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Code Whisperer

Erik Stogo follows his passion to offer new adventures for United customers

Author A. Averyl Re

voices

“We want our customers to be able to explore travel, not just book travel,” says Erik Stogo.

When the software engineer starts talking about his work—especially the new united.com he and co-workers from various departments have spent many months developing—you almost expect him to don a fedora, take up a whip and go exploring new worlds. “I want them to be excited to use it, because our travel tools are fun and engaging. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful—radically different from anything out there and radically different from the existing website.”

United has one of the largest retail websites in the world. The new website, coming this year, represents a light-year’s leap forward from 1994, when the airline mailed purchasing software for its highest-paying customers to install on their computers. Stogo has been with the company since 1998. He brought a huge bag of tricks picked up from spending six months at a time working a wide range of businesses as a contractor. ”I never wanted to be permanent,” he says. “Programmers get bored very easily. You can see how exciting this place is that I stayed here for more than 16 years.”

For a guy who doesn’t like to sit still in life or in his career, an airline proved an ideal match. “The problems and complexities are way more interesting than anything I’ve ever worked on,” he says. “We have so much more to consider and take into account from a programming point of view than they do in other businesses, whether it’s looking at the global network as a whole or at each individual flight. We’re also in an intensely competitive environment.”

For most of his life, coding has provided a challenge for Stogo. “When I was 15, I got a Commodore 64,” he says. “I started programming and never looked back.”

He first took computer science in school, but got bored because, he says, “I wanted to write code. I didn’t want to just learn about it. The thing about programming is you will never learn everything. You just find one area and you start on that and you follow whatever you find interesting and engaging. It’s a creative outlet. There’s a million different ways to make code do something. It’s a combination of science and art.”

For Stogo and the team, applying science and art toward building a new website meant learning a new technology altogether. “We’re two technologies removed from when I first started here. It’s like a spaceship versus a tricycle. It’s that much of a distinction.”

There is such a distinction, in fact, that the team could not move directly from current technology to building a website using Model View Controller technology. “We had to take training, and then we built prototypes,” Stogo says. “The business team and designers are brilliant business minds. They created the new design and flow. We execute it and share with them any limitations, or we negotiate changes that need to be made to make sure it works. I handle availability and booking—flight search results, gathering information about your travel and booking it. We have 100 guys or so working on different pieces. Farming it out to all these different guys makes it tricky to integrate and make sure all the pieces plug in and work great.”

One of the biggest challenges in building the new website was making it more complex and versatile while simultaneously simplifying things for the customer. “Every click, every page, every obstacle is one more opportunity for him to say, ‘Forget it. I’m going someplace where it’s easier,’” Stogo says.

When Stogo isn’t seeking out new worlds in cyberspace, he likes to seek out new adventures with his 19-year old daughter, Elizabeth. “She’s my favorite,” he says. “You can say that because I just have one.” Father and daughter love going to the beach, on Maui in particular, where they can sink their toes in the sand.
And, of course, he still studies programming, because he always wants something new to discover.

3 Responses to “Code Whisperer”

  1. Kerwin Says:
    July 20th, 2014 at 12:35 pm

    I’ve known Erik since my early days at Continental when we all built the backbone of the site that is still being used today.
    This is a cool article; way to go Erik. Good luck with the new site.

  2. Kristi Stogo Says:
    August 26th, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    Nothing like picking up a magazine and seeing your brother in an article. I’ve always been a fan of Continental/United and as a frequent flyer (may hit 1K this year) the website is important for booking travel and must be of value when on the road. Great job to Erik and his team.

  3. Peggy Says:
    August 27th, 2014 at 10:51 am

    This is a great article. Arranging travel can be problematic at times, but I find United’s website easy to negotiate. Programmers like Erik should be commended for their passion, hard work and dedication to enable passengers to make travel more enjoyable. Thank you for sharing this article, and most of all thank you Erik.

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