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Aaron Davis: A 14-Year Journey of Growth and Transformation at Expedia Group

Aaron Davis, VP of Technology has more than 25 years of experience in technology and brings expertise in development, architecture, and data solutions to Expedia Group. His background spans across tech and business, fueled by a computer science and business degree with a math minor from University of Puget Sound in his hometown of Tacoma, WA. Recognizing data’s growing importance, he later completed  a data science and machine learning degree at the University of Washington.  

Let’s unpack Aaron’s transformative 14-year journey at Expedia Group, exploring his contributions and the impact he’s had on the company since 2009.

Throughout my career at Expedia Group, I’ve had the opportunity to wear many hats. I started by leading a technical team focused on building a platform for customer service and support. Over time, I became more involved in automation and self-service solutions, which broadened my experience to include the front-end user experience and working with designers and web developers. 

As the company structure evolved, I transitioned from an engineering role, to expand to product and solutions roles leading the technology team while also collaborating with stakeholders on the business side, to leading an entire vertical that spanned everything from the traveler-facing front-end to the back-end infrastructure and data analytics. This was a challenging but rewarding experience that allowed me to leverage my diverse skillset. 

As for my current role, I am the VP of Core Services – Intelligent Services. In this role, I’ll be leveraging my technical background and data experience to oversee the technology that powers our self-service functionalities known as the Conversation Platform/Virtual Agent Platform as well as the universal messaging platform (UMP), which is focused on sending the right message at the right time to the right person for both marketing and transactional communications using the data and personalization that we have in our system. 

A lot of things keep me here at Expedia Group. For one, the people are fantastic. It’s a truly collaborative environment that fosters learning and growth. Also, the opportunities for professional development have been excellent. Whenever I’ve felt like I’ve plateaued, supportive leaders have helped me explore new opportunities within the company. 

Looking back at my 14 years, I’m incredibly grateful for the diverse roles I’ve held and the strong relationships I’ve built. While achieving results is important, I also value the “how” behind the work. I’ve focused on building bridges and fostering collaboration. This approach has helped me develop strong relationships with colleagues across different teams. We work together to find common ground and solutions that benefit everyone. Treating people with respect, just as I would want to be treated, is also core to my philosophy. 

Expedia Group fosters a culture of continuous learning, and has been instrumental in my professional journey in a few key ways:

  • Leadership Development: I was fortunate to be nominated for leadership development courses, which equipped me with valuable skills for taking on more responsibility and sought out mentors and peers to assist me in my growth. Also, I sought out formal and informal mentors who have given me invaluable guidance on my journey. 
  • Tuition Assistance Program: When I expressed my interest in deepening my knowledge of machine learning and AI, especially as it related to my expanding role with data analysis, my manager readily approved my request for tuition assistance to pursue a Master’s degree at the University of Washington. Through this program, I was able to balance my studies with my work commitments.
  • Conference Participation: I’ve had the opportunity to speak at various internal events and industry conferences. These experiences have allowed me to represent Expedia Group and develop my professional network.

To start with, it helps us accurately represent the traveler. In the past, technology development might have followed the “80/20 rule” – focusing on the needs of a majority group. But for a truly competitive edge, personalization is crucial; travelers of all identities should have experiences that resonate with them. To achieve this level of personalization, we need to understand the needs and patterns of different groups and individuals, and to truly understand those diverse needs, we need the perspectives of people from those groups on the team itself. That’s why a balanced and diverse workforce is ideal.

Secondly, diversity of thought is just as important. This goes beyond just demographics and includes things like personality styles. Imagine a leadership team full of very decisive and directive personalities. While that might work in some situations, it can stifle creativity and innovation. A team with a variety of perspectives and backgrounds can challenge assumptions, identify blind spots, and ultimately lead to better travel technology solutions.

The value that resonates most with me is trust each other. I believe a strong foundation of trust is essential for a successful team and workplace. It allows us to assume positive intent from colleagues, fostering collaboration and open communication.

While trust is crucial, I also value forcing simplicity. In today’s complex world, we often lose sight of clear and straightforward solutions. Complexity can cloud the impact of our work, making it difficult to measure success. I believe we should strive to create technology and processes that are easy to understand and use, benefiting travelers, developers, and stakeholders alike.

I believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) will be a game-changer for travel. Here’s why:

  • Personalized Recommendations: Imagine AI that goes beyond basic suggestions. By understanding your preferences and past travel habits, AI can predict what kind of trips you’d enjoy and recommend destinations or experiences that perfectly suit you.
  • Proactive Problem-Solving: AI can use data to anticipate potential issues during your trip, like flight delays. It can then proactively offer solutions, like rebooking car rentals or suggesting alternative hotels if yours is closed.
  • Seamless Trip Planning: AI can streamline the entire planning process. Expedia has an AI tool that helps you brainstorm trip ideas based on your interests and budget. It can then handle bookings and logistics, creating a smooth and personalized travel experience.

My advice would be to focus on proactive initiative and a growth mindset. Here’s what I mean by that:

  • Be willing to go above and beyond: Don’t just wait for instructions. Be curious, explore, and find ways to add value beyond what’s explicitly assigned to you.
  • Deepen your understanding: Learn how what you build is used, its impact, and how it fits into the bigger picture of the business.
  • Become results-oriented: Assume that the next opportunity comes from consistently demonstrating your ability to handle it. Don’t expect promotions to come to you – showcase your readiness.
  • Embrace collaboration: Remember, success is a team effort. Communicate effectively, be mindful of how your actions impact others, and strive for shared achievements.

In short, a proactive and growth-oriented mindset will help you not only excel in your role but also position yourself for future success.

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