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.

Global Early Talent

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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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Deciphering Product Roles

Amanda McArthur | Talent Advisor, Expedia Group in Bellevue, WA

Product, Technical Product, and Program Management. If you are in the product world, you know the struggle is real. Companies (and sometimes even teams) have different definitions for each. It can be difficult to understand what roles are a strong fit given your background and personal career goals.

My goal here is to help you maneuver Expedia Group and find exciting opportunities with us that are more in-line with your experience or career goals.

First, the Program Manager:

In several large tech companies, this is a title predominantly used to describe someone who is closely aligned with Engineering. Generally speaking, within Expedia Group, the Program Manager is more focused on business process and programs. With one exception; the title Technical Program Manager is used in a few divisions and the responsibilities are similar to a Technical Product Manager.

This role is great for someone who excels at surveying the ‘big picture’. You enjoy finding and fixing inefficiencies. You build business processes and programs that scale, are streamlined and cross-functional. Like most other Product or Program roles, you are also an excellent communicator who is able to build consensus through influencing without authority.

While searching, I would consider areas of expertise as well and use keywords as part of your search to narrow your results. Maybe your area of specialty is talent acquisition, business operations, finance, or marketing. If you do have a functional area that you are focused within, do include it in your search.

https://lifeatexpedia.com/jobs/?keyword=Program%20Manager

Technical Product Manager:

Within the Expedia product ecosystem, we have both a Technical Product Manager (TPM) and a Product Manager. As a TPM, you are more closely partnered with Engineering teams.

All of our teams follow the Agile methodology, which means you can expect to attend (if not lead) daily standups. You will likely build user stories and participate in sprint planning. The lengths of our sprint cycles vary by team. Some could be as short as a week, others are a few weeks. We have a ‘Test and Learn’ culture and a bias toward action – giving our teams the ability to move faster with less red tape.

While most roles don’t require a background in software development, it does help in most cases. I’ve seen a lot of Engineers make a successful transition from development to TPM. It’s a natural progression for those wanting to take on broader responsibilities over product creation. You’ll partner cross-functionally with several teams. You act as a liaison and help your less technical counterparts understand technology constraints and possibilities. You’ll also help to communicate timing for execution, helping to prioritize feature work within the roadmap.

Keep in mind if you’re looking to move into Technical Product Management, there are some TPM roles that definitely need someone who comes from a hands-on development background. While this isn’t the norm, I have seen roles where the TPM would continue to own some code as part of their broader responsibilities.

https://lifeatexpedia.com/jobs/?keyword=technical%20product%20manager

Product Manager:

This is purely my opinion, but I believe finding the right Product role is pretty tricky. The level of technical aptitude needed to be successful is different for each team and depends heavily on the product space. Because most of our Product teams are dealing with digital products, the level of technical knowledge needed tends to be on the higher end of the spectrum.

That said, there are definitely Product Management roles that are more focused on stakeholder management, strategy, or user journey and UX. As the Product Manager, you own the roadmap planning, feature release cycles, backlog prioritization, varied levels of reporting, and product related problem-solving.

In general, all of our Product Management teams are going to be looking for someone who is comfortable working in a highly matrixed organization. Because a lot of products span multiple brands, you may have several stakeholders and they could be located all over the world. That means that not only will you work cross-collaboratively with UX, Engineering, Marketing, etc. you may also have the added complexity of working across brands. For someone who’s looking for more complexity, this may be perfect for you.

https://lifeatexpedia.com/jobs/?keyword=product%20manager

A few things to keep in mind:

Our teams are truly Global. I know, on the surface this doesn’t sound very different from other large tech companies. I’ll explain. I’ve worked with some companies that have a large global footprint; however, in a lot of cases, the product work was dispersed by location. London had their part, Sweden had another, and both were part of a larger body of work. In those cases, they had regular check-ins but the interdependencies were fewer which required less coordination. In our case, your immediate team may have a global footprint. It’s possible that you’ll be managing close dependencies where you’re coordinating with immediate team members located on the other side of the globe.

Your Search:

First and foremost, don’t be discouraged if one position isn’t the right fit. If you are a Product veteran you probably already know how unique each position is. Maybe you don’t have enough experience with complex information architecture, but nail the customer experience and user journey. Everyone has different professional experience and those are the things that will make you a unique fit for the right team.

Career Check-In with Dorine Rassaian

Dorine Rassaian | Global Product Manager III in Bellevue, WA

Dorine Rassaian in a meadowWhat does your typical workday look like?

Since most of my stakeholders are in other time zones, the first thing I do every morning is read through emails and Slack messages to see if I received anything urgent overnight. The rest of the day is (mostly) spent in meetings to drive our product features forward. For example, I’ll meet with our UX gurus to review wireframes and iterate on them until we have mock-ups we deem ‘ready for development’ or ‘ready for a usability test’. Then I’ll meet with my Engineering team to review the progress we’ve made and scope the resources and time needed to complete the next set of features. Following that, I’ll meet with Marketing to determine to who and how we will communicate these changes, and with my Technical Product Manager to finalize the experimental roll-out plan to market. In-between these meetings, there are usually recurring meetings with the rest of the organization’s Product Managers to drive transparency and cohesion across what we’re working on. Depending on where we are at with a particular feature’s lifecycle, I will also have meetings with Analytics and Finance to review performance and optimize accordingly.

What have you enjoyed most about working at Expedia Group?

I’ve been so fortunate to have started my career at Expedia as a summer Intern on the Search Engine Marketing team back in 2011. Ever since that experience, I knew I wanted to pursue a career at Expedia… and I’m still here seven years later! What I’ve enjoyed most is our company’s culture – the energy is infectious; we work for leaders who provide transparency, are incredibly approachable, and value testing our ideas.

What makes your team unique?

As part of the Lodging Partner Product team, we really embody the Expedia Guiding Principal of “Put yourself in the shoes of our customers and partners”, as we work closely with Hoteliers to optimize their property’s listings on our Expedia Group websites. Getting to meet with partners from all over the world sure makes the discovery and research phase of the product lifecycle fun –  a property that may look the same on paper in one geography may have completely different needs than a similar property located across the world.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

After four years on the Search Engine Marketing team, I made a big move over to Product Management on the Data Science team, focusing on revenue management and marketplace optimizations. Not only was I in a new area of the business, but I was also a brand-new Product Manager trying to grasp the new day-to-day of things! After a mere four months in the role, I was asked to participate in our yearly Global Product Organization’s Thunderdome. Imagine a case competition amongst four participants, where you are each given a company to teardown (what are they doing well, what can they improve on, etc.), in a short amount of time. The Thunderdome itself is an event where you get on stage in front of 500+ people, with 10 minutes to convince them that your teardown is the best. That was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done – what a thrill it was to get on stage!

Who has influenced you the most?

Sheryl Sandberg has really inspired me, as she embodies many of the qualities I strive to emulate; being a thought-leader, instilling curiosity & passion, and being a true subject-matter-expert. As she said, “I feel really grateful to the people who encouraged me and helped me develop. Nobody can succeed on their own”, and no truer words have been said in the field of Product Management; without your stakeholders, nothing would get done.

How and where do you find inspiration?

For those of you who are just starting your career as a PM, I highly recommend referring to Roman Pichler’s blog for guidance on how to approach Product Management. I’ve also loved the Women in Product (WIP) community, which has a wealth of resources for PMs in all stages of their career.

How did you learn to embrace failure?

One of the first things I learned was to “fail fast”. We have a strong culture of Test & Learn – if you have a hypothesis, let’s test it and see where it takes us. The faster you iterate, the more you learn and the stronger you become, which also happens to be one of our Expedia Guiding Principles: “Be data driven and business judgment led”.

What is your favorite piece of career advice?

My favorite piece of career advice is to “Be patient enough to learn, but impatient enough to take risks”.

Tell us about your favorite vacation?

One of my most memorable trips was to New York – I had the opportunity to meet with our NYC team to solicit their feedback on my team’s product areas (and take in the NYC Expedia office views from the 76th floor of the Empire State Building!), caught a Yankees vs. Red Sox game, and got the best surprise of my life –  getting engaged at the Top of the Rockefeller Center 😊

What is your favorite weekend getaway?

A frequent weekend getaway is driving from Seattle up to Vancouver, British Columbia. They have amazing restaurants, spas and stunning views of the city juxtaposed with the mountains in the background.