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.
I joined Hotels.com on 7th January; less than 3 months ago, having previously been an analytics manager at a big UK retailer
I first heard of Expedia Group from a Woman in Data UK conference. I knew that Expedia Group had good gender balance and were top of the analytics game, and wasn’t feeling as stretched on the technical side of things in my current role. I was doing a lot of people management but wanted to focus more on my technical skills. A recruiter approached me about a role, and it went from there…What role are you doing now?
My role at Expedia Group is that of analytics manager, working on channel optimisation for Hotels.com. Questions I might answer day to day would be: how can we build models to help predict when people will cancel hotel bookings? How can we adapt our prediction models for seasonality? Can they scale to countries all around the world? I also work on Expedia Group wide initiatives to coordinate across brands; it’s great to break down silos and not see other brands as competition.What was the interview process like?
I really liked that there was a phone interview first with the hiring manager, and then a case study with real data. There was an excel sheet which I had to analyse, turn into insight and present back to interviewers. It was a realistic insight into what the job would be like and an interesting example.
I also liked that one of the interviewers was not in Analytics, but a stakeholder. This meant that on my first day I already had a foot in the door with some stakeholders, which gave me the confidence to go ahead and book in meetings with the rest.How has Expedia Group compared to your expectations?
Originally, I was a bit worried that some of the things said at interview were just “buzzwords”; I was told that everybody was using python, R, databricks, AWS. However, I soon found out this genuinely was the case – everybody uses these tools on a daily basis and is heavily encouraged to do so. Expedia Group sets aside a lot of time and money for training to improve on skills.
I was also impressed by how global the Expedia Group offices are; I feel part of a virtual team, and so integrated with the global business, that I can benefit from the insight of Expedians anywhere in the world.
The culture is also very nice; working at Expedia Group is very flexible, and people are open-minded. Expedia Group also shows it cares with a range of benefits; from the wellness allowance, travel allowance, free monthly breakfasts in London, and numerous socials.What differentiates Expedia Group in the analytics world?
The infrastructure is really solid. When I did my PHD, I was used to booking in time on a server; in contrast it’s great having all the resources on tap.
For example, if you want to run Rstudio, you’re connected to servers running it. There are 20 clusters, and everybody has access to them. You never need to worry about computing power; and the same goes for Python.
If you have any problems then there would be investment in resources to handle that, whereas in my last role the company didn’t take data infrastructure seriously enough to keep on top of the latest trends.
Expedia Group is big on its “test and learn” culture, and this openness to trying new things carries over into everything. Whether it comes to running a test with huge potential business impact, or suggesting a new meeting format, people are willing to give new things a go. A lot of companies say they do this, but Expedia Group really has the culture to let that happen.
It’s also important to know that Expedia Group is a global company, and we work across multiple different timezones. This means knowing that, if you want a team in Dallas to productionize something, your team in London needs to finish the models on our side in the morning before they come online. This also might mean being a bit more flexible to get a call in the diary that works for all your stakeholders – be it in the morning for Asia or the evening for America. We really appreciate that different teams have flexibility around timezones and we try to show that respect towards each other.What are you doing when not at work?
In my free time, I’m pretty sporty; playing squash with a local club and going running with my partner. I also like hiking and travelling; especially when going back to see my family in Scotland.
I’ve also booked my first trip with the Expedia Group employee perks; in Croatia to do hiking and kayaking. My partner’s favourite thing in the world is visiting waterfalls, so that’s the plan for Easter weekend!What advice would you give to a candidate for analytics at Expedia Group?
Be yourself. Don’t be intimidated by technical side of things. Approach challenges with curiosity and enthusiasm. Everybody interviewing you wants you to succeed, and we look forward to meeting people with right mindset to respond to a challenge, learn quickly and get stuff done.
I was recommended for this job through a recruiter, and when I looked at the job I thought “I don’t have this experience. I don’t use R and Python regularly and have only done online courses.” Once within the process, the interviewers explained that those skills were not mandatory, as long as I was willing to learn and give it a go. At Expedia Group, you just have to be willing to get up to speed quickly – I am really grateful to my manager for having that faith in me!
Besides my actual day job as a Global Campaign Manager, my favorite thing about working at Expedia Group is Expedia Cares, our incredible charitable giving benefits, that extend well beyond just monetary donation match.
Before working at Expedia Group, I worked for a wonderful nonprofit organization. Unfortunately, that nonprofit didn’t have a physical office, and after a few years, I was craving a job that allowed me to interact with fellow humans, face-to-face, on a regular basis. An opportunity opened up at Orbitz, one of Expedia Group’s many travel brands, which sounded great, but I was hesitant to make the move from the nonprofit sector to a large, corporate company because I was afraid I’d be losing my ability to give back and feel fulfilled.
My concerns disappeared when I learned about the company’s incredible charitable giving program.
Most companies today have a corporate match program where they will match every dollar you donate to charity. Expedia Group goes well beyond that. They understand that not everyone can donate money all of the time. EG also matches the time you donate to charitable organizations.
For every hour you volunteer (that does not conflict with your work hours), you receive $15 (or local currency equivalent) in donation dollars that go into a bank where you can allocate the funds to the charity of your choice at any time.
I volunteer with the Human Rights Campaign, Chicago Scholars and the Chicago Architecture Foundation. If I spend two hours on a Wednesday evening helping one of my mentees from Chicago Scholars proofread her college admissions essay, and then two hours on a Saturday afternoon helping HRC organize their annual gala, I can log those four hours and donate the $60 in donation dollars to Chicago Scholars, HRC, a different organization, or split it between a few. I can also save them to build up a bigger balance for a larger donation to one organization. This is seriously my favorite work perk ever and I hit the maximum time-match benefit every year.
If that wasn’t enough, we also empower our employees to volunteer together, building community within the organization. Each September, we organize the Expedia Group annual Day of Caring, a day when all Expedia Group employees are given a day off of work to go out into the community, as a group, and volunteer. I’m a member of the Chicago chapter of the Expedia Volunteers affinity group and for Day of Caring 2018 in Chicago, we organized opportunities everywhere from the Greater Chicago Food Depository to animal shelters to beach cleanups to preparing for a bike race to fight AIDS.
Throughout the year, we organize other activities too, in and out of our office. This year for National Volunteer Week, we planned different activities each day for the whole week. Last October, we hosted a volunteer fair where we invited nonprofit organizations to come into our office and tell our employees more about who they are and how to get involved.
And I’m not done yet! Expedia Group also has this really special Global Ambassadors Program, a yearly organized trip where a few lucky employees are sent somewhere in the world and work to understand how we can support tourism and sustainable living in that area. It’s adventure and culture and philanthropy all tied into one, and I am dying to get invited. The ambassadors are selected at random from the pool of individuals who participate in any of our various charitable giving opportunities. Since I hope to stay with EG forever, I hope I’ll get picked someday.
I’m so thankful that I found an organization that allows me to work in, let me just say, the coolest office space ever, with some of the smartest people around, all while allowing me to feel good about our collective efforts giving back to our world.
Learn more about how Expedia Cares: https://www.expediacares.com/