Three things I learnt being a scrum master

Giuseppe Sorrentino | User Interface Engineer, Hotels.com in Rome

Originally published on The Hotels.com Technology Blog

Introduction

I am very happy to have had the opportunity to work in the Agile world for almost 4 years, that have been fantastic and challenging.

Being a Scrum master is an invaluable experience and makes you understand and reflect a lot about company processes and software development in general.

It is very hard to discover and address disfunctionalities in teams’ processes. In fact, disfunctionalities are often sneaky. Metrics and surveys can help you but you need to develop an insight to recognize them and this helps you improve a lot as person and professional.

I decided to share with you three thoughts I noted down in these years.

1. Training is not enough, make it real by being assertive (when necessary)

In these four years I did tons of training. Prepared tons of presentations on the various agile practices and artifacts: Kanban, Scrum, backlog and backlog refinement, pair programming are only examples.

One thing I learnt is that while training on agile is valuable, practice is more valuable. The capacity toward making practices real in day to day life is fundamental in the scrum master profession. In order to do that there are two different and antithetic approaches:

  • wait that a practice emerges in the team
  • be assertive and effectively contribute by pushing for the application toward some beneficial practices.

Being able to find the right balance between these two approaches is a fundamental key in a scrum master role. In a perfect world the Scrum master would always choose the first approach. But in the real world, this is not always feasible. For example, there could be situations where it is not possible to wait until the team becomes mature enough to adopt a practice. On these occasions, in my honest opinion, is when the Scrum master needs to be assertive.

2. If you want to go with Kanban, start with Scrum

I am assuming you are familiar with the Tuckman’s stages of group developmenthere.

The Tuckman’s stages of group development

It is harder to start directly with Kanban than starting with Scrum and transitioning to Kanban. In fact, Kanban requires much more discipline from the team than scrum. Pulling stories at the right time, limiting the amount of work-in-progress items, are very challenging tasks, even for a very small group of people. This makes Kanban more functional in the teams that are in the norming or performing phase or however not at their beginning. While scrum being more prescriptive, is perfect for a team in the forming and storming phase.

It is a good idea to start with Scrum and transition smoothly to Kanban when you feel the team is ready, or rather when the team is entering in the norming/performing phase. There are many indicators a team is transitioning toward the norming/performing phase:

  • stability in practices adopted
  • stability in team composition
  • continuous success of sprints
  • self-organization in main scrum ceremonies
  • stability in velocity and throughput.

3. Scrum application outside the software world often is not clear

While scrum is supposed to be an universal framework, in the sense it should be applicable outside of software world, this application is not always immediately clear.

In Hotels.com we give training on Agile to very different functions and we encountered difficulties in recognizing a way to apply scrum to certain realities outside of technology. For example there is not so much literature on how backlog items should be documented. Neither is clear how to manage realities where we have mostly personal work rather than team work.

Conclusion

I had four challenging years as Scrum master and this opportunity make me grow as person as well as IT professional. During these years I had the opportunity to reflect on some aspect of the Scrum master practices.

Particularly I discovered that the Scrum master need to be assertive and effectively contribute by pushing for the application toward some beneficial practices when necessary. The natural emergence of all the team practices is simply a Scrum myth.

I, furthermore, think that Starting directly with Kanban for a new team can be counterproductive. My suggestion here is to evaluate Scrum as bootstrap for Kanban.

The last point: the fact that Scrum universality (its application outside of IT projects) is not crystal clear. Under this point of view a great community effort to make Scrum more accessible is needed.

Thanks to Gayathri Thiyagarajan.

Employee Experiences: Krystyna Waterhouse

From recruitment coordinator to business analyst: how to make a career pivot within Expedia Group

Krystyna Waterhouse | Business Analyst, Lodging Partner Services in Geneva

What is my current role?

My role – as of the past year – is that of a business analyst, based in Geneva. When I moved into Analytics, my specialism was People Analytics. I created capacity planning models, assessed quality of hire, and provided reporting for recruitment. A few months ago, I moved into another team focused on new inventory; supporting analytics for third-party inventory and vacation rentals.

The core of my role is supporting my stakeholders through data to answer business questions. As an analyst, I report on the “what” by looking at metrics linked to performance. But where an analyst adds value is in moving from the “what” to the “why” and the “how”; helping stakeholders understand why we are seeing certain trends and helping them decide which actions to take next.

At the Analytics and Revenue Management offsite

This means that some days I spend hours querying on databases using SQL or doing analysis in Excel to understand a problem, but other times I am focused on visualisations in Tableau or Powerpoint. My work is all about enabling insights and solving business problems, and the tools I need to use to get there vary.

However, just a year ago, my day-to-day looked nothing like this. I was working as a recruitment coordinator in London, scheduling interviews for 50-75% of my office hours. So… how and why did I end up in Switzerland doing analytics?

The path from recruitment to analytics

During my year in recruitment, I was fortunate to have a manager who supported and engaged with me to understand my career aspirations and interests. My role prior to Expedia Group had involved some work with data so I had a vague feeling that I might be interested in working with data and solving business problems.

With 10% of my time allocated specifically to project work, I expressed an interest to my Senior Director about working more with data. He was incredibly supportive, and involved me in his recruitment reporting; the beginning of my tempestuous relationship with Excel. I found myself excited by the results of early analysis, but also itching to dig deeper and ask “so what” about the trends I saw.

I realised that I wanted to spend my entire day answering those “so what?” questions, and that I needed to upskill myself. Alongside my regular work, I started to take on as many projects as possible whilst attending Expedia’s Code Academy (learning basic Python and Java). I also participated in an online Harvard Computer Science course called CS50. Many of my lunchtimes and weekends became focused on getting exposure to new training; I still didn’t quite know where it would take me, but I knew that I had to follow my curiosity.

Next, I started to reach out to different hiring managers within Expedia Group. One of the great features of life in Expedia is the open talent market – this declares that all positions opened must be posted internally, and that an employee can apply for roles without having to let their manager know. However, cross-functional and cross-brand moves are really encouraged at Expedia Group, and so I kept an open dialogue at all times with my manager about how we could make my role more data-focused.

Cupcake decorating is another one of my weaknesses

When reaching out to hiring managers at this point, I wasn’t applying for roles, but looking to build my network and gain some experience. I ended up spending some time shadowing the User Experience Research team in London, and this was a valuable opportunity to assess the kind of work I would enjoy.

In the end, it was actually my manager who pointed out the role in Analytics to me. It would involve my Senior Director becoming my direct stakeholder. I worried I didn’t have all the skills on the job description, but I pushed my doubts aside and sent over my CV.

Within a week I was interviewing and realising just how exciting the position was. I would be answering the same questions that had eaten at me whilst I was creating reports for recruitment, but with the training, infrastructure and tools of the Analytics team in my arsenal. When I was told the role would be in Geneva, Switzerland, I did not hesitate to relocate.

So, how am I finding it now?

In the past year since my relocation, I have had a huge learning curve. I discovered that my Excel skills were quite underwhelming and that my powerpoint decks had room for growth. I had to learn to write complex queries in SQL to access data, design models in Excel using R, and create data visualisations in Tableau.

Yet despite the number of technical skills that I had to develop (still a work in progress!), I felt since day one in the team that this was right for me. I love solving new problems every day; and without doubt, the support of my analytics peers and managers has helped immensely. No matter how many slack messages I send, or how many times I pop up at somebody’s desk, I am never made to feel I am asking too many questions. My team in London were amazing, so I was relieved to find when I moved to Geneva that the team here were just as friendly and welcoming.

Hiking in Arnensee with coworkers at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world

Geneva itself has been great. Like every Expedian, I’m big on travel, and living so near an airport has me leaving the country on average once a month. The lake in Geneva is bright turquoise in summer, and I’ve learnt to paddleboard as well as continuing to attend the Crossfit classes I took in London. Last summer I went hiking frequently with coworkers, and we hit up several Christmas markets in December. The analytics team itself has a ton of social activities; from monthly fast food lunches to cupcake decorating, ice-skating and laser tag. I even learnt to ski with a co-worker, although my skills on that front need some work…

What’s next for me?

I’m enjoying the challenges of new business topics and problems in Analytics. I have got a long list of skills I’m looking to develop this year, and I’m determined to make a little progress in my French. As for the future? I’ve found my joy in analytics and learning, but in Expedia Group, as in life, change is the only real guarantee.

One of my many weekend day-trips to Chamonix

What would I advise to somebody else looking for a career change?

  • Reach out to hiring managers or peers in different teams to find out what they do; shadowing is a great way to understand what a day-in-the-life actually looks like
  • Engage with your manager on personal development goals; set clear objectives and define what steps you will need to succeed
  • Follow your curiosity: what do you enjoy doing, and what really piques your interest at work?
  • Upskill yourself using the resources at hand; there are plenty of free courses online on edx, udemy and coursera

Career Check-in: Alex Lieu

What differentiates an analyst from a BI Dev?

Alex Lieu | Director Business Intelligence, Lodging Partner Services in Geneva

Tell me a bit about yourself and how you first joined Expedia

My career with Expedia actually started 12 years ago in Seattle, but I’ve spent the past 8 years in the Geneva office. I initially joined as a financial analyst, moved into regional analytics and managed the team there, before transitioning into my current role leading the BI Dev (Business Intelligence Developers) team.

Having fun with my manager at the Analytics and Revenue Management offsite in Geneva

For somebody who is new to the world: How would you differentiate the role of a BI dev to the role of an analyst?

I’d like to start off by saying that what matters most is the commonality between the two;the problem solving capability.

But when it comes down to it, an analyst is a person who tries to identify business trends and to tell a story. A developer finds ways to explore data, build tools and create efficiencies to enable others.

For an analyst interview, the focus might be on answering questions and telling stories with the data. When interviewing a BI developer, I like to understand what tools they have built in the past. For both, I try to figure out if they truly understood the needs of their clients or just followed instructions.

However, it really is a spectrum; the roles in Expedia aren’t so definite any more, and the profile we want depends on the job that the team is going to carry out. Sometimes a more generalist person might be appropriate for a team, but in other times you need a really technical skill set. And it is key to note that you don’t need four people with the same skillset in a team; it’s more important to be able to leverage different skills across a team.

What defines an “Expedia Group” hire to you?

The best hires I can think back on are curious, focused on the problem being solved rather than the official task itself, and are interested in the human dynamic. This is important as often the root of the issue is not immediately clear from the way a stakeholder explains it. It requires both connection with people and grit to solve problems in such a large organisation.

Applying the core problem-solving competencies at the offsite by trying to build a car out of cardboard

I also think a lot of Expedians combine that grit with humour. Across the multiple teams and groups I’ve worked in, there’s been this sense of humour and a lack of ego that underpins the culture.

Do all the Expedia offices have a different atmosphere or is there a global Expedia vibe?

The offices definitely all have a distinct culture based on the make-up of employees. In the offices where we share space with the Account Management teams there is a particularly social and outgoing vibe; smaller ones, like Geneva, are a little more intimate. If you needed to talk to somebody in Geneva, you would always be able to show up at their desk with a question.

And what would your advice be to anybody thinking about moving to Geneva specifically?

Switzerland is a great location in the centre of Europe; it’s super easy to travel from. Furthermore, the Swiss are a very active and outdoorsy nation, so there are loads of activities to get stuck in with. And Geneva is one of the easiest cities in the world to commute around. It’s definitely a bit quieter than London or Prague, but there’s a strong social culture amongst the Expedians who have relocated.

Walking with lions in South Africa; enjoying the perks of my Expedia Group employee travel benefits

What advice would you give to somebody joining Expedia Group today to succeed?

Approaching everything with a problem-solving mentality has been really important for me. Lots of people are excited about getting the most exciting, glamorous, high-visibility opportunity. I’ve had the best outcomes from going for the “messy” problem nobody else wants to tackle and just making it work.

I’ve also had to learn that when somebody is asking you for something, they’re not asking for the “right way” or whose remit it sits within; they want the problem solved. In a big company like Expedia Group it could be tempting to “pass the parcel” but it’s important to have the drive to solve the tricky problems and to take responsibility for subjects.

I’d also say it’s important to understand your personal motivations and drivers, which might change over time. I like my current role as I really value making the life of the people I work with more effective, and that is validation I receive every day. Knowing I add value to my colleagues is really important for me.

Finally, I have found a lot of value from having a mentor; I would recommend every Expedian to sign up for the available mentorship programs. Leadership are generally very easy to talk to and interested to know that junior people are getting on well, and the visibility a mentor gives you across the organisation can be invaluable.

Career Check-in: Grégoire Laurent

From Account Management in Munich to Analytics in Singapore: My reflections on four years at Expedia.

Grégoire Laurent | Senior Business Analyst, Lodging Partner Services in Geneva

What a journey it has been since I joined Expedia at the start of 2015! Given the wide range of teams and offices around the world and culture of inclusion and exchange, it is no surprise that my career has also been varied.

Chapter 1: Munich | Skillset: German + Account Management

Interested in improving my German-skills, I applied for a role within an Account Management team looking after German speaking part of Switzerland. The interview process was longer than I was used to but each step was worth the time as I got to know my future colleagues and the role I was applying for. I liked the culture and energy of the people from the beginning.

Although I was the only non-German native speaker I was choosen on the potential and mindset I showed during the interview process. The team organized German-classes and took the extra time to help me with this new challenge. After a few months I was able to pass my C1 and work more proficiently in German.

Sunset ride with partner after a successful market visit in Zermatt

From day one in Munich, I was lucky to meet people I still consider mentors. These Expedians encouraged me to take time to think about my career plan and objectives so that I could truly follow my passion. By attending regular onsite and offsite training with the wider DACH and EMEA team I was able to develop skills which I knew would become extremely valuable for the future.

Chapter 2: Geneva | Skillset: Analytics

After 2 years in the Munich office I found myself spending more and more time travelling back to Switzerland for private and professional reasons. I had discussions with my manager about a move back.

The perks of working in Switzerland

Evolving within my role, I also began to realise that what I like the most and what I was the most interested in was the data (I have always been more of a numbers person) and therefore started learning on my own time some of the hard-skills needed to aspire for more analytical positions. After a few months I finally decided to discuss with my manager about my interest to get more exposure to analytical roles.

A key for me to be able to make this career change was the opportunity I was offered to spend a few hours every week on a cross-departmental project. This allowed the manager in the Analytics team to test my skills and interest, whilst I could discover if the work was really of interest to me. Two months later after a very successful 1st project I was offered a role in the Regional Analytical team.

This new role started with a very intense period of exponential learning, surrounded by very qualified and talented colleagues. It’s vital to be able to adapt quickly to new situations and learn new skills on the job. However, the reward for me was far greater than the challenge. Expedia Group invested in me and gave me time to develop myself. Surrounded by talented colleagues, I always had resources to learn from.

Enjoying the local food in Singapore

Regional Analytics, what do you do?

Our role in in the regional analytics team has two sides:

  • Support the Sales and Marketing Leadership teams within our SuperRegion (EMEA, APAC, LATAM or AMER)
  • Support Global projects and initiatives at the core of Expedia Group strategy

The Regional Analytics team is just team within the wider Expedia Group Analytics & Revenue Management department. Expedia Group has data in its DNA and therefore I have had many opportunities to learn from now datasets, applications and analytical technics.

Chapter 3: Singapore | Skillset: Culture + more Analytics

The view from the Singapore office

I have always been passionate about opportunities for career development, training and learning. When the Analytics department launched committees in early 2018 to make sure that Expedia is a great place to work I jumped at the chance to get stuck in.

The committee I worked on implemented a Mobility Program with colleagues from the US and Asia; after a few months and presentations were able to get a green light from the Analytics Leadership to launch a program worldwide that would allow analysts to get experience across the globe.

I was lucky to be one of the first employees to be part of the new program; spending a few months in Singapore to cover for two colleagues taking their paternity leave – 3 months each (Generous paternity leave is yet another great feature of Expedia Group! 😉).

Career Check-in: Fabio Carta

Fabio Carta | Market Manager, Lodging Partner Services in London

Has it ever happened to you when you’ve attended one of those university career fairs and you try to make sense of the endless opportunities, industries and jobs that are right in front of your eyes? Rather than helping, it confuses you even more! Well, it’s at one of those job fairs where I met the Expedia Group (at Bocconi&Jobs Careers Fair in Milan) and it was Expedia that helped me take the first step to get some clarity out of this confusion and build my career path.

I wanted to be part of it! After a round of interviews, I was offered an internship and, after 4 years and 3 different cities, I’m still an Expedian and now Market Manager in London.

I still remember that day as if it was yesterday. The local team in Milan introduced me to the Expedia family and I was soon captured by the company’s vison: “We are the world travel platform. Our purpose is to bring the world within reach.”

But what does a market manager do? As a Market Manager, my primary responsibility is to initiate, develop and maintain a high-quality portfolio of accommodation providers (hotels, B&Bs, guesthouses, vacation rentals, etc.) for Expedia’s global customer base.

How do I do it? I spend the majority of my time in calls and meetings with these potential partners explaining our value proposition, understanding their needs and aligning Expedia Group’s strategy with their strategy. To achieve high quality, I work closely with internal stakeholders such as the legal, marketing and operations teams: together we set up our partners for success.

Expedia Group is not a company for everybody.

It’s the place for winners: We dream big and we go through constant changes, so this creates a need to continuously readapt, re-prioritize our tasks and set new goals. In market management, we spend a good 10% of our time planning our strategy for the day, week, and month.

It’s the place for humble people: Nobody has all the answers so we are active listeners!  We ask for regular feedback and build development plans. In market management, we have weekly team meetings where we look into performance and best practices; we have weekly trainings where we learn new skills and enhance our knowledge; we have catch-ups and one-to-ones, where we ask for feedback and help each other solve problems.

It’s the place for team players: We work in teams and every decision we take affects not only our close colleagues, but also our customers, our partners and many other stakeholders. When we add a new property to the marketplace, this property (with all its amenities, its rates, its reviews) is available to more than 670 million monthly visitors and needs to be traded by more than 200+ travel booking sites. We can’t play solo!

If you tick all these boxes, you might become the next Expedian!

Get noticed by our recruiters with these 6 Tips

Originally published on our HomeAway blog in January 2018.

Our recruiters review thousands of applications each month so you can be sure they are eager for unique and eye-catching resumes. So how do you stand out from the sea of applicants? Our HomeAway recruiters are sharing their biggest resume turn-ons, plus cringe-worthy mistakes applicants should try to avoid.

The one name you don’t want to forget:

“My biggest pet peeve is when candidates don’t take the time to customize their resume and cover letter. Sometimes they will even address a different company! Take the time to customize your resume – not only for the position you are applying to, but also double check your application for grammar, spelling, and the correct company name.”  – Heather T.

Pay attention to the numbers:

“A resume showing tenure of a position title instead of showing total years with the company can be confusing. For example, 10 years with HomeAway is more eye-catching than five years as an account coordinator and five years as a manager. You can make that distinction within the description of responsibilities.” – Brittany H.


Don’t show up to the party empty-handed:

“When candidates come to an interview I advise that they bring a portfolio with a pad of paper and a pen. Before you arrive, do research on the interviewers you are meeting with and bring up something you learned during the interview. The other piece is to have five or six questions written down in your portfolio so when the interviewer asks you if you have questions you are ready to go. Interviews are hard enough and having to come up with questions on the spot can conclude an interview on a flat note. Make sure your last impression is your best foot forward!” – Adam F.


To cover letter or not to cover letter, that is the question:

“When it comes to the cover letter, it’s better to have one than not. When you write your cover letter the key is to be brief, be unique, and be accurate. That being said, cover letters often do get overlooked so it’s more important to invest your time perfecting your resume and mining your network for a quality connection that can help you get your foot in the door.” – Analisa F. 

Don’t overdress to impress:

“Wear something casual, but not too casual. I’d recommend jeans and a collared shirt but stay away from t-shirts with logos. I stress to candidates to wear what they feel comfortable in. Just leave the suit and tie at home unless you’re interviewing for an executive role.” – Clinton B.

A HomeAway Employee’s Trip Around the World

Throwback Thursday: originally published on our HomeAway blog on January 11, 2018

Diana Nogueira | Social Media Advertising Specialist, HomeAway in Austin.

Diana Nogueira works in Austin, TX, but it seems like she spends more time abroad than in the Lone Star State. She’s mastered the art of using up all of her paid time off while scheduling trips that allow her to visit other HomeAway offices around the world. She’s sharing her favorite moments from 2017 (one of her biggest travel years) and tips for traveling solo.

Q&A with Diana

Q: How many countries did you visit in 2017?

A: I visited 14 countries. Although I did visit Spain twice; Barcelona in May, and Madrid in August.

Q: That’s more than one country a month! Which HomeAway offices were you able to check out?

A: I visited our Singapore, Madrid and Sydney offices.

Q: So out of all the offices you’ve been to, which one is your favorite?

A: My favorite office is our Downtown Austin location where I work. My favorite international office is in Madrid. Full disclosure, the proximity to tasty food (Whole Foods in Austin and El Corte Ingles in Madrid) may have influenced my decision.

The beautiful Kaafu Atoll in The Maldives.

Q: It’s definitely understandable how food could be factor. Do you have a favorite dish?

A: I love eating healthy and finding local food markets wherever I am.

Foodie Heaven! La Boqueria Mercat in Barcelona, Spain

Q: What’s the culture like in the other offices?

A: I’m Brazilian and everyone in Brazil is very open and inviting and I saw a lot of that in the Madrid office. When HomeAway people found out I was visiting, they stopped by my desk to greet me and invite me out for drinks. They were genuinely interested in getting to know me.

Lunch at the El Corte Ingles in Madrid with some employees from the HomeAway office.

Visiting the volcanic island of Rangitoto, near Auckland, New Zealand

Q: Have you met any Team HomeAway friends during your travels?

A: Yes! I have met with colleagues in our Singapore, Madrid, Sydney and Auckland offices. I was on vacation by the time I made it to Auckland, so I didn’t work in the office, but I still made time to grab coffee with my Kiwi counterpart. I spent the most time in the Madrid office. In five days I got to meet different teams, hang out with them for lunch, happy hour, dinner and also go sightseeing with them. Everyone there was so friendly and I can’t wait to go back!

Meeting new friends at The Grounds of Alexandria in Sydney, Australia. This is must-see stop for foodies!

Q: HomeAway is truly a global team! When you’re traveling solo where do you usually stay?

A: I typically stay in hostels when I’m traveling alone because it’s super affordable and reserve a HomeAway when I’m traveling with a group. I’ve booked two HomeAways in the past, one in Playa del Carmen and another in South Padre Island when I planned a vacation with my friends.

Q: Is there one trip in 2017 that really stood out to you?

A: It is hard to pick just one, but I must go with Chiang Mai, Thailand. I got to spend a full day at the Elephant Nature Park, a nature and rehabilitation center located center in Northern Thailand. These majestic creatures have suffered a great deal and hold visible marks of torture. We had four elephants in our group and we were in charge of feeding, bathing and playing in the mud with them for the day. The oldest elephant in our group was 80 years old while the youngest, little Nina, was just five. This was truly a remarkable experience that I will never forget. I definitely plan on going back and spending more time volunteering at the Park.

Q: Wow, that’s truly an unforgettable experience. What kind of traveler would you say you are? Adventurous, touristy, or all about relaxation?

A: I would say a little bit of all of those. I grew up in a beach town, so relaxing on the beach ranks high on my list. I also love learning the history of a city, meeting locals and immersing myself in the culture of the country. I became a  big fan of “free walking tours” after attending my very first one in Paris in 2012. My guide and I hit it off and I ended up hanging out with him for two days as opposed to just one. It certainly did not hurt that he looked like Keanu Reeves! I also use the “Hop On Hop Off” buses quite a bit on my trips as they provide a convenient way to hit all the top attractions within the city.

Q: Final question, if you could stay in any vacation rental on the HomeAway website, which home would it be?

A: I would love to stay at this awesome 727 airplane overlooking the Pacific Ocean and Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica.

What’s the life of an analyst like at Expedia Group?

Achilleas Athanasiou Fragkoulis | Product Analyst, Hotels.com in London

Hi there! My name’s Achilles and with this blog post I’m hoping to give you a quick peek at what the life of an analyst is like at Expedia Group. It’s been 5 months since I joined Hotels.com as part of the Product Analytics and Experimentation team and looking back at the little time I’ve spent here so far, it’s hard to believe how much I’ve learnt and grown. Even less believable seems the fact that my work has had a direct impact from day 1 on our customers, my colleagues and stakeholders!

What do you do?

My team’s purpose statement reads “Bringing the scientific method to life; delivering actionable behavioural insights to enable informed product decisions”. It’s a bit of a mouthful but it captures the 3 most important elements of what we do, firstly we ensure that the appropriate scientific methods are applied in every analytical use case, secondly, we draw behavioural insights deriving from customer behavioural data and lastly, we use these insights to support business decisions.

We are responsible for maintaining the health of our test & learn programme (T&L) – here’s a blog post giving a breakdown of what our testing programme is like, we own the experimentation methodology and analyse hundreds of experiments every year relating to the design, functionality and performance of Hotels.com. In short, a lot of what we do involves conversion optimisation. The idea is that we strive to understand where users struggle with their experience on our website, be it because of lack of clarity of information, frustration around how to perform an action or find relevant content/info, lack of trust, a confusing /ambiguous design or anything else you can imagine! We identify and try to solve these problems, so that their journey through organising and booking a trip can be as seamless and enjoyable as the actual trip itself.

Personally, I find that the most fascinating part of our work is developing our state-of-the-art experimentation platform itself, aiming to have a world-class, industry-leading platform by performing industry research and developing our tools and experimentation methodology. We love automating manual parts of our daily workflow and always endeavour to increase our capacity to support more tests analyses and make our data go that extra mile for us.

On the side of the above, I’ve taken on a few personal initiatives. One being involved in early-talent recruitment and outreach events. Secondly, I am attempting to make a case within our business to develop the capacity to support and collaborate with post-grad and doctorate students on their theses / dissertations and year-end projects. Lastly, I am in the process of organising and hosting Meetup events in our London office, so that we can give back to London’s extremely vibrant tech, analytics and data science community!

What do you love about Life at Expedia?

Simply feeling valued and respected as an individual and being constantly enabled and empowered to bring my best self and do my best work every day. How do we achieve this?

What tops my list, is everyone’s openness to new ideas.

This is a by-product of working daily with a mixture of very intelligent people from all sort of different backgrounds and walks of life, where everyone brings their own unique perspective and there’s always something for you to learn from that.

Whilst still a massive company, it is astonishing how much of an entrepreneurial feel we manage to preserve, especially in the London office. There’s always a hassling vibe around and everyone’s extremely motivated to drive our product, tools, technology and online travel in general forward. There’s genuine excitement about the type of work we do here, and I can assure you it is extremely contagious!

After that on my list comes the variety of work and opportunities for development. This is enabled both by our fantastic internal and external training opportunities and dedicated development time in the form of frequent hackathons, an annual off-site and generally about 15% of our time being our own to dedicate at our discretion on side-projects, development of our experimentation platform, automating frequent tasks and so on.

Lastly but still very importantly, general quality of life and work-life balance. Our office is very lively and social and, while I probably am a poor example, being a bit of a flaker when it comes to our social events, I value that there is still something for everyone. Personally, I make the most out of our fantastic facilities and infrastructure to support a healthy active lifestyle. I commute by bicycle, take advantage of our yoga classes in the office (weather permitting on the roof-garden!) and feed my fully fledged kitesurfing addiction with our travel and wellbeing allowances.

But surely there must be challenges with so much on your plate…? 

Yes absolutely! But challenges are just development opportunities that have yet to be realised.

Working in such an idea-rich environment it is very easy to build up a huge backlog. It can be hard to juggle things and there is constantly a need to self-organise, self-manage your workload and prioritise very aggressively. You are constantly learning to quickly assess the expected value you can return on every request for the time you invest in it and by consequence you learn to say “no” to people, often times much more senior, and actively manage their expectations.

Additionally, being a large company, it is often very challenging to find the right person to talk to. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel but it can be frustrating to find them with tools and processes spanning multiple teams, geographies and time-zones.

And lastly the bane of my existence… Simply having more ideas than time to work on them.

What’s a typical work-day like then…?!

That’s easy! 8am alarm and instant take-off, 30mins morning yoga followed by a 30min ride through Regent’s park. Quick shower in the office, get breakfast ready – preferably strained yogurt with blueberries, raspberries and plenty of nuts and seeds. Pick up a cup of coffee and land at my desk at 9:30. That’s when the typical part of the day ends!

From then on you never know, one day I can be working closely with data science trying to understand where one of our algorithms fails or if there are opportunities for further improvement. Another day I might be taking part in an ideation session with product managers taking notes of all the ideas flying around so I can pull data together to support a coherent story about where they should be taking this next. Or it could be one of those not so great days that something has broken, and I am investigating a data quality issue, working closely with our data engineers trying to understand the problem. If it’s a quieter day I am probably putting a developer or software engineer hat on, building new features for our experimentation platform or optimising our code.

It’s a fast-paced environment, the ebb and flow of which tends to shift around all the time. Some may find it chaotic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why I chose the alternate path as an apprentice

Lewis Luther-Braun | Apprentice, Hotels.com in London

Let’s start off with a question, what are your immediate thoughts when I say ‘apprentice’ – and I don’t mean the TV series hosted by Lord Alan Sugar. Chances are, those thoughts aren’t hugely positive. There’s this negative stigma (not everywhere, but in the majority of places) surrounding apprenticeships. This stretches from high school atmospheres all the way up to the mindset of those leading ‘innovative’ companies. Going through the sixth form, all I ever heard were that the next steps in a successful career meant going to university because that’s the way it’s always been done. That was all that was ever spoken about. While I was ‘deciding on my future’, I never even thought about apprenticeships. My naïve thoughts led me to believe that, apprenticeships were for people who couldn’t make it to university. Those who had failed to meet the requirements of the ‘standard’ system.

That was about two years ago.

Now I’m just over halfway through the first year of my degree apprenticeship with Expedia (Hotels.com Brand). So after confessing my prior belief of this negative stigma, why did I choose an apprenticeship? Well…

In December 2017 I thought I had the first steps in my career decided. I was 3 months into a gap year, picking up bits of freelance work here and there, building myself a small portfolio and working on things that took my fancy. I had a scholarship lined up to Aberystwyth University for the following September where I was going to be studying Computer Science with a flavour in either cybersecurity or robotics (which was quite exciting as they are developing pathfinding algorithms for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover mission).

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right – So why did I turn it down?

Well, over the gap year I came to the realisation that I prefer actually making stuff and doing something practical. So, as appealing as it sounded, sitting in a lecture theatre for however many hours per day listening to and taking notes of theoretical concepts that chances are, I would never use again – apart from maybe when I took my final year exams. I wasn’t buying it. I fancied something where I could put into practice what I was learning, almost instantly – so that I could consolidate my knowledge actually grasp what I was learning.

I had also heard that a lot of my friends coming out of university were having trouble finding jobs – not because they didn’t know their subject matter but instead because they didn’t have the required amount of experience to get a full time position.

Considering what I’ve briefly mentioned, in January I turned down my university place with no real idea of what I was going to do next. Writing this down, makes me realise that this idea doesn’t seem rational at all – I was turning down a secured place at university with a scholarship in place of… well. Nothing.

I had nothing lined up, no back-up plan. Plan ‘A’ didn’t quite cut it for me so I needed to find something else – On the bright side, there’s still another 25 letters left.

I started looking for extra freelance work to take up to improve my skillset and portfolio while I preceded to seek out what I was going to do next.

I started trying to answer the questions we’ve all asked ourselves; “Can I really see myself doing this as a job?”, “Am I actually any good at it?” & “Why exactly, does this capture my interest?”.

In the blind searching, that’s when I stumbled across mention of an apprenticeship at Expedia. I thought I’d try my luck, I had nothing to lose and so much to gain – the apprenticeship offered a full degree and 3 years ‘work experience’ at the same time, so those two points I mentioned earlier seemed to have been solved by this apprenticeship.

Practical: Tick

Work experience: Tick

BSc Degree: Tick

And now, here I am. One of Expedia’s first apprentices.

So what exactly do I actually do as an apprentice?

I work in terms of an 8-week cycle wherein I spend 7 straight weeks at Expedia and then 1 week at university, where I am studying a three-year course for a BSc in ‘Digital Innovation’. I usually receive a perplexed look when I tell someone what I study – so I’ll lay it out for you. In effect, it’s a computer science course but as defined by the industry as opposed to a university body who may or may not be currently involved in the industry. This means that everything we learn can be applied directly in the workplace, as it’s what the ‘industry’ have defined as what we need to know.

I appear to have tailored my next steps to what I was searching for. Since starting here, I’ve learnt so much. That in itself is a testimony to the team that I’m part of, where knowledge sharing is a basis of the team structure. One source of learning that I had overlooked when applying, was from the developers around me – people with years of experience are committing their code all the time where I can pick up on patterns they’ve used or hear why they did something one way but not the other and compare approaches. Plus I get insight into all their mistakes, in the hope that I can build on what they’ve learnt.

So it appears that not following the standard procedure has been an ‘Expedia-nce’ of a lifetime that’s led to some exciting new opportunities.

What a difference a year makes

Nathan Adams | Data Visualisation & Insights Analyst, Hotels.com in London

November 2017:  I was a final year student at the University of Bath, frantically searching for internship and graduate opportunities for when I entered the “real world”. During my search, I stumbled upon an Expedia recruitment event: The Business Analytics Games. This was the perfect opportunity to visit the Expedia office and network with prospective employers. I reached out to the recruitment team at Expedia and quickly started planning my trip to London. The event was a series of short challenges pertaining to different areas of analytics, such as Business Intelligence, Product Analytics and Pricing Analytics, with hiring managers from Hotels.com, Expedia Partner Solutions and Brand Expedia all present. After some successful networking, I was invited to an interview in the forthcoming weeks and then offered a summer internship in the Hotels.com Business Intelligence team!

June 2018: Fast-forward six months, I had finished my studies and graduated with a first-class degree from the University of Bath and I was about to begin my Summer Internship with Expedia Group. The prospect of living in London for the first time, while working for a tech company I have long admired was rather exciting. Our first day consisted of meeting our intern counterparts in other brands and teams, which was made up of 30 summer interns and industrial placement students. The early talent recruitment team jam-packed the summer with training events, social activities and lunch & learn sessions – damn I miss those free lunches. It was getting towards the end of my internship and I was extremely pleased to hear that there was an open role in my team for a graduate-level analyst. I jumped at the chance and was offered the role of Data Visualisation & Insights Analyst. You could say the internship was a success!

October 2018: After building a good relationship with the early talent recruitment team and knowing that I was at the event in 2017, they reached out to me to help organise the evening. This year we decided to just have one, bigger challenge. I came up with the idea of a hypothetical sporting event which incorporated the end-to-end process of data analysis, allowing the students to engage in rich conversations about how an event can affect the business and how we can use data to leverage these opportunities. The Business Analytics Games 2018 was a huge success, with over 30 students attending from multiple Universities, both inside London and some as far as Leeds and Bath.

So… what a difference a year makes? From attending as a student desperate to get my first job at Expedia, through to helping organise and create the challenge at that very same event one year on is something I could never have imagined.