With Airbnb came a revolution of sorts in the world of vacation travel and culture. We sat down with Luba Yudasina, a YouTuber, an opera singer, and a Software Engineer on the Airbnb’s Homes Platform team, to discuss software engineering and her programming journey—from Codecademy to Airbnb!
Hey Luba, let’s start with the basics! What does a Software Engineer on the Platform team do at Airbnb?
Homes Platform's mission is to create the building blocks to power all Homes categories. Any project undertaken by our team should be reusable and extensible in some way. This means that as a backend engineer, I have a lot of opportunities to work on impactful technical projects that create systems and services to support Homes, as well as collaborate across teams to come up with the best architectural decisions and designs.
Recently, our team wrote a blog post on classifying Room Types into categories using Machine Learning and computer vision. The room-type classification problem largely resembles the ImageNet classification problem, except our team's model outcomes are customized room-types.
After a few experiments with various models, the team chose ResNet50 due to its good balance between model performance and computation time. To make it compatible with our use case, we added two extra fully connected layers and a Softmax activation in the end.
What languages/frameworks do you use at Airbnb?
Let’s rewind a little bit. Coming from a chemical engineering background in college, how did you make the switch into programming?
I went to the University of Waterloo in Canada—a university with the biggest co-op program in the world. Co-op means that to obtain a bachelor’s degree you must complete a certain number of internships. If you are in Engineering at Waterloo, you must complete 5 internships to graduate.
In my first and second years, I interned at chemical engineering companies and afterwards I couldn’t see myself working in the field full-time. That’s why I’m particularly grateful that I studied at Waterloo: if not for co-op, I probably would not have realized I didn’t want to work in chemical engineering until getting a full-time job after graduation.
I happened to have a lot of friends in Computer Science and Software Engineering right when I realized Chem Eng wasn’t for me. They really encouraged me to try coding, and when I decided to follow their lead I never looked back! My first online programming course was Web Development on Codecademy 🙂
"It’s a really cool time to be a software engineer and even cooler to be a female software engineer, because this is the time when women start to embrace their own unique identities and be ok with not being 'one of the dudes.'"
How did you land an internship at Yelp?
When I decided I wanted to learn computer science on my own, my goal was to get an internship in the field because working as a software engineer at a tech company would be the best test to really know if it was for me.
I happened to be in Munich, Germany on academic exchange for a whole year when I was learning how to code, so I hustled as much as I could while being there to get experience to learn quicker and have something to put down on my tech resume.
Almost immediately after arriving in Germany, I got a part time job as a developer at a game publishing company. I had a good friend in Computer Science at my German university: her and I ended up working on an Android app as a side project, etc. When I was ready, I started preparing for technical interviews. I then leveraged my network to refer me to companies and do mock technical interviews with me.
Yelp was really random though—a Yelp recruiter looked at my LinkedIn profile and didn’t even message me, but I messaged them anyway asking about internship opportunities, and that’s how I got my interview there!
What is an essential app/item in your day-to-day?
Code searching! A lot of software engineering is problem solving and a lot of it is understanding other people's code and the reasoning behind writing it a certain way. Searching through the codebases is almost essential to my day to day. Whenever I build something new or build on top of already existing tech, I need to understand how it works and is written, and code search is vital to this.
At Airbnb we use Google's Codesearch for these purposes, but developers (myself included) also frequently use their IDEs to search for relevant code. I mostly use RubyMine or IntelliJ (depending on the codebase I'm working with).
In your videos, you've mentioned the intersection of gender and technology. Can you speak a bit more about that?
It’s a really cool time to be a software engineer and even cooler to be a female software engineer, because this is the time when women start to embrace their own unique identities and be ok with not being “one of the dudes.”
I think it’s particularly important to redefine the stereotypes, and I hope that with my own example I can show young girls and women interested in the field that you don’t have to give up your feminine side to be a software engineer and still be into fashion, or makeup, or art (I personally sing opera) and have other interests outside of coding and be successful in the field.
Before we wrap up, do you have anything else you would like to say to our learners?
Don't be discouraged, learn and absorb as much as you can! If you don't understand a concept or can't build a project right away, know that with practice, perseverance and concentration you will get there!
Take advantage of such amazing tools as Codecademy that are there for you to take and learn. Learning anything new can be frustrating, but knowing that you can do it, staying curious, asking questions and not losing your motivation is the key to success.
Huge shoutout to Luba for this insightful interview. It's always incredibly moving to see a Codecademy learner go on to do bigger things. Go subscribe to her YouTube channel, Life of Luba.
And thank you to the whole Homes Platform/Engineering team at Airbnb for the support. Check out their wonderful open source projects on airbnb.io.