Vamos Vrbo

Simon Fattal | Product Manager Intern in London

Having just finished my second year studying Computer Science at University College London (UCL), I decided that I wanted to work as a Product Manager. This role involves a bit of everything, from data science to business strategy, so was really suitable for me since I haven’t decided exactly what I want to go into upon graduating. After an initial application, two rounds of interviews and some admin work, I was accepted onto the Vrbo 12-week summer internship programme, based in London! As someone with a passion for travel and technology, Vrbo was a great fit for me. I’m currently finishing up my second week, and so far I’ve enjoyed every moment of it.

Every three months, Vrbo holds a Quarterly Product Update (QPU). This is a 3-day event where different parts of the product team have the chance to tell everyone what they have been working on and what changes they are making to their objectives. Keeping other teams informed is pretty important, since it promotes new ideas and innovation, while also ensuring that no two teams are working on the same thing. Purely by chance, the QPU happened to be during the second week of my internship! I was invited to join the product team in Madrid, where this QPU was being held.

During my time in Madrid, I was able to connect with the other people in my team (many of whom I was meeting for the first time) and learn a vast amount about what each division within Product does. As someone who was unsure what to expect from this internship, there literally could not have been a better way to get started and dive straight into the work that I would be doing for the next three months. Events ranged from Leadership Panels to Strategic Updates to Happy Hour Tapas – something no one complained about! These informative events really excelled my knowledge of the industry as well as my understanding of Vrbo’s unique approach to achieving its goals. Days were jam-packed and intense, while nights allowed for team-bonding through dinners and bars.

One thing that really stood out throughout the trip was how close the entire team was. Naturally, I expected the team to work together during the day and then simply go back to their own lives the second they got out of work. What I experienced couldn’t have been further from this expectation; even after work hours the team was still closely connected and there was a real sense of belonging for all team members. Even more so, as an intern who had literally joined about a week prior to this, the entire team was really welcoming and I had no trouble fitting in. Another really great thing about the QPU was that there were Vrbo employees from offices in all corners of the world, including London, Sydney, Austin, Frankfurt, and of course Madrid. It was fascinating to learn how the vacation rentals market differs so much between all these cities, yet Vrbo is able to accommodate them all. This was also a brilliant networking opportunity for me, as I was able to learn more about people’s backgrounds and what routes they took to get to where they are today.

I was fortunate enough to start my internship in one of the best ways possible. Having really understood the foundation of the product and how the company operates, I am now in a much better position to begin working on my summer project. My project is to enhance the landing experience on Vrbo, by personalizing the information shown to users so that they can easily find what they are looking for. Millions of travelers visit our site and each one’s needs are unique. How can we leverage the power of data to help our customers find their dream vacation rental? This is a challenging problem to solve and will also have a meaningful impact on the end customer experience. It’s really incredible that I am able to have a genuine impact on the company. What’s more, the features I will be developing directly affect the homepage – one of the most visited pages on the entire site! The trust that the Vrbo team has put in me has given me the confidence to develop my skills as a Product Manager and design more creative and impactful solutions. This is an experience that will pave the future of my career while also giving me the chance to apply some of what I have been learning at university. For this, I am truly thankful to Pady, my manager and mentor, the Landing Experience Product Team and the entire Vrbo Community.

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Building and Managing High Performing Teams and Products

Hitesh Gupta | Sr. Technical Product Manager in Gurgaon

We at Expedia Group want to be a place where Exceptional People who share our passion for technology and travel want to do their Best Work

I have played multiple roles in my last 3 years of experience with Expedia Group ranging from Program Manager to Engineering Manager to a Product Manager based on the situation, need and personal interest. Sharing a few experiences on how we were successful in building and managing a high performing team and product while incorporating all the feedback and getting better each day.

1. Innovating Fridays

One piece of feedback we got from the team is that they would like to have more dedicated time for innovation while working on sprint stories in parallel. We (I and my peer Manager) discussed with Management and came up with the concept of “InnovatingFridays” where every Friday (second half), the team innovates. It can be anything from learning new technology (Machine Learning/AI) to writing blogs as this is non-project time and they are free to work on any feature which they feel is good for end customers. It came out really well where the team ended up burning few features which were taking a back seat in the backlog. Few team members got their hands dirty on Machine Learning and did a few POC’s. Though one can’t time-bound innovation, this concept really helped me boosting team morale and the team is ready to spend extra/personal time in learning technology and go the extra mile. Once a month, we do the demo to see how it’s going and celebrate it.

2. Setting Up a Complete “Engineering” Team

Few QA members wanted to move to the core development role and this led to setting up a complete Engineering team where everyone is responsible for the development and testing of the features. We came up with a plan where every QA member is paired with a core developer who helps them in day to day questions and ramp-up. Within 3–6 months, we started seeing the impact where newly added developers (QA) started burning complex stories (moving from 1 and 2 story points to a 3+ pointer story). Also, during this duration, they shared the regression and testing duties with the existing developers and let them own it while shadowing them. This is one of the great experiences to share as to how we managed to set up a complete Engineering team.

3. Organizing Tech Talks and Collaborating Across Teams

We tried to set up a culture of continuous learning and sharing where I connected with all other Managers/Directors who are working on other mobile apps. Then, I set up the weekly tech-talk series and asked everyone to vote on what topic they will like to discuss each week. With this, we got a prioritized list of topics and assigned speakers from the team (based on their preference). This enabled us to share our learnings and knowledge across teams in Expedia Group and helped us set a collaboration platform building trust and relationships. Also, it helped everyone in the team to speak in front of a large audience and build on their presentation skills.

4. Change of Guard

We decided to rotate regression and other recurring responsibilities within the team instead of one team member owning it every time. How we did this — Created a monthly roster where every team member takes a lead on the above mentioned responsibilities every week and passes the ball to the next one. This solved the dual purpose of not having a single point of failure and everyone gets a chance to manage complete process and own it.

5. Taking Care of Platform and Tech-Debt Together

Everyone wants to work on the best feature, but you can’t have the whole team working on the same feature. At the same time, you have to take care of tech-debt and platform work since you have to take care of Engineering KPI’s (Quality and robust Architecture) too. We decided to reserve some % of bandwidth in each sprint for burning tech-debt and platform items. Also, this goes back to the rotation cycle where we have one developer contribute to this work each sprint, thus enabling them to take platform and feature work hand in hand and get some time out from routine feature work. With each feature being delivered, we introspect and see what/how/where we can improvise and try to provide the best experience to travelers.

6. Setting Up a Culture of Open Feedback

We set up a concept of open feedback where we meet as a team (twice a month) and provide open feedback to each other. This can be anything related to work including appreciations and constructive feedback. This is more of a Vegas-style meeting where we set the ground rules as not to discuss anything out of the room and whatever being discussed stays in the room only. We saw a huge drop in conflicts post this approach and the team started to collaborate more and more, thus making my life as a Manager easier 🙂

7. Core Working Hours

All planned meetings (planning/grooming/retro/demo/tech-talks) were moved to a morning slot (before lunch) and no meetings were planned after lunch. This ensured there is agreement on core working hours (like 1:30–5:30 pm) where the team can concentrate on actual work and there is no more context switching with so many meetings running around the day.

8. Own the Product as Your Own Baby

We tried to set up the culture where we encourage each and every team member to ask questions as to why this feature is really important, why not prioritizing this over there, what benefits we expect here and what are the metrics we are targeting here. This really led to useful grooming meetings where everyone (including product) enjoyed the discussion and is actively contributing there. Inducing the feeling of product ownership made the team think innovatively and ending up getting a couple of feature ideas from the team itself 🙂 Also, we encouraged them to share any suggestions/bugs which they find in other Products/Line of Business and communicate it using Dogfood process.

9. 1 on 1’s

Though I had recurring 1×1’s set up with each team member, I never stopped anyone asking for a quick ad-hoc discussion and not waiting for 1×1 to discuss that. Also, I used to maintain a separate record for each 1×1 so that I can recollect as where we left and how the individual is working on action items to be discussed in the next meeting.

10. Joint Code Review Sessions

In order to bring everyone on the same page in understanding code and helping QA moving to a developer role, we had set up joint code review sessions where teams meet every day for half an hr and opens up existing PR (Code Review request) and jointly reviews it to cover the why and how part of coding. This helped everyone (specially the new developers) to think from a common coding ground perspective.

11. Celebrating Success Together

I believe that a small appreciation note goes a long way. We made it a habit to celebrate each and every success (not having a grand party every time but taking the team out for tea/snacks) and then having lunch together, once a week.

Well as a Manager, your primary responsibility is the people and if you make them feel like coming to work every day, half of your job is done. It took us some time to set up above mentioned processes but it went a long way for us as a team and I can see a great sense of ownership, collaboration and passion to do a better job each day.

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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.