Here’s Who Travel Site Kayak Wants for Its Tech Team, the travel metasearch engine operated by the Kayak Software Corporation, indexes hundreds of global travel sites to help travelers find flights, hotels, rental cars or cruise lines. Headquartered in Stamford, Conn., with its technology center in Concord, Mass., the company has 250 employees spread throughout six offices worldwide. Many in the industry believe it has one of the strongest tech teams in travel. Seventy percent of its workforce are technologists.

Kayak LogoKayak is well known for hiring outside the travel industry and Giorgos Zacharia, the company’s CTO, and his team are always looking for engineers with “novel experience, perspective and speed.” In addition, he says, he’s “always hiring UI developers, UI designers, mobile developers and strong architects.”

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Zacharia spoke with Dice about what it takes to become part of the popular travel search engine’s tech organization.

How to Reach Out

Recruitment is a constant focus for Kayak, so candidates should look beyond what’s posted on its website and proactively make contact. “We are constantly on the hunt for smart, self-motivated individuals, regardless of experience,” says Zacharia. “We participate in Massachusetts and Berlin (Germany) career fairs, as well as other relevant recruiting events. We also sponsor programing and entrepreneurship activities at MIT, Harvard and WPI, which have always served as great ways for us to meet local candidates.” Personal and social network connections also help.

How to Navigate a Job Posting

Kayak’s job listings indicate high priorities in rapidly expanding teams. As with any job description, candidates should pay attention to specific requirements but strong technical talent with vettable skill sets should reach out, regardless of posted positions.

The Interview Process

The process usually begins with a phone interview and proceeds with a take-home programming quiz. If Kayak decides to move forward, the team proceeds with in-person (or Skype) interviews and further evaluates technical skills and team fit.

UI designers will start with a portfolio review, then work with the team on a design problem. That being said, Zacharia notes that, “We always prefer to hire candidates [from] our network, and may skip steps as appropriate – or when we know a candidate well enough.”

The company applies the same interview process for internship candidates. “We like our interns to work on real software projects within Kayak, releasing code to production in their very first days on the team,” he says. “We love talent that comes out of our internship program.”

What Makes a Good Fit?

Kayak’s technology team functions as a startup and operates under a constant sense of urgency with a focus on the customer experience. It values speed and actually implementing ideas – not just talking about them — and gives everyone the freedom to see their ideas to fruition. To that end, Zacharia says, “We have a ‘fail fast, fail often’ mentality to drive innovation and entrepreneurial spirit among our tech team.” He believes that unconventional philosophy accounts for the company’s success.

Here are three elements a candidate needs to be comfortable with to fit in:

  • Meetings of more than three people are rare – the company keeps a ticker at the entrance of the main conference room in the Concord office to remind people of this rule – so the meetings are well under an hour and incredibly action-driven.
  • Everything Kayak does is focused on what’s happening that day with the customer. That means when a customer calls with a complaint, that feedback is shared directly with an engineer, not a customer service rep. The team stops, fixes the issue and moves on. It’s a very fast cycle.
  • Open office setting – the CEO sits among the team. Kayak also shifts employees from desk to desk every few months to increase productivity and encourage collaboration across teams.

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Advice for Seasoned Professionals

Zacharia emphasizes that an exceptional candidate doesn’t need to apply for a specific position. “When we find good talent, we create positions for them,” he says. He also stresses that the best way for talent to get their foot in the door is to take advantage of their own social network and connections. Referrals can go a long way.

Advice for New Graduates

Kayak wants college grads to show off an exciting project they’ve worked on in the past, a win from a programming competition or examples of how they can make the team even stronger. Want to really stand out? Zacharia says that he’s had superb candidates build their own version of Kayak over the existing data, and send live demos to his team.

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