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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Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with Neeraj Bhadani

Neeraj Bhadani | Data Scientist in London

Neeraj Bhadani speaks about his role in the technology sector and shares his thoughts on London’s Women of Silicon Roundabout Event, taking place 25-26th June 2019.

Neeraj is a Big Data Engineer at Hotels.com, one of the Expedia Group brands. He has more than a decade’s experience in the industry and is currently managing the Big Data Platform for Hotels.com and delivering trainings/workshops both internally and externally. Prior to Hotels.com, he worked on various Big Data projects, dealt directly with clients as a Technical specialist and migrated various ETL pipelines to Spark. He has received a Gold Medal for being topper of batch during the Bachelor of Engineering in Computer Science. 

Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the field of BIG Data Engineering?

Being entirely honest, I was a below average student during my school days! But my family really motivated me a lot for studies (special thanks to my elder brother). Gradually I started focusing on my studies. No one from my family had a technical background when I started engineering but I was always passionate about the subject. Going from a below average student during school days to finishing my engineering as a Gold Medallist was very satisfactory. During the initial days of my career I was a SAP Business Objects Admin but my younger brother motivated me to mould the career towards Big Data and he always helped me during this journey. Also I am happy to share that we are now working in the same team at Hotels.com.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I am working as a Big Data engineer managing  the Big Data platform for Hotels.com. In my day to day activities I help our Analysts/Data Engineers to improve their query performance, work on ETL jobs written in Hive/Presto/Spark and support the platform. I also deliver trainings and workshops on Apache Spark and strengthen the skillset around the same. Working with the world’s leader in travel industry is really an honor for me and I am happy that I am making my contribution within the company.

What is your Women of Silicon Roundabout talk about?

Henrietta Forssen and I are are talking about “Data science: beyond the hype“. In this session we will take you through exactly what data science and machine learning really is. We’ll explain some of the key algorithms used, how to understand what they do and how to know when to use machine learning in the first place, versus other methodologies.

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

With the new technologies and innovations, there are immense opportunities in different areas and at various levels to showcase their talent. Also, with the increase in the cloud technologies which make the entire software development pipeline very easy. Business can now focus more on solving the problems rather than worrying about the infrastructure and related problems. It’s not only about working with the latest technologies, but one can also innovate the solutions which can help to improve the  basic necessities around the world like Education and Healthcare which will be a great contribution to the society.

Neeraj will be sharing his session entitled “Data Science: Beyond the hype” at 13:30 PM on 25th June. His talk will cover what data science and machine learning really is and also explain some of the key algorithms and methodologies used.

Speaker Spotlight: Q&A with Chris Burgess

Chris Burgess | Global Vice President, IT in London 

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

Chris is the VP of Corporate IT at the world’s largest travel company, Expedia Group.  He leads a global team of over 700 people who are responsible for providing IT infrastructure and support for Expedia’s 25,000 employees in 200 offices worldwide.  Chris is currently based in London and frequently travels to the US, India and Europe as part of his global remit.

Chris is an ally, advocate and sponsor for Diversity, Inclusion and Gender balance and sits on Expedia Group’s Inclusion forum. Like most Expedians, he has a passion for travel and loves visiting new countries and experiencing different cultures with his wife and two children.

Please tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the field of Technology?

From a very early age I had a fascination with technology and it was all I wanted to do, because it seemed to come naturally to me I went into the field, I started in a Tech Support role and have worked my way up.

What’s a typical day like for you?  

Although I am based in the UK, because I work for a US headquartered corporation, I get a lot of email and slack messages overnight and my day starts with me picking my phone up and checking what’s happened while I’ve been sleeping, I then head into the office, typically I am in a range of meetings on a variety of topics with teams from EMEA or APAC, hopefully some time at a desk catching up on things and then heading home to carry on calls into the evening when my teams in the US comes online.  In the middle of all that I try and get some time with my wife and two young children.

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

I have a couple of inspirations when it comes to women in tech, the first is possibly a little surprising, it’s one of my old male bosses, Todd Sanders, he was such a great role model for me, his tech teams were always gender balanced and he showed me the benefits of having a truly diverse team first hand.  The second is more recent and her name is Kristen Weber, she works in our Expedia Brand team and is driving real change in our business when it comes to Diversity and Inclusion.  She is innovative, collaborative and I’m lucky to work alongside her.

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

The most exciting thing I’m working on is the build out of new campus locations for Expedia Group, we have new buildings in Seattle, Austin, London and Delhi and these new and cool spaces full of amazing tech will be a great place for  Expedia employees to do their best work for years to come.

What is your Women of Silicon Roundabout talk about? 

Allyship and how everyone being an ally will help us get to a place where we have so much better balance in Gender representation in Tech companies.  

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

 It might seem like a cliché but keep learning and keep challenging yourself to try new things, the tech industry moves so quickly and therefore standing still isn’t an option.  Secondly, I would say be your authentic self, don’t try to hide or mask your true personality, being authentic will make you stand out.

You can catch Chris’s speech at the Women of Silicon Roundabout event on Tuesday 25th June from 10 am – 10:30 am.  

Vrbo Rebrand Series: Web App Team

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.