Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with Vanessa Wachtmeister

Vanessa Wachtmeister | Launch and Product Marketing Manager, Expedia Group in London

Vanessa Wachtmeister speaks to us about her role in the technology sector and shares her thoughts on London’s Women of Silicon Roundabout Event, taking place 25th-26th June 2019.

Vanessa Wachtmeiste

Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the field of Travel Blogging?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California and in 2009, I moved 3,000 miles away to attend Boston College for my undergraduate degree. When I graduated in 2013, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I knew that I would never get another chance to move to China without any serious responsibilities. Before moving, I launched my travel blog – wanderonwards.co – so my mom could keep up with my adventures and know that I was alive. Then I moved to a country I had never been to before, that speaks a language I don’t understand, to make it in an industry I had no experience in. I had just a domain name and a dream.

Fast-forward 7 years later, I’m now working for Hotels.com and living in London with my wonderful husband and cat.  Wander Onwards now has 40,000 followers across all my platforms and it allows me to travel for free to some of the most incredible destinations. I’m honestly living my #bestlife.

What’s a typical day like for you?
A typical week day for me looks like this.

  • 5:30 am – Wake up and head to the gym for an hour
  • 8:45 am – Roll into the office. I’m a morning person and often work with APAC so I’m happy to turn up even earlier if necessary. I’m buzzing from the gym so I’ll tackle my hardest tasks in the beginning of the day.
  • 12:00 pm – For lunch, I normally bring my lunch as my husband and I are pretty decent cooks. My Korean pork ribs and white wine leek dish sure beats Pret. I also never eat alone; I use this hour to invest in my relationships at Expedia Group or with friends and family abroad via Skype.
  • 5:30 pm- I’m out the door on time normally. I am not an afternoon person and I won’t apologize for it. Wake me up at 6 am for APAC calls instead but if I’m here past six, I’m likely in zombie mode.
  • 6:30 pm – My husband and I are likely cooking something interesting that we saw on YouTube. I specialize in Latin American and North African cuisine. He’s more of an Asian and European Chef. We always carve out time to do activities together to share each other’s wins, losses, and cat videos.
  • 9:00 pm – I am 100% down for the count. I’m actually asleep with dreams in my head and cat fur on my bedding. I need at least 8 hours of sleep every night to function normally.

Who is your female tech inspiration? What have they done and why do they inspire you?

Most of my inspirational female icons are actually people I’ve worked with directly. They are not necessarily in technology, but they’ve helped me develop skills that are cross-functional and I’ve carried these lessons into my career in technology.

Sandra Rice: I met Sandra in 2008 when I was participating in California’s annual ‘Girls State’ program, which encourages women to participate in government and civil service. I was running for governor (because if you’re going to do something, go big) and she saw me campaigning like a mad woman and thought I had potential. She then brought me into the Emma Bowen Foundation, where I learned the majority of my technical skills and gained serious work experience.  No one has had a bigger impact on my career than this woman. She was wise enough to know that energy and passion is something you can harness and used for incredible things; I never felt like I had to be a sort of way with her.  I owe this woman my career.

Denise Menchaca: My mom has been the driving force behind all of my success; and this is not an exaggeration. She is my most active follower, my unofficial PR rep, and my biggest cheerleader.  She’s taught me resilience, flexibility, and how to market myself in any scenario. In a past life, she was an accountant working for a big 4 firm and today she is the Vice Mayor of my hometown in Los Angeles. She’s also taught me a lot about humility. Do things without expecting to be compensated for them. Take care of those who have supported you in sickness and in health. And most importantly, bring people with you.

Christine Olivier: No one has taught me more about resilience than Christine. I would actually dub her the ‘Millennial Whisperer’ because she just knew how to encourage, inspire, and support all of the young people in the office; especially those just starting out in their career. I was a sheep and she was my shepherd. She taught me about goal setting, intentions, and encouraged me to listen to my gut about certain scenarios.

Are you working on anything exciting at the moment that you’d like to share with our readers?

Currently I’m putting together an all-female small group tour through Morocco! It’s scheduled for April 2020 and it will be an opportunity for like-minded, adventurous women to experience Morocco comfortably. Everything is going to be organized to the T; all you have to do is purchase your ticket and turn up. I really wanted to create a space for women who are looking to take their careers, life, and passions to the next level and create a hive of entrepreneurial energy. The luxury accommodation and personal photographer won’t hurt either. It’s going to be a real opportunity to experience the exciting energy of Morocco without worrying about the logistics. I promise you’ll come out of the experience with a whole new Instagram feed and a reinvigorated zest for life. Please ping me if you’d like to come along! #shamelessplug

What is your Women of Silicon Roundabout talk about?

My talk is about harnessing the power of the universe to manifest anything! Crystals aside, there are real tangible actions and methodologies that I’m highlighting to get women where they want to be. I’ve been chipping away since I was 13 years old to be exactly where I am now. I had no idea about the specifics of the situation, I just knew that if I did x, then y would eventually happen, only to finally accomplish Z. Now I need to pivot on my goals because I didn’t think I would get this far this fast. I hope to show people how to replicate this same process, wherever they are in their journey.  

What advice would you give to women who want to pursue a career in tech?

Stop being your own worst enemy. No one is thinking that you’re a certain way or reminiscing about that one email. Allow yourself to accept the success you know you deserve.

You can catch Vanessa’s speech at the Women of Silicon Roundabout event on Tuesday 25th June from 14:40 pm – 15:10 pm.  

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.

Career Check-in with Laura Molnar

Laura Molnar | Senior Manager of Brand Marketing, Travelocity in Dallas, Texas

What does your typical workday look like?

My day is filled with diverse activities, from conducting customer research, planning marketing campaigns with cross-functional partners, and working on marketing strategies in support of new product launches.

What have you enjoyed most about working at Expedia Group?

Balance! We work hard but also ensure that we live balanced lives. By encouraging balance, Travelocity employees are fulfilled and able to contribute even more to their jobs.

What makes your team unique?

I love my team! We have so much fun at work. Every day is filled with laughter. At Travelocity, we bring our full self to work. We celebrate our differences because we know that diversity of opinion makes us better. We genuinely care that each and every person is successful in their business and personal lives.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

At times we have to come up with unique and cost-effective ways to solve problems. Customer research can come with a hefty price tag when you are working with outside vendors. In an effort to spend time more efficiently, I took all of our research in-house. Due to the savings in time and spend, several other brands in the portfolio adopted our approach. It was exciting to see Travelocity spearhead the way!

Who has influenced you the most?

It’s almost impossible to answer this question because I’m continually learning from those around me. I’d have to say, from a work standpoint, it’s probably my team – we are close-knit and work seamlessly together. We’re all passionate about our brand and our roles, and it’s great to be around that kind of energy and enthusiasm every day!

How and where do you find inspiration?

To inspire creativity and new ideas in my job, I make sure I read as much as I can. From marketing publications, brand marketing books, and the Wall Street Journal, I try to learn as much as I can from other brands in the marketplace.

How did you learn to embrace failure?

I am always learning to embrace failure. A book that has been influential in accepting failure is Failing Forward. You can’t learn and grow if you fear failing.

What is your favorite piece of career advice?

Be here now. This phrase is two-fold. First, when you are at work and in meetings, it is important not to multi-task. Keep focused on the current task at hand. Phones and computers can be distracting, as we do everything on them. Even though it is not as easy for me, I choose to take notes in a book rather than on my computer so that people know that I am there with them and clued into the discussion.

The second part of the phrase is more long-term. Work is not always perfect and at times, we wonder why we are where we are. The important thing to remember is that every step encompasses learning that will benefit you in the future. So, when a day gets monotonous, just remember that there is a reason and soak up as much learning as you can.

Tell us about your favorite vacation?

I took my mom to Turkey for her 70th birthday. We rented a car and drove over 2k miles throughout the country. One of her bucket list items was to take a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. It was the most fantastic experience, as hundreds of hot air balloons rose in unison with the sun across the landscape.

What is your favorite weekend getaway?

I am originally from Laguna Beach, CA. So, anytime I can go home to visit my family, I will. When I am home I hike, eat my weight in sushi, surf, run on the beach, and enjoy watching the sunset over the ocean.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Meet the HomeAway UX Research Team

After learning more about what our UX Research Team does, you may start to think their jobs resemble that of undercover spies. Between the two-way mirrors, eye tracking glasses, and emotion recognition software, it’s safe to say they get to work with some pretty cool technology. This group plays a crucial part in product development because they are constantly testing, reporting, and providing recommendations on the latest updates and additions to the HomeAway website and native apps.

Here’s a closer look at what they do and what it takes to be successful researchers in their words:

The team hanging out in their comfy observation room.
The team hanging out in their comfy observation room.

Q: Let’s start with the basics, what does the product release and research process look like?

“We start the research process by meeting with the design and product teams to gather feedback from key stakeholders on the specific goals of the study. Then, we prepare a brief to outline the objectives, the method of the study, and the profile of the participants. Once the brief is completed, other researchers typically review it.

Throughout the process, we hold several meetings with the project stakeholders to keep them informed and complete updates on the different deliverables needed such as the status of new study prototypes, the study guide, and recruitment of the participants. Once the sessions have been conducted, we spend time analyzing the data, then we write a report to present the findings and recommendations back to the project stakeholders.” – Sara, User Experience Insights Senior Manager

Q: What problems is your team solving?

“We do research to understand our users and optimize their experience on the HomeAway website and app.” – Aniko, Sr. UX Researcher

“One of my favorite (very Texas) quotes about the difference between UI (User Interface) and UX (User Experience – the research we do) and how our work impacts users: “UI is the saddle, the stirrups, and the reins. UX is the feeling you get being able to ride the horse and rope your cattle.” – Tim, UX Researcher

Part of the team at the 2017 holiday party in Austin. (Left to right: Karl, Aniko, Drew, Jenn, Stephanie, Tim)
Part of the team at the 2017 holiday party in Austin. (Left to right: Karl, Aniko, Drew, Jenn, Stephanie, Tim)

Q: That’s a great visual! What’s an interesting project you’ve worked on lately?

“I recently worked on a UX test for the Reservation Manager tools used by our partners in four different countries. It’s been very insightful because the test revealed some UI opportunities across markets and helped us to prioritize the right enhancements to the product and design teams.” – Sara, User Experience Insights Senior Manager

“I tested HomeAway television ads using methods from cognitive neuroscience to understand what engages our travelers. We used eye tracking, facial expression recognition software, surveys, and interviews to learn what makes travelers experience those heartwarming feelings you get when you’re on vacation. It’s been really fun working together with UX Research, UX Content, and the Marketing teams to apply the scientific mindset and help HomeAway’s content shine.” – Drew, UX Researcher

“I think the Northstar (new design) concepts are probably the most fun because they are progressive and it’s fun to work on the next big thing. I’m excited to contribute to the development of our latest designs by collecting traveler feedback on prototypes in our Austin lab space.” – Lukas, Sr. UX Researcher

“Working with our team and other stakeholders to make sure we’re doing the most impactful research, and planning for our next-generation labs.” – Karl, Director of User Experience Research

Aniko preparing a participant.
Aniko preparing a participant.

Q: What does it take to be successful on your team?

“Good communication, be personable and understand when to speak and when to listen.” – Tim, UX Researcher

“Great people skills and attention to detail.” – Stephanie, UX Research Producer

“The curiosity to want to understand ‘why,’ the discipline to employ the right scientific approach to uncover answers, and the passion to see the answers get turned into positive changes to the product.” – Karl, Director of User Experience Research

Q: What’s something you’ve learned since joining this team?

“How expansive the research is at HomeAway and how wonderful it is to have buy-in from so many different teams regarding our research.” – Tim, UX Researcher

“Using the emotion recognition software and survey tools” – Aniko, Sr. UX Researcher

Prioritizing one project over another can be tough because we want to answer ALL the research questions we can. We’re problem solvers and answer seekers.” – Lukas, Sr. UX Researcher

A HomeAway employee trying out the emotion recognition software and eye tracking glasses.

A HomeAway employee trying out the emotion recognition software and eye tracking glasses.
A HomeAway employee trying out the emotion recognition software and eye tracking glasses.

Q: Any funny stories you can share from past studies?

“Funny stories? You have to sign a nondisclosure agreement first!” 😉 – Jenn, UX Researcher

Q: Ah we get it, you can’t tell us because of privacy rules. Do you have a favorite program or tool?

“Python, specifically the Pandas, NumPy and SciPy libraries” – Drew, UX Researcher

“Eye tracking and the two-way mirror in the London Innovation Lab. I also enjoy using our emotion recognition software.” – Sara, User Experience Insights Senior Manager

“I’m really interested in all of our lab equipment like PTZ cameras, rack-mounted recording and streaming, and figuring out how we can incorporate future technologies into our testing.”  – Tim, UX Researcher

Q: Last question, do you celebrate a little after you wrap up a test or move on to the next project?

We do celebrate sometimes after we successfully complete a user study or after our recommendations are well received. – Aniko, Sr. UX Researcher

“I get a little adrenaline rush when the last participant completes the session. Then it’s time to debrief with any observers and start thinking about what all those observations mean when taken together. – Lukas, Sr. UX Researcher

The moderator workstation, aka: what it looks like to be on the other side!
The moderator workstation, aka: what it looks like to be on the other side!

Want to join Team HomeAway or check out other cool perks we offer? Visit our careers page!

Follow Life at HomeAway on social media

Employee Engagement & The Smiths: What Difference Does it Make?

Todd Johnson | Program Manager II, Expedia Group in Seattle, WA

“I was looking for a job, and then I found a job, and heaven knows I’m miserable now.” -Morrissey, lead singer of The Smiths, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now


[ Note: If you’d like musical accompaniment while reading this post, recommended Smiths’ songs have been provided for each section.]

We’ve probably all had jobs like Morrissey. Jobs that made us miserable, cranky, and unlovable—susceptible to the melancholy songs of the Smiths.

But sometimes you get lucky and land the other kind of job: the type that inspires you to give your best effort, to collaborate with panache, and to deliver value to your customer. These types of jobs typically don’t happen in a vacuum. The job is engaging in some part because of the work environment and the culture that each employee helps create and cultivate.

As part of an Employee Engagement Team at Expedia Group, we think about these topics (culture, environment, engagement) all the time. We ask questions daily, like:

  • What makes Expedia Group a desirable place to come and do our best, most passionate work?
  • How do we ensure our customers are satisfied no, ecstatic about “the product”?
  • And, who is our “internal customer” anyway?

The answer, of course, is that it is the people who make the workplace, the people who create the product, and the people are the customer. It’s really all about the people. Or it should be!

When your customer is your co-worker.

[Read to the tune: Is It Really So Strange?]

For my team, the idea of an internal customer can get pretty meta.  We focus on those focusing on the external customer (i.e. our travelers and travel partners). In Employee Engagement, we serve our customer by proxy, by helping to catalyze* the job culture through various programs, communications, trainings, and offerings.

This means we take on a variety of roles:

  • We are administrators: planning large- and smaller scale team meetings, sending out the invites to meetups, bringing speakers into our offices, and hosting brown bags.
  • We are researchers & scientists: creating and evaluating surveys, implementing practices based on a growth mindset and behavioral studies, and letting data drive our decisions about the workplace.
  • We are networkers and leadership gurus: kicking off mentorship and technical programs, offering internal training opportunities, and innovation building activities like hackathons.
  • We are celebrators of differences: conducting allyship workshops, diversity and inclusion practices, and listening tours; making our programs scalable, social, and extensible around the globe.

We refer to these activities as engagement. It is rewarding work that also has its challenges. Like many programs focused on internal customers, our product often falls victim to its own intangibility. Our metrics can be squishy and subject to debate, and our product (i.e. the many programs we offer) is often only noticed when something appears to be lacking or malfunctioning, in the same way that the squeaky wheel gets all the proverbial grease.

But in a large corporation, not devoting time and energy to engagement can be even more costly because environmental neglect leads to job dissatisfaction, poor team performance, and employee attrition and detractors.

So why do we care so much about engagement?

[Read to the tune: These Things Take Time]

Since we spend such a good chunk of our lives at the office, it just makes sense that we would want to come work at a place that was engaging, inviting, inspiring, and supportive of both our career and life goals. A place with great culture, vibe, and people; and (of course) with incentives that encourage us to actually leave the office and travel the globe like our customers.

Learning from the insightful research Google did on work culture and effective teams, we know that having the most highly-skilled specialists populating teams has some importance, but matters much less than having specific qualities and traits in a team. The crucial traits they defined were:

  • Psychological safety
  • Dependability
  • Structure/clarity
  • Meaning
  • Impact

Digging a little deeper into these traits, it’s not hard to see how the culture (an engaged culture) is foundational to health; it’s what makes good teams possible.  (It’s also no coincidence that Google invested time/energy/resources into this extensive research because of their understanding of the importance of engagement in corporate settings).

Engagement, then, is more than a backdrop to business-as-usual; it’s more than just a set of inter- or intra-personal skills (please don’t call them soft!); it’s more than “optional-tasks-not-related-to-my-real-job”.

In some ways remaining highly engaged in the corporate environment is the hardest “work” each Expedian aspires to each day. But it’s also the work that sets great tech companies and professionals apart.

It can be challenging to perfect the art/science of engagement. We’ve built business objectives and measurements around our engagement goals, and we’ve asked our employees to ask some simple consumer questions about internal products.

Asking consumer quality questions about your work life

[Read to the tune: Ask, or Shoplifters of the World: Unite & Takeover]

When we think about engagement and the products we “consume” at work, we can recycle simple consumer questions we pose unconsciously all the time and make them work-relevant

Does the new smartphone have the features I use most?
Is this corporate email or blog post at all helpful?

Will attending this college help me / my children have a better chance at a good career?”
Did this online training give me skills to improve a customer’s travel experience?

Should I invest ten hours into the next season of < Insert favorite Netflix or TV show here>?
Should I invest ten hours to coach a fellow employee to receive dividends in career growth and greater connection?

Do these clothes make me look dashing?
Do I like the person I am becoming at work?

Is Disneyland really the happiest place on earth?
Am I helping to make Expedia Group the best place on earth for technologists to work?

I know these questions sound perhaps overly simplistic, and perhaps naive. Work is work, after all, no matter how meta you get about it, but at our core, we all know what a “good” work environment looks like and why it inspires us. At Expedia Group, we have healthy debates and may disagree about the nuances and preferences for our culture, but we know what is engaging to us and we know what isn’t.

We even have a mantra that reflects one of our core practices of improvement. You can find visual reminders, couch pillows throughout the office that contain the keywords of this principle: “Better.” “Every.” “Day.”

We encourage those in our teams to ask the consumer questions above while keeping this mantra in mind. Whenever the answer is “no,” there is a built-in opportunity to innovate, to grow, and to offer some change to the current culture/programs. But that requires that we be engaged enough to suggest, to offer, and to emulate the changes we’d like to see happen.

It really helps to have an Employee Engagement team that can help catalyze those changes to culture, because, in the words of the writer, Chuck Palahniuk, the real job is to, “Find joy in everything you choose to do. Every job, relationship, home…it’s your responsibility to love it, or change it.”

And when it comes to changing your workplace for greater job satisfaction, we can all agree with this charming man** who said, “Please, please, please, let me, let me, let me / Let me get what I want this time…”

* I like the word catalyze because it means to cause or accelerate a reaction usually one that is chemical in nature, without necessarily changing the fundamental materials or sequencing of the reaction. A catalyst kick-starts a process, speeds it up, or keeps it going through to an outcome.

** Morrissey again, duh.   

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.

Monolith to Micro-service and Beyond…

Anurag Banka | Software Development Engineer II in Gurgaon, India

Anurag Banka smilingIn this post, I would like to give a glimpse of a practical application of micro-service on a monolith product which leads to better team productivity, customer experience, and product scalability.

Monolith are services; which are not easy to scale, hard to maintain, and can become a bottleneck for the growth of the product. Rapidly changing customer demand and business circumstances need a flexible and scalable system where new ideas can be introduced at a fast pace. Most of the monolithic services have a fixed release cycle of bi-weekly or monthly due to the cumbersome nature of testing and tight coupling of the domain.

By breaking a complex monolith architecture into a micro-service architecture, based on the different responsibilities of product, creates a solution for scaling both system and business. Articles from Martine Fowler and Chris Richardson are a great source of learning to bring best of micro-service practice in your domain. A typical transition from monolith to micro-service looks like below.

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

The above statement is very well applicable for monolith service. It’s applicable to all big and small organizations. With a rapidly changing product requirement and team members, it’s a challenge to retain domain knowledge – and existing test framework was never sufficient enough to cover each expects of a system under test.

Micro-services are definitely a solution to a problem faced in monolith but it’s no silver bullet and several challenges occur to reach in a state of micro-services. Some big challenges to face while applying micro-service architectural reform in a billion $ system are

  • Defining testing strategy for a new stack
  • Defining new monitoring methods
  • Ensuring high uptime of a system
  • Collective domain knowledge

Knowing your domain is key to success for breaking any monolith system into Micro-service, but it’s never the case –  you know all your domain and dependencies via any testing framework may cover most of it but some corner cases might be missing.

Known risk can’t be taken for a live running system if you have a slight doubt on your domain understanding or testing suite. Black box testing (shadow testing) is a solution for building a new system in parity with the old one.

A three-front testing framework to ensure parity at upstream, downstream and database can help in building confidence in migration to the new stack. A typical orchestration of such black box testing would look like the below when at every external end parity will be ensured.

Following the above strategy, it was easy to catch approx. 500 bugs in the new stack. Also, the same framework resulted as a bridge between old and new stack for easy migration. It provided both system performance and business performance metrics to measure the success rate of the new system.

Every change for making the system better should be measured in terms of success metrics of the system and some of the metrics we achieved in the last 6 months are:

  • More than 1% improvement in success rate, direct impact on revenue
  • Easy scalability of functionality
  • Easy rollout and rollback, N releases in a day vs once a month release
  • Cloud Native solution
  • Faster and Better customer support

At Expedia Group, we practice in keeping our product as simple as possible. It helps in taking fast business requirement adoption and building an internal open source culture where a team can collaborate and speed up delivery of new ideas.

Every new system comes with a new set of challenges, now you have thousands of services and a ton of data to make a better business decision for new success stories. This is just the beginning of a technology shift, we are on our journey of cloud, machine learning…

Come and join us in our journey of “Bringing the world within reach” through the power of technology.