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.