We love posting about travel adventures and highlighting destinations that create lasting memories and have the potential to expand horizons. At the heart of the travel experiences we provide is an eager and hard-working technology team with people who are incredibly passionate about ensuring the experience of booking a trip is easy and intuitive. These same people also are committed to helping customers surface the best deals we can provide. We thought it was time to shed a bit of light on the team behind the scenes, and are happy to kick-off a new profile series featuring some of our technology leaders across the company. We’ll post interviews throughout the year; if you have any questions, or any particular topics about which you’d like to hear, let us know in the comments.
Up first is Tony Donohoe, based in our San Francisco office, vice president of technology. I chatted with him about challenges facing travel engineers today, and got the scoop on the company’s participation in the upcoming LAUNCH Hackathon.
Tarran Vaillancourt (TV): How long have you worked at Expedia and what made you want to work for the company?
Tony Donohoe (TD): I joined Expedia in September of 2011. I was attracted to Expedia for a couple of reasons: I knew Expedia was committed to building a first-class technology team and knew there would be no shortage of interesting problems to solve. Expedia has a very strong product organization that is very focused on A/B test velocity; this is a technologist’s dream since the whole organization is aligned around delivering new features as quickly as possible, and because it helps us dispassionately stop working on areas that aren’t demonstrating results. Plus, the travel industry is a fun and interesting domain and I wanted to work at a company where I couldn’t wait to get into work every day.
TV: As a VP of technology, what elements do you oversee?
TD: Mobile, activities (things to do), packages (multi-item purchases), media, payments, platform-level services, user-generated content (such as reviews and user profile pages), homepage (we have more than 34!), and itinerary.
TV: What is one of your proudest accomplishments at Expedia?
TD: Expedia’s tech team has grown rapidly, I’m most proud of the team we have built around the globe and how it still feels like a close-knit group. I’m also impressed by how we rebuilt an entire technology platform and increased our ability to release new features in parallel. In just a few years, we went from an old platform when I joined that only allowed us to update our site once or twice annually, to a new platform where we can make changes and test functionalities on a daily basis. It’s been an amazing transition.
TV: What are the biggest challenges facing engineers in travel today?
TD: There is a plethora of information available online to help you plan a vacation. The next great engineering challenge in travel is to bring all the data together to offer the customer personalized options for every day of their trip. For example, it should be possible to highlight more relevant hotel reviews, those that closely match your preferences so it will give you greater confidence you are choosing the right hotel. If you’re traveling with your family, you may not care about the review from the business traveler that described the great business center; you just want to know that the pool is great, the restaurants are kid-friendly, and the park is close. Using these preferences, we should also be able to recommend things to do during your trip so it is easy to plan for each day.
TV: I saw recently that Expedia is participating in the LAUNCH Hackathon. Tell us more about that.
TD: This is our second year participating at LAUNCH Hackathon. It’s a great group and the people there bring an intelligent crowd of developers together. We hope to expand our hackathon participation in multiple locations in the coming years. Over the past two years we’ve learned a lot about exposing our internal API’s to the technology community. We’re trying to support people interested in building new applications that focus on the overall travel experience. Plus we know it’s important to maintain a long-term relationship with the broader tech community. Participation in events such as LAUNCH and other local meet-ups are basic examples of ways to be good citizens of the tech community.
TV: What are some tools you’d recommend to others looking to break into the community or get familiar with the engineering space?
TD: I’m a big fan of collaboration tools such as HipChat, Trello, InVisionApp, and Slack. These help people stay connected to get a job done, regardless of how big or small the job might be. These become incredibly important because there are two emerging trends in the tech community that will influence how we operate at scale. First, your team will be distributed across multiple locations and time zones. Retaining your team will require more flexible working arrangements. Collaboration tools become a key element in frictionless communication when your team is truly global. Second, at scale you simply cannot rely solely on manual testing before release. Test automation has to be built into the fabric of all teams from product, design, engineering and operations.
TV: What’s the tech product you’re most looking forward to this year?
TD: The Apple watch. There are endless possibilities for enhancing the travel experience as the wearables space matures.
TV: Last request. Complete this sentence: 'A vacation isn’t complete without a…'
TD: …refreshed body and mind.