My first Hack day: Kirsten Grieve, Data Warehouse Engineer

Our monthly Hack days are such a great initiative at Secret Escapes. So, having recently changed to a more technical role, I jumped at the chance to take the reins and participate in our May Hack day (my first) alongside other members of the SE Tech team.

I saw this as a great opportunity to try out a new challenge. Plus, as you have to present your findings back to the team at the end of the two day event, it’s also a good way to get more experience presenting to a wide ranging technical audience.

My feelings before Hack day…

Having never done a Hack day before, I was a bit apprehensive about what to expect. 

Initially, I was a little nervous about what the scope of my proposed project to tackle should be, with only two days of hacking to crack it (technically a day and a half, as the second half of day two, is presenting your findings back to the business!) 

I was also a bit concerned about potential blockers I might encounter, but overall I was quite excited to have the freedom and flexibility to shape the project as I liked and take some time away from the day to day to explore and play around with new tools. 

Prepping for Hack day…

The project I chose to work on was around experimenting with different data diagramming tools to see if they would be fit for the current data landscape at Secret Escapes. 

We are currently upskilling, as well as hiring more analysts within the business, and I thought having some clear annotated diagrams of our datasets for new starters would be a great resource to give a basic overview of the data landscape. 

My prep:

1) I selected the dataset to use

2) I decided upon some success metrics with these tools which I could then use to score each tool I tried against

3) I did some research on the tools out there, read some blogs and from this decided on which tools I was going to try out

So, how did it go? 

All in all, a really good experience!  At first, it felt a bit alien to be extracting myself from the regular day to day project/backlog work and look into something completely new. 

I particularly enjoyed being able to determine the scope of work. If I ended up being interested in a specific aspect of a tool I could spend more time investigating this further, while at the same time if at first glance I knew a tool wouldn’t be suitable for SE I could write up my findings quickly and move on. 

I spent the most time looking into the first tool just to get familiar with the dataset and how to navigate the process, but once I got going I ended up looking at more tools than I expected. Not all of them worked and some of them worked very differently from what I’d read but I enjoyed the discovery component. 

Presenting back to a Technical audience was interesting as it’s not something I do very often (I usually present to either non-technical stakeholders or within my own Data team). Overall, I received positive feedback on my approach and presentation. 

In terms of the next steps, I’ll be kicking off wider discussions within the team as to whether we look into using any of these tools to improve our documentation. 

What I learnt…

  1. Prep is key – If I hadn’t made those decisions upfront, I probably would have used up a lot of the first day working through these.
  2. Stuff won’t work – One of the tools I was looking at that I thought was quite promising tried to overwrite our current setup in the backend – not my intention at all!
  3. You need to make quick decisions – you’re working on a tight schedule so you don’t have time to sit around and deliberate. For example, in one tool I was trying to work out how to connect Snowflake directly to a system to import the table DDLs, but after 30 mins with little success, I decided to park it and moved on to the next tool. 

Would I do it again?


I would 100% do it again, and I’d encourage anyone else who is thinking about it to give it a go! 

It was quite empowering to be given the freedom and flexibility to pick and run a mini project outside of the day job to work out. 

The experience will definitely stand me in better stead to have more informed and confident conversations on the tools out there. 

And, it was pretty fun to try out some new tech too!

Want to join our Tech Team? Find your next opportunity now!

App development review for iOS and Android

At Secret Escapes, we want to create an enjoyable and seamless experience for our members; from browsing and booking to storing all the useful trip information in their account. That’s why we are continuously developing and improving our web platform and apps, to provide a tailored and effortless experience for each user.

In the last six months, the mobile apps team, quirkily named “No Doubt” have been focusing on providing a frictionless user experience, by delivering structural changes to the iOS and Android apps. Reducing friction was our starting point, as we wanted to streamline our customers’ experience, to help each one find the best trips that are tailored to their search requirements. 

After that, one of the biggest implementations we have been working on is the ability to deep-link our app users from an email to inside the app. During the pandemic, our business model changed and evolved rapidly, with our catalogue of deals growing by almost 15 times in one year. Consequently, our team has been working on projects like deep-linking, so we can assist customers in navigating their way through this enormous amount of choice while maintaining optimum performance speeds. This technical challenge alone is massive!

Now, when a member clicks on an email link, they are sent directly to a specific in-app location, instead of being sent to our mobile website. As well as improving UX, this also means we can optimise our marketing campaigns around a single deal, stage or part of our catalogue without worrying about user navigation. Email continues to be one of our most successful marketing channels and ensuring we make the experience consistent for app members is important. Since we’ve added that functionality, we have seen our retention increase by 10% in the apps!

In the last few months, we have also been interviewing & surveying our members within the apps, then going through the feedback in order to understand the browsing pain points in our mobile applications. We discovered that our app homepage, which is naturally the most visited page, was too long for some. This made it hard to distinguish between each section, so some of the important content was easily being missed. From that, a new hypothesis emerged: to improve retention and ultimately conversion, we would need better presentation tactics that provide context for why we are showing content.  

We are excited to say we are just a few weeks from getting our first changes in front of our members. These changes include improving the navigation of the app homepage with clearly defined deal sections and improved navigation tools to help users find their dream destinations faster, plus deliver improved deal recommendations. We are also thinking about how to optimise the experience for our tablet users, as the audience is also growing on these devices. We will make changes incrementally, using a backend driven UI approach that allows us to make modular changes to the different sections and their order on the page. We will then be able to efficiently measure, test, learn and adapt our content strategy to deliver the best experience to our app users. 

Iphone before

Iphone after

Ipad after

Ipad before

Most recently, we have changed our search technology on both the website and the apps, which now means that search results load 20% faster than before.

Every day we learn, test, build and iterate incremental changes to the mobile apps. We continue investing in researching our customers’ needs to enable them to find the right deals faster, smarter and in an enjoyable way.