How Vrbo Engineers Revamped Their Web App

What does it take to pull off a major brand refresh? A whole team of engineers, designers, marketers, and more! The Vrbo engineering team has been hard at work coding and testing to launch the new and improved Vrbo web app to coincide with the brand reveal. Three Vrbo engineers are detailing what went on behind the scenes to make the release possible.

Martin Note, leading the UI Toolkit team, has been with Vrbo for over seven years and one of his main projects during the refresh was inspecting and updating the old code to get everything on brand and implementing the new Vrbo font.

“Working at HomeAway I’ve heard a lot of “HomeAway what’s that? Is that like Vrbo?”, so it’s fun and exciting to work at a company that people recognize what our product is. Also, as a former musical theater kid I love the new commercial!”

The Vrbo brand refresh gave engineers the opportunity to improve and “housekeep” things like font and style on the website.

“We commissioned a bespoke font (Freight Sans LF Pro) which we’ve never done before. Our family of sites share the same code base so we needed to make sure the typefaces had the same lining figures to avoid excessive overrides. Then, we essentially had to reverse engineer what Google Fonts does and apply it to our own product to host and load web fonts in a performant manner.” – Martin N.

Bongo Russom, Software Engineer, said his biggest takeaway from the refresh was being able to look at Vrbo holistically and test the site as a whole to discover areas of friction.

“A good example of this was the social sharing link preview images. Previously there was no standard for social sharing links for our applications. One of my teammates pointed out that there were instances in which the old Vrbo logo was displaying in poor resolution. I worked with Martin (who really did all of the heavy lifting) to come up with a design for better images to use for social sharing.” – Bongo R.

Throughout the refresh process, employees from all areas of the business came together weekly for “testing DoJos” where everyone would get in a room and actually test the site. With a step-by-step guide,  they’d test specific tools and practice booking a property as a traveler would.

“The testing DoJo was the first time in awhile we could all get together and test things out as a whole. The refresh inspired us to schedule more testing meetings across all the teams and start discussions about looking into usability testing.” – Bongo R.

Thomas Cardwell, Software Engineer, dove right in with the testing and recently booked a property in Barbados on the new Vrbo app!

“My friends set up a Trip Board together (one of the new Vrbo app features) and we used it on Android and iOS so it was a real-life use case. They loved that we could comment and talk directly within the app about the properties and we even voted to decide on the house we booked. It was a cool experience testing out the app in real life!” – Thomas C.

The collaborative Trip Boards allows travelers to chat about specific rentals within the app. When launch day came around, the teams were excited to see these features come to life with just the click of a button.

“It was cool being in the office the night we went live and having a ton of engineers around pushing out the updates and the app. Leadership did a great job of prioritizing updates and releases so we didn’t have to have every single thing perfect for launch day, we could continue to iterate in the coming days and weeks.” – Thomas C.

For all three engineers, this was the first time contributing to a major brand refresh and they all consider it something special to be part of.

“Working for a tech company for seven years, some people think that’s a long time in the tech world, but I’m working on a product that I love with great coworkers and we’re constantly adapting so I still love it!” – Martin N.

Follow Vrbo Life on social to learn more about what their teams are up to!

Vrbo Life Facebook

Vrbo Life Instagram

Vrbo Life Twitter

Vrbo on LinkedIn

Amazon DocumentDB Review

Gianluca Della Corte | Systems Architect, Hotels.com in London

Originally published on the Hotels.com Technology blog

On January 9th Amazon announced a new database service called Amazon DocumentDB that they described as a fast, scalable, highly available, and fully managed document database service that supports MongoDB workloads”.

Is Amazon DocumentDB a real MongoDB?

While offering a MongoDB-compatible API, DocumentDB is not running MongoDB software, but “Amazon DocumentDB emulates the responses that a client expects from a MongoDB server by implementing the Apache 2.0 open source MongoDB 3.6 API” on top of an undisclosed storage engine. From some information, it looks like it is built on top of the Aurora storage subsystem that is also used by both Aurora MySQL and Aurora PostgreSQL. In fact the following features/limitations are common to both DocumentDB and Aurora:

  • both replicate six copies of data across three AWS Availability Zones
  • both have cluster size limit of 64 TB
  • both do not allow null characters (‘\0’ ) in strings
  • identifiers are limited to 63 letters for both
  • both persist a write-ahead log when writing
  • both don’t need to write full buffer page syncs

High Availability

Amazon DocumentDB is designed for 99.99% availability and replicates six copies of your data across three AWS Availability Zones (AZs). DocumentDB availability goal is lower when you have less instances or when it is deployed in less than 3 AZs:

Fig. 1: DocumentDB availability

An Amazon DocumentDB cluster consists of two components:

  • Cluster volume: cluster has exactly one cluster volume, which can store up to 64 TB of data.
  • Instances: provide the processing power for the database, writing data to, and reading data from, the cluster storage volume. An Amazon DocumentDB cluster can have 0–16 instances:
     – Primary instance: supports read and write operations and performs all data modifications to the cluster volume. Each Amazon DocumentDB cluster has one primary instance.
     – Replica instance: supports only read operations. An Amazon DocumentDB cluster can have up to 15 replicas in addition to the primary instance.
Fig. 2: Deployment scenario

If the primary instance fails, an Amazon DocumentDB replica is promoted to the primary instance. There is a brief interruption during which read and write requests made to the primary instance fail with an exception. Amazon estimates this interruption is less than 120 seconds.
You can customise the order in which replicas are promoted to the primary instance after a failure by assigning each replica a priority, note that it is strongly suggested that replicas should be of the same instance class as the primary. It is also really important to create at least one or more Amazon DocumentDB replicas in two or more different Availability Zones, in this way your datastore can survive a zone failure.

Scalability & Replication

By placing replica instances in separate Availability Zones, it is possible to scale reads and increase cluster availability.

Compute and storage scale independently. It is possible to scale reads by deploying additional replicas. Scalability and storage are scalable up-to 64TB. DocumentDB automatically adds 10GB whenever it reaches capacity.

DocumentDB is also able to automatically fail over to a read replica in the event of a failure–typically in less than 30 seconds. Currently Amazon DocumentDB doesn’t support any kind of multi-region setup.

Amazon DocumentDB does not rely on replicating data to multiple instances to achieve durability, data is durable whether it contains a single instance or 15 instances.
All writes are processed by the primary instance that executes a durable write to the cluster volume. It then replicates the state of that write (not the data) to each active replica. Writes to an Amazon DocumentDB cluster are atomic within a single document.

Consistency

Reads from Amazon DocumentDB replicas are eventually consistent with minimal replica lag (AWS says usually less than 100 milliseconds) after the primary instance writes the data:

  • reads from an Amazon DocumentDB cluster’s primary instance have read-after-write consistency
  • reads from a read replica have eventual consistency

It is possible to modify the read consistency level by specifying the read preference for the request or connection (it supports all MongoDB read preferences):

  • primary: reads are always routed to the primary instance
  • primaryPreferred: routes reads to the primary instance under normal operation, in case of failover a replica is used
  • secondary: reads are only routed to a replica, never the primary instance
  • secondaryPreferred: reads are routed to a read replica when one or more replicas are active. If there are no active replica instances in a cluster, the read request is routed to the primary instance
  • nearest: read preference routes reads based solely on the measured latency between the client and all instances in the Amazon DocumentDB cluster

Operations

It is possible to create an AWS DocumentDB cluster using CloudFormation stack (as described here).

Amazon DocumentDB is a fully managed solution that provides the following features:

  • auto scaling storage (up to 64 TB in 10GB increments)
  • simple compute resource scaling (resources allocated to an instance can be modified by changing instance class)
  • built-in monitoring, fault detection, and failover
  • daily snapshots

AWS DocumentDB vs AWS ElasticSearch

DocumentDB and ElasticSearch have a lot of features in common, in fact you could even use ElasticSearch as a primary datastore. Some of the features they have in common are:

  • document oriented store
  • schema-free
  • distributed data storage
  • high-availability
  • replication

However, they come from 2 different database families and are made for different purposes. DocumentDB is a document store while ElasticSearch is a search engine.

Here are some key differences between the two:

  1. Indexing — ElasticSearch uses Apache Lucene for indexing while MongoDB indexes are based on traditional B+ Tree. Real-time indexing and searching power of ElasticSearch comes from Lucene, which allows creation of indexes on every field of a document by default. In MongoDB, we have to define the index, which improves query performance, but affects write operations.
  2. Writing — ElasticSearch is slower on adding new data. In ElasticSearch indexing semantics are defined on client side. Indexing cannot be optimised as well as with DocumentDB.

In practice, ElasticSearch is often used together with NoSQL and SQL databases. A datastore is used as persistent storage and source of truth, and ElasticSearch is used for doing complex search queries.

Another key consideration while evaluating DocumentDB vs ElasticSearch is the effort/complexity associated with an ElasticSearch domains definition, sizing and maintenance. It is not so straightforward to do it (in fact it is hard to correctly size storage, shards and instance size). AWS provides some good guidelines, but it is more complex than working with DocumentDB which doesn’t require these considerations.

Hotels.com Architecture team’s advice

Currently in Hotels.com we use many different datastores/search engines, so it is good to summarise our advice on when Amazon DocumentDB is or is not a good option.

Amazon DocumentDB is a good solution when you need to store unstructured data that doesn’t require too many indexes or complex search features. 
A good benefit is that you don’t need to care too much about queries upfront. This is particularly useful when you are not the owner/producer of the data you are storing, so you don’t need to adapt your schema to a possible new data structure (like you must do with a SQL database like Amazon Aurora) and you can query data also using new fields (thing that you cannot easily do using another NoSQL solution like Amazon DynamoDB, where your data schema is based on your queries).

It is also a good solution when you don’t need rich indexing capabilities and complex/fast search support (ranked results, full text search with partial matching without using regex, complex geospatial queries with inclusion/exclusion). For these kind of scenarios Amazon ElasticSearch is a better choice.

Currently Amazon DocumentDB has two big drawbacks:

  • no multi-region support
  • just provisioned mode (not available in serverless mode)

References

Hotels.com at dotSwift 2019

Lewis Luther-Braun | Hotels.com, London

Photo provided by dotConferences

In the last week of January, two engineers from the Hotels.com iOS team went out to Paris, to partake in the 5th annual dotSwift conference. For those who don’t know what a dot conference is, let me bring you up to speed. dot-Conferences are the equivalent of TED talks but more focused on topics from the tech industry; there are 7 different flavours of dotConferences: dotSecurity, dotScale, dotAI, dotGo, dotCSS ,dotJS and our very own dotSwift conference.

It was a great day to meet with other engineers from across the industry, as well as meeting other engineers that work within the Expedia Group — namely, members of the iOS team from Traveldoo in Paris.

The day was broken into 3 sets of talks with breaks between them.
The talks ranged from the sublime, how ‘pure swift’ apps aren’t really a thing as they all rely on the Objective-C runtime and ways of embracing Objective-C (instead of trying to get rid of any mention of it as fast as possible), to the ridiculous, such as a proposal on why you should use unicode characters in your code for method and variable names.

I feel like I should give this one a bit of explanation: 
The talk was far from suggesting that you do something like this;

⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⛵️⎈ ⬅

to tell your boat object that it should steer left. That notation could probably get away as a contemporary art piece but it’s definitely not useful as a standard for a naming convention. Instead it focused on scientific modelling and using the same notation that equations have, such as using Σ(sigma) for sum and λ(lambda) for wavelength as function and variable names respectively. This makes sense if you’re working with physicists who don’t want to look at long function names (no matter how descriptive they are) and also gives them an opportunity to debug the algorithm as opposed to your code.

Photo provided by dotConferences

It was brilliant to hear ideas from some very talented individuals — we even got to hear talks from people working on open source projects at Apple, such as SwiftNIO (an asynchronous event-driven network framework)— which gave real insight into what problems they were encountering and how they went about solving it.

As well as the main talks there were a number of lightning talks given by members of the Swift community. These were super quick talks that were straight to the point, often providing points of thought or presenting useful approaches to problems or tips.

Photos of the talks are available at https://dotswift.io.
Videos are available to watch: https://www.dotconferences.com/conference/dotswift

I’d highly recommend giving them a watch — maybe you’ll find a solution to an issue that you are currently encountering or learn something new.

Within Reach

Lizzie Jones | Associate Recruiter, Expedia Group in Bellevue, Washington

Corporate recruiting pro-tip: you must be an (unofficial) brand ambassador for your company’s product. Professionally, because business acumen is fundamental to sharing opportunities with candidates. Personally, because it’s important to sell a product you believe in. When I received the opportunity to join Expedia Group earlier this year, I was ecstatic to have the unofficial responsibility to be a travel ambassador. Why? Because I don’t like traveling.

  • I love adventuring.
  • I love arriving at a destination, unexplored.
  • I love taking in the sights and smells of a city I’ve never been to.
  • I love sharing laughs and fumbled conversations with locals I’ll probably never see again.

What I don’t like is comparing flights, researching the best/safest hotels and figuring out what attractions to see. Too. Many. Logistics! I hoped that joining a tech company with a travel product might change my perspective on travel. Thus, I made a goal to book 12 trips with Expedia within my first 12 months of employment (update: I am on track to hit 12!) I envisioned doing a solo-trip to the middle-of-nowhere New Zealand to “self-reflect” or maybe a 1-month long yoga retreat in the Himalayas. I saw myself exploring safaris and ancient ruins. Scuba-diving and sandboarding. Instead, I discovered something greater: friendship.

Of the 8 trips I’ve taken so far, all but 1 have been somewhere on the West Coast (my mind’s telling me “Kilimanjaro,” but my bank account is telling me “San Francisco”). Though most of my travels remained domestic, here are a few things I did:

  • Was in the same state with 2 of my best friends for the first time since we all graduated college 3 years ago
  • Re-connected with a friend I had lost touch with (who only lives 2 states away)
  • Watched several of my friends graduate with their Master’s degrees and met some of their family members for the first time
  • Made new friends by meeting people at graduations, birthdays, events, and festivals that I might not otherwise have met

This year has taught me two major things about travel:

  1. It can be easy (I arranged all my trips on the Expedia Group app – I even bought tickets for one of my trips in a Lyft on the way to a coffee shop).
  2. Travel does not have to be “exotic” to count.

Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to explore many more places abroad (Greece 2019, I have been $aving up for you!) But I’ve also learned the immense value in traveling to stay connected with people and deepen relationships.

Expedia Group’s mission is to bring the world within reach. But for me, Expedia does that and more – it brings my world within reach.

To Jump the Fence

Sarah Ray | Market Manager, Expedia Group in Queenstown

Feeling bored with the same old routine, unchallenged, unmotivated and tired of expectations being met but not exceeded, I knew I needed a change in career. Having worked in hotels for 15+ years it was all I knew. I had lived and breathed hotel life for my entire career, but at 31, there was still plenty of time for a change.

Photo from a General Managers dinner hosted by Expedia at The Rees Hotel and Apartments.

I live in Queenstown and as a Revenue Manager of a hotel chain, I had always had a strong relationship with my local Expedia Market Manager. The opportunity arose to ‘jump the fence’ and move into Online Travel Agency (OTA) life. Unsure at the time of what this really meant I accepted the challenge and jumped. Everything that I had begun to dislike about my old position was replaced with positive, fast-paced transparent global movements, that constantly strive for better.

I work in a remote office, and 1.5 years in, I can honestly say that the #expedialife is not for everyone. You need to be ready to take charge, keep up and adapt to the constant change. If you’re bored, like I was working for a company that was ok with average, then joining Expedia Group is just what you need. From the day to day that is never the same, partners that offer continuous diversity from personalities through to business challenges.

Colleges that seem to be constantly charged with this buzz for achievement, improvement, and sharing to create and mold one team that grows together.

A company who is so transparent that it makes you feel included and important in achieving the results and goals outlined. The direction of the company communicated in such a way that you know your place, what you can do and how we are going to get there.

And in the center of it all technology that is at the forefront, continuously being improved and developed to ensure internally and externally we are the leader in online travel technology.

So, I guess some would say now I am an Expedian. If that means someone who loves their job and loves who they work for, then I will hold my hand high and confirm. I love having the trust of an employer that lets me manage my market in my own way, who gives me the room to be myself – while providing me with the tools to be my best self. I am grateful every day for the new career – and I know I am only just starting.

In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.

Bhala Dalvi | VP of Technology, Expedia Group in Bellevue, Washington

As I was reflecting on my affinity to chaos, I was reminded of this quote.  It’s been around a while – Sun Tzu wrote it in his military treatise, The Art of War, between 771 and 476 BC.

While I’m not into the whole war thing, I do agree with Sun Tzu on this point.

We all experience chaos at least occasionally in our day-to-day lives. Many of us experience it daily. Most people don’t love it and often struggle with chaos when it shows up.

Let’s face it, we live in a chaotic world.  I realized this early on when, as a teenager, I worked on my family’s farm.  It was a microcosm of life on earth, chaos and all. There was always something going on with the farm and as I got older, I saw opportunities everywhere for automation.  I instinctively knew that automation would help reduce the chaos.  I loved finding ways to automate because it compensated for the heavy work and allowed me to focus on nurturing the plants for our customers.

Because of this upbringing, I grew up unafraid of chaos.  Being comfortable with, even preferring chaos, is at the core of who I am.

Fast forward a few years.  I’ve been a steelmaker, a software developer and, now, I am a technology leader.  Chaos has followed me along the way which has enabled me to learn how to work with it, how to eke out its gifts.

It would be nice if leading a family, a team or a company was predictable, slow-paced and packed with easy decisions, but it’s not.  Many people struggle when things are in disarray – so to be a good leader, I’ve learned that I must lead through chaos.  I hope to share with you some ideas that can help you better cope with or lead when things are in turmoil.

In times of uncertainty, we may be tempted to create structure and order, because it feels safe and predictable.  It will help our teams be less stressed, calmer and more productive, right?  Well, it’s also at these times that companies need to spur innovation.  Innovation is all about disruption, change, the new.  Innovation needs some chaos.  Operationalizing it isn’t going to help us innovate and, I’d argue, isn’t what our people really need.

Embrace it.

I think back to my time on the farm.  If we didn’t work every day, the farm would instantly start deteriorating. The land wanted to go back to its natural state, rather than maintain the structures we put in place.  Our planet is always innovating.

Just like the Earth, every growing organization experiences chaos. Anytime we’re doing or experiencing something new – rolling out a new vision, inventing something, transitioning leaders – there will be chaotic moments.  We outgrow systems, processes, and even people, which can cause chaotic moments.  It’s natural. Embrace it.

Chill out.

This may sound counter-intuitive but just because a situation is chaotic doesn’t mean you need to be chaotic.  In fact, leaders must demonstrate through our own behaviors that chaos is not the enemy.  Don’t panic when chaos rears its scary head.  Focus on the root of the chaos, not the fruit.

It’s easy to overreact when faced with what seems like utter confusion. And we can spend a lot of time and energy trying to address the “fruit.” Or we can let the “fruit” reveal the root cause of the chaos so that we can address it and lead our organizations into a new season of growth and prosperity.

Slow down.

Chaos is uncomfortable for many people and when something is uncomfortable, we tend to want to avoid it or get through it as fast as possible.  If leaders aren’t careful they can make hasty decisions that jeopardize the long-term health of the organization.

One of the things that makes this hard is the pace of change in business.  Change frequently causes chaos and, as they say, change is the only constant.  So how do we slow down in this environment?

The way I do it is by giving myself time to deal with issues as they come up.  Think of a doctor’s office and how they reserve time each day for patients who need same-day attention.  If I don’t need the time I’ve reserved to embrace some chaos, I can repurpose it for strategic or other work.

The point is: we need to give ourselves enough time to make sure we don’t make knee-jerk reactions that could ultimately harm the business.

So, if you want to find the opportunity in chaos:

  • Embrace it. Remember there’s opportunity in it.
  • Chill out. Don’t let organizational chaos push you into chaos yourself.
  • Slow down. Take your time to avoid knee-jerk decisions.

If we do these three things, chaos will become less of a challenge and more of an opportunity.

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.

You Can’t Spell ‘Wander’ Without AR

DJ Harman | App Engagement Lead, Expedia Group in Dallas, Texas

Have you ever wanted to travel with a celebrity? How about seeing snowfall on the beach? Build a sandcastle indoors? Add Wander Wisely™ branded frames to your photos?

(It was that last one that sold you, wasn’t it?)

Well, you can do all that and more with the Travelocity app! We’re very excited to announce the release of Expedia Group’s first augmented reality (AR) experience featuring the wisest wanderer of them all, The Roaming Gnome™!

Below is a preview but you should really download/open the Travelocity app (featured live on both Android and iOS) to have the full experience for yourself.

WARNING: more fun/addicting than you might expect…

This seems cool and all, but why Augmented Reality?

AR is an emerging technology that Apple’s Tim Cook calls “potentially as important as the iPhone.” It’s expected to have over 1 billion users by next year – and already, 60% to 70% of consumers see clear benefits in using AR in their daily life and at work. It’s a greenfield of opportunity endemic to both mobile and travel.

What better home for it than our apps, and what better way to smoke test our customers’ interest than by bringing our beloved Roaming Gnome to life with it? If this proof of concept yields high engagement, then it justifies further investment and development of more utilitarian AR features for Expedia Group apps.

As Krista McDougal (GM, Travelocity) puts it, experimenting with AR is “a way to engage and inspire travelers beyond our points of sale. The Travelocity AR camera allows our customers to have fun with the brand throughout their travel journey, and we look forward to seeing how travelers engage with the experience and share it with friends and family.”

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!

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Why I love working for Expedia Group

Antoinette Moliterno | Market Associate in Sydney, Australia

Picture of Antoinette Moliterno and co-workerWhen I stepped through Expedia Group Sydney’s doors as a University Intern in November 2017, I only knew that I wanted to work in Tourism, but had little idea of where or how I could fit into this enormous and booming industry. It didn’t take long to realize that Expedia Group was the only place I wanted to be to launch my career, and I haven’t looked back since.

Fast-forward a year – I’ve transitioned from Intern to Market Associate, settled into a new team, and spent the last six months dedicated to the Acquisition of Accommodation Supply and new Partnerships for our global marketplace. In that time, I’ve assisted in nearly one thousand properties going live – from luxury to boutique themed hotels, eco-lodges, retreats, glamping, and a wide variety of vacation rentals!

Each day, while not without its challenges, is rewarding and personally fulfilling both in the nature of what Expedia Group achieves as the world’s travel platform, and the high energy that drives our internal operations. I go to work feeling incredibly lucky and proud to be an Expedia Group employee, and here are just some of my top reasons why…

1 ) The Expedia Group Culture – Expedia Cares

The culture at Expedia Group far surpasses any organisation I have previously been a part of.

Our leadership is committed to creating an environment that is positive, open, supportive, nurturing and also incredibly fun! From day one, I could sense a genuine family spirit and this has only continued to strengthen since. Our recently launched Guiding Principles not only perfectly captures the essence of who I felt we already were as a company but drives us onwards to always be the best versions of ourselves as individuals and a Group.

The company also demonstrates a true care for the well-being and work-life balance of its employees, both within and outside the workplace. We are given plenty of opportunities to pursue our interests and passions, whether that be in our own time (e.g. Travel!) or through our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives, Sustainability Committee, or Social Committee.

It’s an amazing feeling to be able to go to work and be surrounded by so many like-minded people who thrive off each other and work together locally and globally towards one common purpose.

2 ) Change & Innovation

In my short time at the company, I’ve seen so much change – its one of the many thrills about being at the crossroads of the Travel and Technology industries. Our workplace is dynamic, stimulating and inspiring as we both ride the waves of change, and also invited to be the change.

I love knowing that there is always something new around the corner, something to learn, to innovate, to make the world of travel even greater – it never gets boring!

In our own corner of the business, I really believe in our ability to help our local lodging partners put their mark on the map and keep up with the growing online game. I’m proud to be apart of a team where innovative ideas are born at a grassroots level and allowed to develop and be shared on a much larger regional or even global level.

3 ) Learn, Grow, Succeed

With no prior industry experience, my first year at Expedia Group has been a huge learning and personal growth journey. The internship in particular was a leap outside my comfort zone, and I was challenged to develop skills from weaknesses, think critically, and ultimately path the way for a career ahead. From the outset, I’ve been empowered to take ownership of my roles and progression, given great freedom to own my projects with individual flair, and the opportunity to evaluate and redesign processes and tools for wider business purposes.

With this comes tremendous support from peers and managers who never hesitate to provide guidance, share in both successes and challenges, and assist in reaching our goals and ambitions.

While I’m only at the very beginning of what I hope is a long career in Travel, I really believe in a future at Expedia Group. There are seemingly endless opportunities out there in completely different business divisions, in locations all over the world. Right now, I love what I do, but I’m definitely excited to discover what possibilities lie ahead.

Antoinette Moliterno and team