How I Got Started at Airbnb

By Mike Lewis

Mike Lewis (photo by Celeste Noche)

Last fall Airbnb acquired Fondu, a company that Gauri Manglik and I founded. Fondu was helping people discover fresh new restaurants through a beautiful mobile experience. Rather than reading 300 reviews about a restaurant, we felt it would be more useful to follow your friends and respected foodies and see where they were eating.

Since the acquisition, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about the process and the transition. The biggest question I get whenever people hear about the acquisition is “Do you miss working on a small team?” My gut response to this isn’t a yes or no, but actually just the realization that I still feel like I’m on a small team. The product team I work on, Trust, is just as small as Fondu was, and operates with significant autonomy. We have our mission: to make Airbnb the most trusted community on the internet. The only real difference is that instead of using off-the-shelf everything, we’re sitting next to other teams that are building the latest and greatest for us to use. Teams like Data Infrastructure, SRE, Search, Mobile, and many others. Instead of building everything from scratch, we have access to battle-tested functionality that lets us ship good stuff, even faster than the hacky way. Both ways allow quick iteration, but having supporting teams means that the solutions tend to scale better and be more reliable.

What was the acquisition process like?

Similar to dating. After the initial introduction was made, we started talking in earnest, getting a feel for how we each worked, what our values were, and generally if there was chemistry. The more we talked, the more we realized how well we would fit into the Airbnb culture. There was a full battery of interviews, and a negotiation process that lasted a few rounds. We had a few deals on the table, but we went with Airbnb because of its amazing culture and compelling vision. We were also fortunate to have amazing investors who supported us through the entire process.

How has it affected your daily life?

Honestly, I get to focus on code and product a lot more. There are fewer distractions, and most of the details that suck time are eliminated. Some days I miss the uncertainty and the struggle, but that’s been traded for some nice perks. I’ve stopped eating at the same places every day and instead get to enjoy Chef Sam’s diverse meals while chatting with some of the most people-oriented engineers I’ve ever met. Having time to go to the gym daily has been transformational to my health as well. I’m currently working on repairing 2 years worth of physical neglect due to life “in the trenches.” I’ve even been able to start traveling again and actually wrote the first draft of this post from our offices in Delhi.

What’s different about the work you’re doing?

The scale of data at Airbnb is orders of magnitude greater than what we were dealing with at Fondu. We also deal with people’s safety and real money, so our standards for protecting them are celestial. Having more engineering support means that the quality of the systems and infrastructure is also higher, as it needs to be. The tradeoff is that having a larger infrastructure means more moving parts need to be connected and maintained for every project. It’s no longer possible to keep every part of the system fresh in your head because the product does so much.

What problems are you working on now?

I’ve been working on keeping our users safe and preventing fraud. My first major project was building a graph traversal system that continuously relates users sharing common attributes. We use this to identify duplicate accounts created by bad actors. The challenge was that it had to be really fast, as it is accessed on almost every authenticated request. As malicious users become more sophisticated, we’re developing smarter techniques to stay ahead of them and neutralize attack vectors. Since then I’ve been involved in multiple projects, such as Verified ID, related to improving our trust/anti-fraud infrastructure. Some components of those projects have been generalized and are getting internal adoption (such as Saddle).

To be honest, the past 7 months have been a real transition, but also a massive opportunity for personal growth. Airbnb’s vision is inspiring, my colleagues challenge me daily, and the problems we’re solving are legendary. If my life was a book, this is a chapter I would not dream of missing out on.

Check out all of our open source projects over at airbnb.io and follow us on Twitter: @AirbnbEng + @AirbnbData


Originally published at nerds.airbnb.com on May 16, 2013.