We’re starting up (or restarting depending on how you look at it) a series that looks at life inside the Airbnb engineering team and introduces you to some of our engineers. In this first installment, Engineering Manager, Scott Raymond talks about his early days in computer science, transitioning from founding Gowalla to working on the mobile apps at Airbnb, and of course his favorite Airbnb experience.
How did you get started in Computer Science?
My first rudimentary childhood programming was in BASIC, on a Commodore VIC-20, a hand-me-down from my uncle. The only storage was on cassette tape. A little later, I got access to a Mac SE/30 with HyperCard, and things really got rolling, making games and graphics programs. Eventually we got a modem, which allowed me to connect with the wider world of programming. In college, I actually studied Linguistics instead of comp sci — and every once in a while, I get the chance to apply that training in my work.
What was your path to Airbnb?
In 2007, I co-founded a company called Gowalla, whose mission was to to get people out exploring the world. The app was like a digital passport that you could fill with stamps — unique illustrations from thousands of places around the world. We were acquired by Facebook. After some time, I got to know a few folks here at Airbnb, and became enchanted by the product. It’s been really cool to pick up on some of the themes from Gowalla, especially connecting people with unique places.
What’s the most interesting technical challenge you’ve worked on since joining?
We are constantly looking for ways to improve the core experience (like performance and stability), running experiments to make the marketplace efficient, and building new features to make travel better. The hard part is doing all three at once. We spent a lot of time this year working on tools and processes that allow us to iterate really quickly, without letting quality slip. For one example, see my co-worker Zane’s recent post about our project to redesign Airbnb for iOS.
What do you want to work on next?
Right now, we’re thinking a lot about how people move between devices. They might use their tablet to browse listings, and their computer to book, and their phone to communicate with their host. I think we can make the seams in that experience much smoother. If we’re successful, the logistics of travel fade into the background, so that people can focus on the joy of travelling.
What is your favorite core value, and how do you live it?
Easy: “Be a Host”. I actually think about this all the time, even when planning how to code a feature in our app. There are all kinds of things that can go wrong with technology, especially when you’re travelling — you might be on a flaky network, run out of space on your phone, whatever. Like a great Airbnb host, our app can try to anticipate needs and deal with snafus graciously.
What’s your favorite Airbnb experience?
I recently took a great trip with my wife and 3-year-old daughter to Paris and Amsterdam. Our listing in Amsterdam was this delightful place on a canal, with the steepest staircase I’ve ever seen. We woke up in the morning and the street outside had transformed into a massive bustling Saturday market.