Vamos Vrbo

Simon Fattal | Product Manager Intern in London

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

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

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

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

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

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Vrbo Rebrand Series: Mobile App Team

From testing new technologies to launching the Trip Boards feature, the Vrbo mobile app team takes you behind the scenes of the brand refresh in part two of this series. Read on to see how the Vrbo team is helping people travel better together with the updated mobile app.

 (Read about the web app team in part one of the Vrbo Brand Refresh series)

Q: How was designing the mobile app refresh different than other projects you’ve worked on?

Brady Miller, Senior iOS Software Engineer: “One of my responsibilities was to update some of the screens in the app to the new look and feel. This allowed me to work closely with the design team and use tools that I typically don’t use like Zeplin. It was a great experience getting to work on new features with other teams in a fast paced environment.”

Alyjan Daya, Software Engineer: “I worked on the new welcome screen on the Vrbo app. At the time, I was on the Mobile Platform team, so I hadn’t spent a significant amount of time on the Android UI. The mobile app refresh was the first time I worked closely with a designer. From a technical perspective, it was very different from past projects because I had to account for differences between the Vrbo and HomeAway apps that could not be solved by simply applying different UI skins. Since the welcome screen on the Vrbo app displays a video and the HomeAway app displays an image, I had to make structural decisions on how to properly inject the correct resources while keeping the app size consistent.”

Q: What was your role in the mobile app refresh?

David Messing, Lead iOS Engineer, Traveler Apps: “Brady and I primarily worked on the iOS app UI updates and redesigns. This involved things like new fonts, image assets, redesigned screens, UX flows, etc. Basically, if you compare and contrast the old vs. updated versions of the Vrbo app, you can visually see what we worked on.”

Corbin Montague, Senior iOS Software Engineer: “My focus for the Vrbo brand refresh was building the Trip Boards feature. I had the opportunity to build or review nearly every Trip Boards related code that went into the iOS app over the last year and it’s been the most rewarding work of my career. The feature itself is spread across many different experiences within the app (Feed, SERP, PDP, Push Notifications, etc) making it hard to architect well. To tackle this complex problem we had to really flex our “One Team” mojo. Constant collaboration between Web, iOS, and Android engineers, architects, and product managers made this feature a reality and it looks to be one of the most promising features on the Vrbo app. Getting to build a feature like Trip Boards from the ground up takes the primary use-case of our service (group travel) and makes the experience as frictionless as possible. Helping travelers take those conversations they were already having onto our platform was an amazing experience I will never forget. Props to the entire Pulse team for making this feature a reality, I love you guys!”

Pavana Subbarao, Mobile QA Engineer: “I was responsible for the quality of the Vrbo Android Traveler app. I had to make sure the app worked seamlessly on different Android versions and that it was a good user experience for our travelers. This included working with designers, testing the app on multiple Android versions, validating that the features work on the new app, and providing feedback to developers. As a company, it’s our goal to release quality products to our customers and it’s my job to make sure that happens!”

Kian Villagonzalo, Software Engineer: “My role was a redesign of the feed screen and the search bar. My workflow didn’t change much, but this project became a top priority. Most of my work in the last year has been design-related so updating the UI logos, colors, fonts, and incorporating design feedback.”

Q: What was the release night like?

David Messing, Lead iOS Engineer, Traveler Apps: “Marc Perlman suggested releasing the HomeAway app a few days before releasing the rebranded Vrbo app. The two apps share the same codebase, but are skinned differently. This turned out to be a stroke of genius because it allowed us to catch and fix a low impact crash before the Vrbo app was released later in the week. On release night, we felt confident and excited for everyone’s hard work to be revealed to the world.”

Pavana Subbarao, Mobile QA Engineer: “Release night was super exciting. We were all logged in and our goal was to make sure the launch was perfect. We all worked together to make sure the release was smooth and customers did not face any difficulty. Everything went perfect once the Vrbo app went live.”

Q: What was your biggest takeaway or lesson learned from this project?

Brady Miller, Senior iOS Software Engineer: “My biggest takeaway from this brand refresh is the importance of writing robust, maintainable code. We have shared UI components from our UIToolkit that use our fonts and color schemes. I was in charge of updating colors and fonts for the brand refresh. It turns out there were over 100 spots in our code where those shared components were not being used so the color and/or font did not get updated. I had to manually go through and find all of these places and update them to use the shared components. It was a very humbling experience and now our code is better positioned for any future brand updates.”

Q: Have you booked a vacation rental on the new Vrbo app?

Corbin Montague, Senior iOS Software Engineer: “Absolutely! My wife and I are expecting our first child later this year and we booked a house by the beach to do a small baby shower/family reunion. We used the new Trip Boards feature end-to-end and it was great to use it as a consumer and see how my family interacted with it. We all added properties to the board, voted, and made comments within the app until we decided on the perfect vacation rental for us. It’s hard to even describe how happy it made me seeing my family use a feature I poured so many hours into building.”

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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.

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