In this Q&A we meet Phillippe Siclait. Phillippe has been with Airbnb for over 2 years and has worked on five teams since joining – clearly he likes to travel both personally and professionally!
How did you get started in Computer Science?
I started programming to make video games. When I was in elementary school, I found a book at a school book fair called “Learn to Program Basic”. I had the vague sense that programming was a thing you needed to do to make games, so I picked it up, went through all the exercises, and got hooked. In the proceeding years, I continued to learn from all the resources I could find online. This led to doing programming competitions through my school and the development of an interest in graphics programming. By the end of high school I was pretty set on studying either CS or Economics.
What was your path to Airbnb?
It turns out that I didn’t actually end up majoring in CS. I received a BS in Economics mostly focused on game theory and econometrics while simultaneously working in the Computer Graphics group in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. I decided prior to my final year of school that management consulting would help me learn how to run a business, and after an internship at the Boston Consulting Group, I accepted a full-time offer there. I learned a lot at BCG and got to do a fair amount of travel, both for work and for fun, but in the end realized that I wanted to come back to the technical side. With a couple friends, I packed my bags and moved across the country to explore what the Bay had to offer. After a few months of working independently on mobile and web projects, a friend of mine brought me over to Airbnb for a Tech Talk. It was after meeting many people, hearing about the vision of the company, and thinking about how much I wanted to see this idea spread, that I knew that I had to be here.
What’s the most interesting technical challenge you’ve worked on since joining?
Since joining Airbnb I’ve worked on many teams. I started working on Search (frontend, ranking, infrastructure, evaluation tools, and more), worked a bit on web security, and then worked on our (at the time newly formed) Discovery team. One of the problems for Discovery is recommending places and listings to our guests. I found it fascinating to think through how you could determine which locations an individual would likely be interested in and I worked with my teammates to implement the data pipelines and serving architecture for providing the recommendations to many parts of our product. It was a complex problem partly because the decisions we make while traveling are very personal and multi-faceted.
What do you want to work on next?
I’m currently working on a team that focuses on engaging people to host on Airbnb. We’re an incredibly experiment driven team and we have plans to change many parts of the product to make starting to host easier. We have a small, multidisciplinary team of designers, data scientists, a product manager and engineers who are all focused on this problem. I’m excited to see us increase the rate at which we are testing new product changes.
What is your favorite core value, and how do you live it?
Simplify. I try to simplify any code I write. Code is meant to be read by people and as a result, the simplest code is often the best code. And all of us at Airbnb live it in the product we develop. We are building a product for our guests and hosts, and a simple product leads to a better end experience.
What’s your favorite Airbnb experience?
My favorite Airbnb experience may have actually been over a one night stay in Manila earlier this year. The host had a beautiful house with wonderful, vibrant wood throughout, and he was hosting other guests who were visiting from the UK. He invited us out to dinner that night and it was fascinating to get to know these people who had lives so different from my own. Our host was an American expat who had long been in the Philippines and the other guests were retirees who traveled the world, exploring new places and teaching motorcycle racing. The dinner was wonderful and we spent several hours afterwards chatting in his kitchen about our lives and what we had all seen of the world. In the morning our host organized our transportation back to the airport and made sure we knew that we were welcome the next time we were back in Manila.