booking.com - a toxic company for developers

I have worked for Booking.com for 2+ years in their Amsterdam office as a developer and I need to let the developer community know about what to expect here.

Booking.com as you know is hiring aggressively under the pretext of growth; Yes, the company is growing about 40% YOY but the reason they are hiring developers “always” is due to the high attrition(employee turnover rate). Let me explain why this happens and the real Booking.com secret sauce which you would come to know only after working with the company and having wasted 2 years of your life.

  1. Booking.com treats its employees like dogs. And this is true regardless of the department you work in.
  2. Exploitation is the real secret sauce of Booking.com which has helped it pack a huge cash surplus. Exploitation of employees and hotels is the secret sauce.

Let me explain how exploitation is carried on in Booking.com:

  1. Exploitation of the employees.

    1. The Dutch have a history of slave trade. It is estimated that the Dutch transported 550,000-600,000 Africans as slaves. Suriname was a Dutch slave colony. Although slavery is banned, the Dutch society still has exploitation of expats ingrained in their mentality. New engineers are given a 1 year contract to start with and this is renewed 1 time before they are kicked out of the company. This is because a third renewal as per the Dutch law leads to a permanent contract and a permanent contract ensures that the employer cannot kick out an employee on a whim.

      Good International companies in Netherlands give out indefinite contract to the expats at the beginning of their employment itself but not Booking.com.

    2. About 20% of the actual developers in Booking.com are Dutch. This was not the case earlier but when the management tried to use the exploitative tactics on the local Dutch engineers they resigned and left for greener pastures.

      So … If you’re a foreigner and are considering moving to the Netherlands, be careful with companies where the majority of employees is not native.

    3. When you join Booking.com as a developer you will be forced to copy paste code in the name of speed. There is no architecture documentation, the code is old and messy due to a history of copy paste done by developers who left in a hurry.

    4. Don’t expect projects that are going to help you in your career or you can add to your resume. All the good projects are picked up by developers who are in the company for a long time. As a new developer you are going to be given a really old maintenance project which no one wants to work on.

    5. Booking.com has one of the worst salaries for engineers in the Netherlands. In your contract there will be a promise of a bonus but that will never be paid to you. Increments are in the range of 1–2% per annum.

    6. The underlying philosophy of continuous hiring is so that if a developer complains he is asked to leave as the other developers provide the required redundancy. Their philosophy is if you are not happy with “our” exploitation or complain “we” are going to kick you out.

  2. Exploitation of the hotels:

    Booking.com charges 16% to 25% commission. Also they employ cheap exploitative tactics to bully hotels. There have been numerous lawsuits filed against Booking.com for price fixing.

Cheap politcs at work in Booking.com

The main ring master is Brendan Bank and he doesn’t like defiance. Many good engineers were kicked out when they disagreed with him. Its more of a dictatorship.

Below him you have a layer whose only job is to stop the bad smell from the rot reaching the developer community. This layer is active in hiring and one of their performance metrics on which their bonus depends is how well they advertised the company and this is the reason you will see them trying to defend the company. This layers primarily consists of: Yuves Orton, Rafael Garcia Suarez, Giel Goudsmith, Nick Perez, Benjamin Mouw, Eric Herman, Steffen Mueller.

Promotion/Performance review in Booking.com is a joke where your relationship with your team lead is the only factor.

Many good developers from the Perl community have refused to join the company since they know what to expect here and hence Booking.com nowadays tries to hire developers who are not active in Perl and have never heard about Booking.com’s exploitation.

18 Comments

Slave trade? Really? That is somehow pertinent?

godwin's law being unpopular, now it's slave trade )

"Good International companies in Netherlands give out indefinite contract to the expats at the beginning of their employment itself but not Booking.com."
Untrue. Most people get permanent contracts from the start at Booking.com

"In your contract there will be a promise of a bonus but that will never be paid to you"
Untrue. Quarterly bonuses are averaging around 10%

"the reason they are hiring developers “always” is due to the high attrition(employee turnover rate)."
Untrue. Turnover is below 1% in IT

"This layer is active in hiring and one of their performance metrics on which their bonus depends is how well they advertised the company"
Untrue. there are at least 80 different developers/designers/Product Owners involved in hiring. And how would you measure this ridiculous KPI?

"Many good developers from the Perl community have refused to join the company since they know what to expect here and hence Booking.com nowadays tries to hire developers who are not active in Perl"
Untrue. there are just not enough experienced perl developers out there to keep up with our growth!

The rest is all opinion based, so in the eye of the beholder.

There is in this post a part where the anonymous author personally targets me and questions the value of my work. I'll debunk the lies. No, I'm not active in hiring; no-one ever got an interview with me. I don't have a bonus on my contract. I communicate almost never about the company (I haven't gone to any conference in years and I don't blog much), and when I do, it's about the cool open source stuff that we write. Most of my time is actually spent on - surprise - my actual job: coding and solving technical problems, together with people that I appreciate and trust. I'm vain enough to take pride in my technical skills and I feel deeply insulted by insinuations that I would condone any sloppy practice (like copying and pasting code) or worse, the exploitation of fellow developers. And the friends and colleagues that are named, and many other that are not, feel insulted likewise, to be depicted like corporate bullies or like cheap code monkeys. Ah, and it's not that one "will see [me] trying to defend the company": here I'm actually defending myself against those degrading calumnies.

The rest of the article is just defamatory and slanderous bullshit. Haico debunked some of those already, notably the lies about the supposedly high turnover rate or the invention of the "continuous hiring" concept. I'll add that the point d about the kind of projects going to new devs is blatantly false, as any employee can see, and that the commission percentages that are quoted are also overestimated by a large factor, which *could* make me suspect that someone got paid to write this post to purposely hurt booking.com by spreading false information.

If it's true then it's an eye opener for others. However I must admit that I was attracted to their job offer posted on various job sites in the past but didn't bother to proceed.

To all booking.com people that responeded or will respond. I don't believe everything people people say on the internet (especially anonymously), but I find it interesting that after every booking.com criticizing post there are always responses in the key of "defamatory and slanderous bullshit" from booking.com reps. I don't know guys, were you whistled or just decided to protect company's reputation on your own, but the fact that you dismiss completely everything doesn't sound too convincing. I am not sure if you aware or not - but booking.com has certain reputation amountg software developers in Amsterdam which is not very high, like it is not a company for engineers who want to achieve something in technical field. I personally know person who ran away from booking in a month or so, he is Dutch so changing job was not a problem for him. I happen to know couple of Dutch people who changed jobs recently and none of them even considered booking, because there obviously better places in Amsterdam and vicinity if you are from EU or even better if you are Dutch. A lot of people do see booking as a place that provides visas, you know, people who really want to move to Netherlands are less picky than locals. I am not saying that booking exploits expats, my data says that salaries are quite okay, but still - booking's reputation is definitely not of place that people would choose given other choices. Of course there are different positions and different teams, but the fact that all criticism is claimed to be bullshit it not really healthy. There is no real pleasure for people to write critical anonymous posts on the internet unless they are partially true or those people were upset for some reasons on personal level and just want to compensate it. In both cases it doesn't sound like company handles the situation nicely. So if it is the second case and those people are just frustrated then maybe you should think about this at least a little bit. According to my data this post is not correct for at least a couple points, people do get proposed with permanent contracts from the beginning, salaries are not lowest for sure, so yeah this should be taken with grain of salt definitely, but this is not first time I read posts about booking that are dripping with desperation. But the part about Dutch people and slavery is bullshit on so many levels that I personally find it offensive as explat working in Amsterdam. So yeah you can check more balanced selection here http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Booking-com-Reviews-E256653.htm , "47% of employees recommend this company to a friend" this is super low for such high profile company.

Use your name or your community name and I might believe something you say. Anonymous for stuff like this is bullsh*t.

Personally, I don't thin blogs.perl.org should be used to publish such toxic posts. I don't think it is good for the Perl community. Regardless the amount of truth this might or might not contain.

On an even more personal level, I know some of the people named in this post. I trust them, and their integrity.

That’s all well and nice to say when it isn’t your livelihood that’s on the line, sigzero.

Gabor:

I believe the people named by name in the original post are sincere – I know at least Yves, Rafael, Steffen and Nick to some extent, and the behaviour alleged here is incongruous with my experiences with any of them. Yet these complaints keep popping up specifically about Booking.com. I cannot say what that means exactly, since all I’ve ever seen is the he-said she-said in these posts and their comment threads – I have absolutely no facts. All I can see is they keep happening, so there is at least one unhappy person out there, but without any facts on hand I cannot make a call about whether their complaint is legitimate or who is the guilty party… and therefore I cannot know whether deleting this post would be censorship or moderation. So my position as to whether blogs.perl.org should host such posts is divided. It may be that they are harming an innocent ally, which would be terrible. But what if agreeing to muzzle them makes me complicit in abuse of power? So for now, I dearly hope that these posts are unfounded – but absent solid evidence in either direction, my choice is to allow them. (I hope that the people who have been named by name do not take this personally. As I said, I do not believe they have anything to do with whatever problem may exist, if indeed one does.)

No, nobody at Booking.com is sending us here to "defend the company". Rafaël responded because he was attacked personally, and I respond because I'm disgusted by the slandering lies.

No company is perfect, and booking.com certainly has its flaws. But we're not exploiting people, and certainly not slavetraders.

Also keep in mind that, compared to companies like Amazon or Google, our company has comparative much fewer IT staff (only ~300 out of over 6000 employees are in IT), so the glassdoor score is tricky to compare as it is influenced by all departments.

I've only seen the 2 /booking_?employee/ blogposts and am unaware of other complaints posted on the internet. But I've worked at booking.com for over seven years now and there have certainly been cases where people are unhappy to work here (including myself), as there are in every company.

So I do believe there is a foundation to these posts: the person who wrote them is genuinely unhappy with how his/her period of employment at Booking.com went. As with any conflict between two parties, the truth lies somewhere between them: I'm convinced we could have done some things better, as could the person/people who wrote these posts.

But Booking.com is definitely improving over the years. Our expat program does include quite a few initiatives on helping expats with the move to the Netherlands, and complaints about specific flaws in our way of working (e.g. permanent contracts) are addresses. We spend a lot of time, effort and money on finding candidates and really want to keep everyone.

But we can't catch every situation, we also do rely on individuals to bring it up with their teamleads when they are unhappy. I'm not saying the author of this blog post didn't, but if he has, I do wonder what went wrong there and how we can improve that. Writing angry articles on blogs.perl.org doesn't seem the best solution to me, and to be honest, I find it hard to take articles seriously if they exaggerate situations as much as this one does. As I said, I don't doubt that this person was unhappy at booking.com, and I'm sorry for that. But "exploiting developers" and especially "slave trading" make this article go straight through libelous all the way to ridiculous.

You got my name wrong.

And you forgot to change your bio. (It still says "I blog about Perl").

Aristotle,

I don't care so much about Booking.com, but I don't want to alienate everyone else from Perl, and from the Perl community. Neither individuals nor companies.

I don't think the biggest and most official-looking Perl-related web-site should allow personal attacks, nor should it be a place of bad-mouthing any company.


What a bunch of bullsh*t.

I've worked for Booking.com between 2003 and 2010, and in that time I've been very much involved in the hiring process. I used to be one of those team leads that you mention by name. I know most of these as great colleagues, honest, intelligent and reliable people. I say most of these, because some of them were hired after I left, so I can't vouch for those I don't know.

The reason I left Booking.com was not because it's an evil company. I left for personal reasons that had very little to do with the company.

I've promoted Booking.com voluntarily as a great company to work for in the past, and I still refer people to Booking.com every now and then. In the past I had a chance of getting a referral bonus if someone actually got hired. That's a very common thing with many companies. But I didn't do it for the money, because most people I was able to attract for Booking.com (like Rafael) were hired before the referral program started, and now that I left, I don't get that bonus anymore either :)

Surely, Booking.com is a company formed by people. People make mistakes. Sometimes people are in positions where they shouldn't be. But what can you expect from any company that grows as fast as Booking.com does? When I got hired I was employee #73. I just read from Dennis that they're at 6000 just a little over 10 years later. You have to move fast. The company changes continuously. If you can't handle that, don't apply for a job there.

Honestly, it's been almost 4 years since I set foot in a Booking.com office. Things may have changed. But I don't believe that people like Yves, Rafael, Giel and Ben (like I said, I can't speak for people I don't know) have become what you describe.

Sounds all familiar:

http://blogs.perl.org/users/bookingemployee/2012/03/truth-about-bookingcom.html

Further more, I can not comment on anything mentioned in either posts as I do not work for the company.
I only know some great people working at 'the Bank' which do provide the community with wonderful modules at CPAN that make our lives as developer zoo much easier.
Also they host the AmsterdamX.pm group that shares knowledge on wonderful technical stuff month after month and that that there is usually a warm social afterwards.

And I think that the Perl community (and therefor every Perl programmer) would not be what it is now without their ongoing support on almost every Perl event in the world

As a "core employee" of Booking I would like to take this opportunity to make further comments to some of the replies and how this whole thing is working.

The "chaos" they try to "control" (one of the principals here at Booking) is slowly getting "out of control" as with company grow , lack of proper workflows makes it everyday more "unstable"

In reply to @Haico:
"Untrue. Most people get permanent contracts from the start at Booking.com"
--> Unfortunately I have seen many occasions where a "promise" of permanent contract never got fulfilled.

"Untrue. Quarterly bonuses are averaging around 10%"
--> Exactly! Averaging... means you "can" but not necessarily need to "get one"! It is once again up to your direct manager to decide that!

"Untrue. Turnover is below 1% in IT"
--> 1% on monthly ? quarterly ? yearly ?

At first glance Booking.com seems a professional and decent employer. I can not judge how it is like to work for them. I can only share my experience on the lame way they dealed with my application.

Briefly: After submitting my motivation and curriculum on a Front End Developer position. The booking portal confirmation page displayed a message reading I would hear from them soon. After more than 3 weeks (which I think is not soon), out of the blue I received a standarized email.

It said Booking.com wanted to know me better. To prove my skills and to find out how I would handle a priority list they attached a Front End Developer assignment. Although it was strange no explaination on the attachment was given. Also I was again asked for my resumee which I uploaded earlier.

I showed my dedication and worked out 3 areas of the provided assignment. While sending out I explicitly asked for a confirmation. Sadly I never received or heared anything after that.

My impression is that nobody ever looked at the assignment I made. In the source code, I included a 1px image pointing to a logger on my server. I never saw anything back in the tracker link. There is always a change that my assignment got blocked or is not up to the standards of Booking. If I had to hire anybody I would at least keep in touch and would ask when the person to hire does not sent anything back. If it is not the right person I would tell him.

After mailing 3 more times Booking.com did not bother to communicate they ignored me completly. I learned it is not wise to spend a few hours on an assignment while not have spoken anybody from Booking. Although I thought I wanted to work for them the reality is that Booking does not want to work with me.

To conclude: In my eyes Booking.com is very unreliable and does not hold their promise. It seems recruitment advertisements are out only to show how big and dominant they are. For me it was not possible to communicate with the recruitment department by e-mail. Sending an assignment was a quick and cheap way to filter me out. Not telling me is so cheap.

Lucky enhough there are plenty of employers in Amsterdam who respond professional and are willing to talk and hire decent people. If you meet a Dutch company. Double check if they are really seeking an expat. I have reacted to positions written in English although I speak German and French, Dutch is sometimes a requirement not listed.

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