favorite weekend getaway?

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

Why I’m Happy I Went Back to Work and My 3 Tips for Making the Transition Back

Laura Wilson | Recruiter, Egencia in Bellevue, WA

One of the hardest decisions I had ever faced in my life was one that I was not expecting. Two years ago, after having my beautiful daughter, the thought of leaving her every day to go to work seemed inconceivable. I knew in my heart, my head, my gut, literally every fiber of my being that I needed to be a stay-at-home mom.  There was no one in the world that could take care of my daughter the way I can and give her what she needs like I can and the thought of missing a single moment or milestone in her life crushed me.

Unfortunately, like many other women who wait until their 30’s or 40’s to have children, I was well into my career and provided a large portion of the financial well-being to my household. My husband and I had set up our lifestyle based on two incomes, and as much as I wanted to and was ready to leave my career, after looking at the financial impact it would have (and trust me I looked at every angle possible) there was just no feasible way we could financially survive without me going back to work.

The day that I dropped my daughter off for her first day of school I was a mess. I am not sure I have ever cried more in my life as I did the moment I walked out of her classroom and headed to my car to drive off to my first day back at work.

I am going to be honest, I cried every day for a couple months until one day I didn’t. It was hard, but it got better. The more I trusted her school and teachers and the more I got back into my work and was enjoying what I was doing, the more I got into a routine, the easier it got.

I understand that I am in a great situation and feel so lucky that I work for Egencia. Egencia is a company that has a culture focused on work/life balance and truly gives me the opportunity to have both a family and a career and not feel like I must sacrifice one for the other. I don’t have to feel guilty if I need to stay home with my sick baby or need a little flexibility so I can be present at school events. I feel that being surrounded in this culture has made my journey of being a working mom possible.

Overall, I feel that by going back to work I have truly found my balance. Life is busy for sure (more than I ever could have imagined) but I have my professional life where I get my intellectual stimulation and then my time at home with my family, although is not all day long, it is quality time. Because I have had the time away from my daughter during the day, when we are together we cherish that time and I feel like I can be fully engaged and present with her when we are together.

Also, I now see how well my daughter is thriving both socially and intellectually. I feel that my decision to go back to work was not only beneficial for myself but has also been beneficial for my daughter as well. While I still wholeheartedly believe that there was no one in the world that can take care of my daughter the way I can and give her what she needs like I can (because I am her Mom and no one can take that role from me), I also understand that there are things I cannot give her as well. She spends her days in an environment focused on specific activities tailored to her developmental needs at the moment and is working with professionals who have the education and training to provide her with the tools and lessons to push her development.

Going back to work after having a baby is not always the right situation for everyone. Some people know from day one that they want to go back to work and they cannot wait to be back in the office. Others know that working is just not going to be the right situation for their child and family. It is a very personal decision and what is right for one family is not going to be right for another. Although the decision was hard for me (and in the beginning felt wrong) I am happy that I went back to work. I feel that giving myself this balance allows me to be the best Mom and the best role model for my daughter and as parents that is what we are all striving for.

My Top 3 Tips for going back to work:

Be clear with your Manager and Team on what you need to transition back to work.

Everyone is going to feel different about this decision and need different things and a different level of support. Communicate how you are feeling, where you are struggling and what you think you are going to need to make a successful transition back to the workforce.

 Talk to other parents about their experience

Lean on your new parent community and learn what worked (and didn’t work) for them. This will help you not feel alone in your feelings and overall situation. It is especially helpful if you can find a network of parents in your workplace.

 It takes time.

Your life situation has changed, drastically! Give yourself time to figure out your new schedule and routine. Give yourself time to catch up on what you missed while you were off and re-learn what you may need to. Give yourself time to know if the decision you made to go back to work was right or not (because it is not right for everyone).





Career Check-In with Julia Kanter

Julia Kanter | Director, Product Management in Chicago, IL

Julia Kanter smilingWhat does your typical workday look like?

For me, any day that doesn’t have a full breakfast involved is already off to a bad start. So to minimize hangriness, I always eat, walk the dog, and have a daily latte or London Fog. Once that’s done, I usually have an hour to catch up on emails (thank you Central time zone!) before meetings kick off. From there, the rest of the day is at least 60%-70% meetings. Since I just started on the Lodging Partner side of our business, moving from the consumer side where I spent the last several years, nowadays my meetings range from informational discussions with our partner or stakeholder teams (such as Engineering, UX, Analytics, Business Development, Market Operations, etc.), to conversations where a specific decision needs to be made, and of course general team meetings and one-on-one’s. At least a couple of times a week I also sneak in a coffee chat to catch up with other folks in the office or get to know someone better.

What have you enjoyed most about working at Expedia Group?

I love how Expedia Group gives its employees a chance to navigate their own careers and never be bored. While our business is very broad and complex, that also affords many opportunities to try out new roles, new teams, or even entirely new businesses without needing to move externally. And even if you’re not interested in changing what you do day-to-day, taking initiative to blur traditional lines and take on projects that need to be tackled is always appreciated and rewarded.

What makes your team unique?

I love that every person on the Partner Central Core product team took very purposeful steps to enter the field of Product Management, even though they all started somewhere different. Although I’ve been doing some form of product management or marketing for the last 10 years, the other four members of my team all came from very varied backgrounds — but share a passion for building products that tackle user problems and opportunities. For example, our team is a collection of past hip-hop dancers, sales/account managers, aspiring war reporters, and marketers.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Without a doubt, meeting my husband Shane. While my work and career are very important to me — that’s just a fraction of how I define myself and what I value. I’ve been very fortunate to have a partner for the last 9+ years that complements my weirdness (as my brother likes to say), helps me approach life a little lighter, and shares an appreciation for new adventures and similar values in life.

Plus, I completely agree with Sheryl Sandberg’s advice that one of the most important career decisions you can make is choosing your partner in life — and that has held true for me. The support and mutual respect we offer one another have enabled both of us to take risks in our career that have ultimately propelled us forward to new challenges.

Who has influenced you the most?

My brother Michael, who is almost 7 years older and has a successful career at Deloitte & Touche. Our family immigrated here in 1994 from Ukraine, and he has always been my role model on how to always strive to be better. From encouraging me to take risks and move to new places, to giving me the figurative slap on the face when I find myself settling for “just okay,” he always pushes me to new heights.

How and where do you find inspiration?

All around me. I think anyone in the product world is pre-programmed to recognize good and bad products in our everyday lives, whether they’re physical or digital. Although we operate in the travel space, in the end, you can learn from any experience who has clearly solved a problem by understanding the core needs and underlying motivations of its users.

How did you learn to embrace failure?

It’s a work in progress. I don’t think many people can honestly say that they love to fail — but as you grow and inherently fail more often, it becomes easier to not only admit it to yourself but also learn to see those failures as a part of the territory and an opportunity to learn and improve. It’s also been a tremendous help to work in company cultures, like Expedia’s, where failing fast is not only permitted but often times expected. (And when really in doubt, it always helps to imagine what you’d say to someone else in your situation — and then actually take that advice yourself.)

What is your favorite piece of career advice?

While working at American Express early on in my career, one of my managers told me that whenever I’m looking for a new job, always try to keep 50% familiar and 50% new. That way, you are still challenged and learning new things, but not enough that you completely fall flat on your face. I’ve tried to follow this advice every step of the way, and can definitely attest that it helps to hit the ground running — but still maintain excitement and curiosity for what’s to come.

Tell us about your favorite vacation?

I’m fortunate that this is a very hard question to answer, as I’ve had the opportunity to travel to so many amazing places. In general, I love any destination that challenges my expectations, habits, and cultural norms — where every single experience offers something different from what I’m used to at home. My husband and I also love any place where we can get our mix of delicious food, outdoor adventure, and endless city strolls. Most recently our favorites have been Japan and Colombia.

Julia Kanter posing in the rain, in the city with an umbrellaWhat is your favorite weekend getaway?

For better or for worse, we don’t often go to the same place twice. (And as much as we love Chicago, one of its major disadvantages is a serious lack of solid weekend getaways.) Having lived in New York City for 6 years prior to Chicago, I can never decline a weekend in my old stomping grounds. Also a couple of years ago I took advantage of an extended work trip to London and had my husband join me for a weekend in May. The weather couldn’t have been better, and we spent 48 hours walking through London, enjoying as much food as we could along the way.

A 5-Year Plan That’s Constantly Changing

Veenah Gunasegaran | Technical Writer, LPS in Kuala Lumpur

Veenah Gunasegaran posing with coworkersWhen I first applied for the Lodging Content Associate (LCA) role back in March 2015, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I didn’t have any experience in the travel industry, and at that point, my only experience with Expedia was when my sister raved about how cheap the fares were when we used it to book our flight and hotel for Cambodia. All I know is that when I read the job description I thought to myself – you know what, I’m pretty sure I can do all the things they had listed. So I clicked Apply before I could second guess it.

Reception areaI’ll never forget the first time I came into the Expedia office. My interview ended up getting pushed back about 20 minutes later than scheduled. So I sat in the “reception” area (which back then was just 2 uncomfortable chairs in front of the pantry) and waited. Here’s the thing – while waiting, I can still remember how a few people who were walking by made the effort to stop and ask if they could help me with anything, if I was comfortable, and if the person I was meeting knew I was already there.

I was…pleasantly surprised. I’d never received such a warm welcome at any interview that I had been to. And just these small gestures made me curious and excited to see what this company was all about.

Cafeteria area

Just as I was googling “5-year career plan ideas”, I got called in for my interview. I was greeted so warmly and made to feel at ease immediately. For the next hour, I had what I can only describe as a casual chat rather than a formal interview (I didn’t get asked about my 5-year plan!). By the end, I knew that I didn’t just want the role – but I really wanted to work in Expedia.

WorkspaceMaybe you’ll have a different experience than I did. But just remember to come to your interview with an open mind.  Expedia is a fast-growing company that is constantly changing and pushing itself to be the best. The role that I applied for 3 years ago has evolved and taken a completely different direction. Would I still have applied? Absolutely. Because I’ve also gotten to learn so many skills from decision-making, to business acumen, to customer service. While these might not have been part of “the plan”, these skills add another layer of depth that I can bring to other roles I might seek in the future.

After 3 years as an LCA, I moved teams to become a Technical Writer. Again, I found myself in unfamiliar territory – but this time I knew I had my previous experience as a sort of support system in tackling this new role head-on.

And it isn’t always about work. We also take our corporate social responsibility (CSR) seriously. From recycling initiatives to teaching refugee children to raising awareness for non-profit organizations, it feels good to give back to the community and share our one team spirit with others.

Veenah Gunasegaran posing with coworkersThere’s always a social event being planned – whether it’s Friday night drinks or a buffet lunch to celebrate cultural festivals. It’s a great opportunity for everyone to come together in one place and mingle – and we sure need it because the way we’re growing, there’s always a couple of new faces around the office.

Being part of Expedia means learning to embrace change. Come to us with an open mind and more importantly a thirst to strive to be better. Every single person plays a part in helping the business grow and succeed, and feedback is not only encouraged but given serious consideration. You’re not just doing a 9-5 job, you feel like you’re contributing and what you say matters.

Yeah sure, having a passion to travel is important. But what’s even better is working towards bringing this passion to the world and making it easier for everyone to experience the magic of travel. Life at Expedia lets us watch the possibilities unfold, and do our part in making the world a little bit more magical.