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Developing Developer – A Year at Expedia Group

Kirtwinder Gulati | Software Developer in Bellevue, WA

So, tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you, and why Expedia?

Sure! My name is Kirtwinder Gulati, and I’m a Software Developer with the Onboarding team at Expedia Group. I joined Expedia in June of 2018 after getting my degree in Computer Science from UW Tacoma, as a follow up from being an intern at Expedia the summer before. I joined Expedia because of their passion for travel, and how much they really engaged the communities around them, and because I love being outdoors! Here’s myself and my team as an intern on a hike last year:

And here’s myself with the Onboarding team & friends on another hike this year!

You mentioned that you were an intern at Expedia – What did you learn as an intern?

My team when I was an intern was the Platform team, where we looked to build a strong internal platform and tools for Expedia teams to solve problems cleanly and effectively. It was interesting and challenging – classes in school teach you how to look at problems, but don’t prepare you to solve real-world problems, where you’re given just a direction and something to solve, rather than clear guidelines. The project I worked on was a real-world problem, and complex too – I wasn’t given a “lesser” piece just because I was new. One of the most difficult hurdles I had to mentally overcome was to acknowledge that you will have to be self-motivated on your learning, there’s no textbook to walk through. There are, however, lots of tutorials online. I got used to googling unknown ideas, and those giving back more unknowns, which then involved more searching and learning!

What would you say was your biggest takeaway from being an intern, professionally?

The two largest things I learned as an intern was first and foremost that clean code is always better than maximally optimized code, because it’s always possible to go back and improve on something that’s been written clearly and concisely, but it’s impossible for you or a teammate to improve something you don’t understand. The second (and in my opinion the more important!) is that the team you work with matters a lot. I’m very thankful to Nandini and my other teammates for their incredible patience and kindness to me, and how they helped me quickly learn the ropes and get used to working with a large codebase.

So your internship was positive, and you chose to come back after graduating. What was that like? What changed while you were gone? Is there any advice you’d give to interns coming into Expedia today?

Well, one of the things I saw was that the people you meet matter, a lot. For example, my new manager when I joined chose me to join the Onboarding team because of a direct reference from my previous manager, so that was super cool. Another super cool thing was that many people I saw recognized me from a year ago, even by name! Part of this was because I and the other interns had a pretty big influence on Expedia as a whole – the tool I built as an intern was still being actively improved and worked on, and I even ended up using it myself on a daily basis! 

For advice to current interns, I think the biggest thing will be to realize that there will always be something you don’t know, and even things no one on your team knows. The best way to handle this is to dive into the problem, start sketching out your ideas, and ask for help when you need it. There’s never a reason to sit and stew on something when you’re stuck.

Tell us a bit about your current team, the Onboarding team. What’s work like today? Walk us through your average day.

Today, my work with the Onboarding team is much more dynamic than my work as an intern, since I get to work to build both internal and external tools. Overall, things flow and operate on a much larger scale, and I’m constantly learning new things every day! My average day consists of coming in, reading some emails as I eat my morning cereal, then some quiet coding time until 10:30. Then, I have a daily standup, then I work with my teammates to figure out what their priorities for the day are, and if there’s anything I can facilitate. I usually eat lunch around 12:30, and then the rest of the day flexes around my work priorities and meetings. There’s a lot of jokes and questions constantly buzzing around the workspace, so if there’s something I need to be heads-down working on, I’ll pop on my headphones, but otherwise, it’s a nice background buzz.

What have you enjoyed the most about working at Expedia?

My team, for sure. Like I said, the work environment is very relaxed, but I genuinely adore each and every one of them. There are passionate discussions on work topics like how to architect a solution that will take up our next few months of work, which transition into animated chatter about people’s kids and gardens just after the meeting, which is a beautiful dynamic to be in. Every single person at the company is genuinely invested in seeing you improve as a person and be happy, with lots of leeways given to the things that just kinda come up in life, from having to pick up/drop off kids, to doctor appointments and everything in between. Also, the emphasis on travel isn’t just a company slogan or selling point, it’s genuinely tied into the culture – every coworker that comes back from vacation has tons of cool photos and usually some local snacks to try! 

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to work at Expedia?

Honestly, as cliché as it sounds, be yourself, no matter what that means. Many of the strongest contributors to the team and all the teams around us were people who embraced their passions and quirks, and it puts a smile on everyone’s face when they come into work every day. If you’re headed towards software development, practice your data structures and algorithms! A lot of problems have optimal solutions, but you have to know the right questions to figure out what problem you’re solving before you can put that solution into practice. And finally, explore your passions and hobbies – a one-dimensional coder is not a strong coder, because everyone works in a team way more than they work in lines of code.

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