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How SeatGeek is Bringing Ticket Commerce to Snapchat

When we launched SeatGeek Enterprise in 2016, our stated mission was to use technology to reach and engage new patrons everywhere. We have taken that mission to heart, providing value for our clients by helping them reach new fans via integrated commerce partnerships. At the end of the day, our goal is to increase discovery of live events by using the power of the open web, putting tickets where fans are already spending time online. Our most recent endeavor toward this end is our partnership with Snapchat, the leading social platform for Generation Z.

Through our partnership, SeatGeek was the first-ever company to enable live event ticket commerce on Snapchat, an ode to our commitment to innovation as we seek to expand both where and how fans can access tickets to the experiences they love.

Concerts: Jaden Smith

Jaden Smith

For our first pilot with Snapchat, we decided to focus on an event that would appeal to Snapchat’s demographic user base. 83.4% of youth between the ages of 12-17 are on Snapchat and 78.6% of people between the ages of 18 and 24. With this type of age group penetration, we settled on Jaden Smith, a popular young pop artist. After distributing the Snapcode for the concert on May 1st, we were able to completely sell out our full allotment of tickets in less than 24 hours. Initial feedback was that fans loved the experience of buying on Snapchat, noting that it was easy and fun. When asked if they’d buy on Snapchat again, the users resoundingly said yes. With a successful concert onsale complete, we then turned to sports ticketing.

Sports: LAFC

Snapchat logo next to LAFC

For our second pilot, we chose to use one of our SeatGeek Enterprise clients, MLS’ Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) to test if we could sell sports tickets on Snapchat.

We chose the D.C. United vs. LAFC home game on May 26th and distributed the Snapcode for the match via LAFC.com, LAFC’s Snapchat page and Twitter. The results were better than expected and, similar to our Jaden Smith concert onsale, we were able to sell out our full ticket allotment within 24 hours. Even better, Snapchat was able to ship and handout special Snapchat soccer balls and other fun items to the fans who bought on the platform. In the end, we were able to deliver a new and innovative commerce experience to fans, surprise and delight them at the game, and bring a new commerce channel to our client LAFC.

SeatGeek Checkout

New Commerce Opportunities

Having successfully piloted onsales with Snapchat, we are full steam ahead at uncovering new opportunities for our clients to reach new fans in innovative ways.

As social media and other digital platforms continue to alter how audiences discover, discuss and experience live events, SeatGeek Enterprise will continue to be at the forefront of these trends, making sure our clients are optimized and ready to take full advantage of emerging paradigms.

Migrating to Python 3

A big number of the internal services we have at SeatGeek are running on Python 2, but with the end of life for this version being around the corner, and motivated by certain performance challenges we’ve had to face this year, we decided to spend some time investigating whether or not migrating to Python 3 was worth the effort. In particular, we use the Tornado framework and we noticed that the IOLoop was mysteriously getting stuck under high load scenarios. Would the story be any different with the new version of the language?

The process of migrating to Python 3

Migrating to python 3 was initially faster than expected, but turned out to be a tricky process in the end. With the help of libraries like six, future and 2to3 most of the changes to be done in the codebase can be mechanically done.

Originally we had selected the service responsible for normalizing ticket data from different markets to a single format as the target for the migration investigation, we ended up migrating the service responsible for fetching listings from all external markets instead. This was due to the fact that the service in question would exercise async IO operations more often than the more CPU bound service that normalizes the data. Based on many different individual reports on the Internet, this is one of the areas where performance should improve when combining tornado and python 3.

The process of migrating this service can be outlined as such:

  • Create a Dockerfile with python 3 support so that we can run the application in Nomad. We ended up using pyenv instead of virtualenv for installing python as we’ve been having a smootheresperience with it in general on our local dev environements as of late.

  • Migrate private dependencies to be compatible with pip 10. The new version of pip has a more strict build process, and installation failed with all of our private dependencies. We fixed this by adding a Manifest.in file to most repositories involved as transitive dependencies. The changes were mostly concerned with explicitly marking the files and folders that should be included in the package.

  • Migrate private dependencies to be compatible with both python 3 and python 2. This process was very straightforward to do, except for the cases where the transitive dependencies of our private repos were not compatible at all with python 3. A notable example is the MySQL-python library, which has no support for the newer python versions. A suitable replacement could be found in all instances, so this was not a show stopper.

  • Finally, apply the 2to3 script to the listings service and work through the failing test cases.

Things to look out for

In all of the migrated repositories, there were common broken things that required a common solution. This is a list of the things we can expect when migrating other services to python 3:

  • Importing modules with absolute or relative path resolution is error prone. The safest way of making a python module work correctly under both versions is to import all modules using the fully qualified name such as from mylib.my_module import foo instead of import foo from my_module

  • Exceptions need to be caught with the syntax except Exception as ex instead of except Exception, e. This can be fixed automatically by the 2to3 script.

  • The iteritems() method on dictionaries is gone, it can be safely replaced in all instances with the items() function. This can also be fixed automatically by 2to3

  • The print function needs parentheses. This is also fixed by the 2to3 script

  • Functions like filter and zip do not return a list anymore, but an iterator object. Better convert those to list comprehensions. The 2to3 script can help a great deal with this.

  • Modules such as urllib, and html, StringIO and a bunch of others were renamed. While the 2to3 script helps finding and fixing those, I found that it left too many loose ends. I found using the six library instead for manually replacing the imports a lot better and cleaner too.

  • The json.loads() function is more strict and throws different errors when failing to decode. Usages of this functions should be reviewed manually for places where we are expecting an exception, and the proper exception should be caught.

  • Unknown str vs bytes problems everywhere. This is the one issue that cannot be solved mechanically. Given how py2 treated strings as both bytes and plain text, there are any cases in the code base where using one or the other results in an error.

Fighting str vs bytes

As stated before, this will be the number one source of bugs once a project is running under python 3. After fixing a great deal one instances where the 2 types were used in an incompatible manner, We have a few suggestions for any future migration.

Most of the bugs can be traced back to getting data from external datasources and expect them to be strings instead of bytes. Since this is actually a reasonable assumption we can do the following:

  • Add a thing wrapper to the redis library to have a get_str() method. Replace all occurrences of redis.get() with redis.get_str() in the code.
  • Whenever using the requests library, use the .json() function in the response instead of manually getting the body and then decoding it as json().
  • Look out for any data received from s3 or similar amazon service, the return value of these libraries is always bytes. Manually review that we are not comparing the returned value with static strings.

Infra problems

The creation of a docker image for python 3 proved to be more difficult than expected, due to our pervasive assumption everywhere in our deployment pipeline and internal scripts that only python 2 with virtualenv is used. After fixing and sometimes working around these assumptions in the deployment code, a robust docker image could be produced. My suggestion for the near term future is to remove these assumptions from our scripts:

  • In our deployment tool, stop injecting the PYTHONPATH and PYTHONHOME environment variables. Let the dockerfiles do this instead.
  • Each Makefile should either drop the virtualenv assumption or add support for pyenv.
  • Consider using a Pipfile.lock file in all our repositories for more reproducible builds.
  • I could not make gunicorn work for the service, either we need to invest more time tracing the root of the problem or find a replacement for it.

A possible replacement for gunicorn could be implemented with either of the following strategies:

  • Install a signal handler in the python services to catch the SIGINT signal. Once the signal is caught, make the _status endpoint always return an error code. This will make consul unregister the allocation, which will cause no new traffic to be routed to it.

  • Install nginx on each allocation and make it the reverse proxy for the tornado server. Set up nginx to graceful shutdown on SIGINT or any other suitable signal.

Additional action points

During the process of migrating to python 3 we left a couple loose ends in order to save time. The first one is critical to the correct functioning of the logging system.

  • Currently logging json using the loggers provided by our base libraries is not reliable, for some unknown reason some of the loggers are setup to output plain text. More careful study of why using custom formatters is not automatically applied to all created loggers is required.

  • Migrate the applications to tornado 5, which was better integration with the py3 built-in event loop. Under no circumstance use tornado 4.5.3 as it has a serious bug under python 3.

  • Find a solution to deploying services which serialize data using pickle. The migrated service, for example, stores pickled binary strings in redis. We need to make sure both versions use different key paths, for the time both version are running concurrently.

Performance

In order to analyse the performance characteristics of python 2 vs python 3, we created a test where a single event’s listings are fetched through an aggregator service. The caching proxy was taken out of the mix so that I could see the service behaviour under heavy stress.

Using 40 service allocations (each one maps to roughly a single machine CPU), this is the result of using py2 vs py3:

There seems to be an interesting performance difference at the beginning of the chart. It was also interesting that repeating the experiment yielded a similar graph:

There is a chance that the difference between both lines is not actually due to the python versions, but due to the absence of gunicorn in the python 3 service. This hypothesis is supported by the next round of tests as will be shown below.

For both versions the bottleneck were their upstream services (tickenetwork, seller direct, etc.) so this test could not actually show the behaviour of both services under stress. We decided then that reducing the amount of allocations in half could then determine better whether python 3 can outperform python 2 in terms of efficiency. Here are the results:

Similarly to he previous round of tests, the results are reproducible. Here’s another set of runs:

It is clear for the previous graphs that performance is identical under low concurrency situations. Keep in mind that the low concurrency situation in this case corresponds to the double of the same number in the previous tests, due to having half of the allocations to handle the same load. It is encouraging to see that the difference is marginal, as we can claim more confidently that the difference seen in the previous tests can be attributed to the way requests were being handled by gunicorn.

More interestingly in this case, we can see that under high concurrency, the python 3 service outperforms python 2 by around 5%. Who aggregating the number on minutes instead of seconds, the difference is more obvious:

Requests per minute during the python 3 test:

Requests per minute during the python 2 test:

We can also see that the time spent in python is less when using python 3:

The left part of the graph was the test running python 3 and the right part of the graph is the master branch of listingfeed. We could conclude from this graph that python 3 is more efficient in the utilization of resources, leading to a small performance advantage when under load. In none of the tests we could notice any significant CPU usage difference between the 2 versions, which is to be expected for this IO bound service.

The bottom line

Migrating to python 3 only for performance benefits does not seem justifiable, at least not for applications like the listings service, but we can definitely expect to see a modest difference in performance when upgrading major versions.

On the other hand, benefits of using python 3 from the developer perspective may be more important than raw performance. There was a clear excitement by many members of the team when they saw we were working on migrating libraries to the new version.

Things like better typing support and static analysis tools may bring more robustness to our services and help us reduce the amount of regressions we commit to production.

Care Begets Care

There’s a phrase my friend, Stephanie, says often and whenever I think of it, I hear the words in her voice:

“Hurt people hurt people.”

There are a million examples of this out in the world every day: people lashing out as a reaction to the emotional wounds they’ve sustained, hurting others because they are hurting.

Being in service to customers often means doing some heavy emotional work. You observe and interact with people at various psychic levels and, for the sake of helping people, you have to be deft at identifying the feelings expressed and navigating them while you diagnose and resolve the issues brought to you.

So, knowing that a person’s emotional state can affect the way they act and interact with others it should go that the opposite of “hurt people hurt people” is true too:

“People who are shown care can better care for others.”

In CX (our Customer Experience team), we create an environment where we show each other that we care for each other. The leaders on our team work hand-in-hand to put things in place to amp up encouragement, to provide clear paths for each team member to be successful, and to emphasize a culture of assumed positive intention. Compassion and humor run throughout all of our internal interactions and generate space where we’re best able to care for the customers who come our way too.

This is an ongoing, growing, and ever changing process and it honestly takes quite a bit of trial and error and tons of feedback from all the members of the team. Luckily, there are some clear signs that a team is feeling taken care of:

  1. We take responsibility for our behavior
  2. We assess people correctly and from a place of empathy, giving people the benefit of the doubt
  3. We can identify where communication may be breaking down and can fill in the gaps to reconnect with others
  4. We are at ease so the impulse to attack with words disappears
  5. We see and comprehend the impact our behavior has on others
  6. We let down our guard so we are not constantly on the defensive
  7. We are not easily offended
  8. We do not react in anger
  9. If a resolution is not easily found for an issue, we see it as an opportunity for individual, team, and/or organizational improvement
  10. We have close friendships which each other and spend real quality time together

When any of those are out of whack on a team level or individually, it’s a red flag that something needs to be shown extra care. It deserves the same careful consideration and response as all the other pieces—minimizing the instances where knee-jerk reactions take place and provide only short term fixes. If your team is cared for, it’s like they proudly own a vintage car: one that’s polished, maintained, and set up to last for years to come. When it comes to CX, we also want to make sure that our “car” is set up and ready for passengers.

How do you create this space for your team? How do you acknowledge your team and show them care so they can turn around and best care for others?

Meet Us in Minneapolis: SeatGeek Goes to the Super Bowl

Fan at Fulfillment Center

It’s a cold Sunday morning in Minneapolis, but this isn’t your typical Sunday… it’s Super Bowl Sunday, and SeatGeek’s Inventory team is gearing up for our third and final day of delivering Super Bowl tickets to customers. You may be asking yourself, “Why deliver tickets in person, isn’t SeatGeek’s whole philosophy around using your phone to buy tickets and get in?” Well each year, there are a handful of major events that utilize good old fashioned paper tickets for admission, and the Super Bowl is their king.

With all the advancements in mobile ticketing, it’s odd the industry still uses hardstock (paper) tickets for high profile, expensive events. This is mostly due to hardstocks serving as one of the best formats for preventing fraudulent tickets from floating around. The paper format also allows for larger than average, holographic tickets with lots of fun details, allowing the ticket itself to act as a souvenir. And given the high dollar value of Super Bowl tickets (prices often start around $2,000 before the teams are even decided), SeatGeek’s number one priority is to eliminate the risk associated with shipping tickets via a third party carrier. The Super Bowl is that rare event where the ticket is as important as the game itself; so you’ll definitely want to hold on to it after all is said and done.

To combat the logistical difficulties of delivering thousand dollar tickets, our team flew out to Minneapolis (home of this year’s Super Bowl) to hand deliver tickets to all our customers at SeatGeek’s official fulfillment center for Super Bowl LII. This year’s center was located in a conference room at the Hotel Minneapolis, a few blocks away from the U.S. Bank Stadium where the game was played. And the Hotel Minneapolis served as a great location for stargazing. Several members of our team ran into the likes of superstar producer Pharrell in a hotel elevator and resident SeatGeek influencer Casey Neistat who picked up his tickets, camera in tow. Oh… and of course there were one or two dozen professional athletes roaming the halls.

Every event that requires a fulfillment center poses new challenges and questions for our team. And there’s a ton of work to be done; from tracking new orders in real time, to coordinating with sellers delivering tickets, to talking with customers and getting them pumped for the big game. But the biggest lesson is one we’re reminded of at every event - SeatGeek plays a key role in creating magic for all of our users. And the fulfillment center is always a great opportunity for our team to put a face to our amazing fans who call on SeatGeek for all their live event needs.

It’s an incredibly special experience seeing our users prepare to go to the big game, an event that will surely become a lifelong memory. When thinking of our users there’s a young boy who comes to mind, who came to pick up tickets with his dad. The father explained that the young man worked hard and saved up $4,000 over the last few years to attend this year’s Super Bowl. This boy chose SeatGeek to help fulfill his dream, which reminded us all just how important our role is in facilitating and protecting the dreams of our customers. And for each of us on SeatGeek’s Inventory team, our work securing tickets has taken on new meaning, knowing we helped turn a dream into reality.

SeatGeek Team

Software Design Patterns in Android Development

In just the past few years, mobile development has changed greatly in terms of not only what is capable on a pocket-sized device, but also in terms of what users want and expect out of the average app. With that, we developers have had to change how we build things in order to account for more complex, robust applications. The Android development community in particular has had a huge shift in focus (hopefully 🙏) from massive, logic-heavy Activities, to MVWhatever based approaches to help split our logic out. Most of us have also adopted the Observer Pattern through libraries like RxJava, dependency injection with Dagger, and more extensive testing. These tools, along with the adoption of Kotlin and the introduction of Architecture Components, have made it easier and easier to get off on the right foot with new Android apps to help ensure their maintainability and scalability for the future. However, these simple patterns are really just the tip of the iceberg and as our apps have some time to grow and mature in the wild, it is often necessary for us to employ other design patterns to allow applications to grow without becoming an unmaintainable mess. In this article, I’d like to take a look at some other common object oriented design patterns that have been around for while in the software world, but are talked about a little less in the typical Android development article. Before taking off and trying to implement these on your app as soon as you’re done reading, it’s worth noting that although these are good principles to abide by, using all or even some of them when they aren’t really necessary can lead to overly convoluted code that ends up being harder to understand than it needs to be. Not every app needs to implement them, but the key is to know when it’s time to start. Okay, enough of an intro, let’s get started!

Note: All examples are in Kotlin, so it’s recommended to be fairly familiar with the language and / or have this reference guide on hand

The Adapter Pattern

The adapter pattern is a strategy for adapting an interface from one system so that it works well in another, usually by abstracting away implementation via an interface. It is a common and useful design pattern that can help make components that are hard to reuse or integrate into a system more susceptible to doing so by changing (wrapping) their interface with one we design ourselves. In fact, it’s no coincidence that a RecyclerView.Adapter is named as such. Although every RecyclerView (or even each cell in a single RecyclerView) is going to likely display something different, we can utilize the common adapter interface for each ViewHolder. This allows for an easy way to hook into a RecyclerView but also gives the flexibility of allowing for different data types to be shown. This idea can be utilized in other areas as well. For example, say we’re working with a web API that doesn’t quite give us the data we need throughout the rest of our app. Maybe it gives us too much info, or gives shortened versions / acronyms of certain information in order to save cellular data, etc. We can build our own adapters to convert these API results to something that useful to the rest of our application. For example let’s take a look assume we’re making a basic ticketing app and have a TicketResponse that looks something like this after being converted from JSON to a Kotlin data class (note: not actually what our web API looks like):

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data class TicketResponse(
    val seat: String = "R17S6",
    val price: Double = 50.55,
    val currency: String = "USD",
    val type: String = "Mobile"
)

For the sake of example, ignore the debate on whether or not this is a good looking API model. Let’s assume that it is, but regardless it’s a little messy for us to use throughout our application. Instead of R17S6 we’d really like to have a Row model with a value of 17, and a Seat model with a value of 6. We’d also like to have some sort of Currency sealed class with a USD child that will make life much easier than what the API currently gives us. This is where our the Adapter pattern comes in handy. Instead of having our (presumably Retrofit based) API return the TicketResponse model, we can instead have it return a nicely cleaned up Ticket model that has everything we want. Take a look below:

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data class Ticket(
    val row: Row,
    val seat: Seat,
    val price: Currency,
    val type: TicketType
)

class TicketApiClient {
    fun getTicket(): Ticket {
        val ticketResponse : TicketResponse = getTicketResponse()
        return TicketAdapter.adapt(ticketResponse)
    }
}

object TicketAdapter {
     fun adapt(ticketResponse: TicketResponse) = Ticket(
        row = TicketUtil.parseRow(ticketResponse.seat),
        seat = TicketUtil.parseSeat(ticketResponse.seat),
        price = CurrencyUtil.parse(ticketResponse.price),
        type = TicketUtil.parseType(ticketResponse.type)
    )
}

Although there’s still some improvements that could be made here (Api likely would return an RxJava Single for threading purposes), this little adapter gives us a nice clean Ticket model that’s much easier to use throughout the rest of our app than the model our Api gives us. There’s obviously many more usages for the adapter pattern, but this is a pretty straightforward one that most apps will likely find useful at some point along the way.

The Façade Pattern

Simply put, the façade pattern hides complex code behind a simple, easy to use interface. As our apps grow, there is bound to be some complicated business logic that comes about in order to implement product requirements. The façade pattern helps us not to have to worry about how those complex business logic implementations work, and instead let us plug into them very easily. Staying on the ticket theme, we may have some caching mechanisms implemented to ensure that users are able to view their tickets, even though they may not have service in the venue when they scan in. This logic is probably housed in some sort of TicketStore class that may have references to our TicketApiClient class above, our database, and maybe even a memory cache so we can load tickets as quick as possible. Determining where to load the tickets from can get pretty complicated pretty quickly and we therefore want to keep this logic isolated and abstracted away from those classes simply trying to get a reference to a ticket object to display on the screen for example. Let’s say we have a basic Model-View-Presenter architecture set-up. Our presenter shouldn’t have to worry about whether the ticket comes from the server, a memory cache, or from disk, it should just be able to say “Hey TicketStore, give me a ticket!” and get one back without having any knowledge of where it came from. This is where the Façade pattern comes into play. Our TicketStore class is a Façade that hides anything related to storing tickets behind a simple interface with potentially one simple method called something like getTicket(id: Int) : Ticket. Integrating with this interface now becomes incredibly easy.

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class TicketPresenter(view: TicketView, ticketStore: TicketStore) {
    init {
        ticketStore.getTicket(SOME_ID)?.let {
            view.show(it)
        }
    }
}

The Command Pattern

The command pattern utilizes objects (value / data classes) to house all the information needed to perform some action. This is a design pattern that is becoming more and more common in Android development these days, largely due to lambdas / higher-order functions (functions that take in functions) available in Java 8 / Kotlin. With the command pattern, we can encapsulate a request or an action as an object. This object can take in function types that are executed when the request is handled. We tend to typically use these with third party libraries such as RxJava, but they can actually be useful for various internal APIs that we may have throughout our applications as well. Consider some sort of UI transition API we’ve created internally to help manage different view states. Let’s say we want to transition from the Loading state of our screen to the Content state. Let’s also say want certain actions to be executed before and after we make this transition. With the command pattern (and Kotlin), this becomes fairly trivial.

First we have our Transition class that takes in the layout to transition to, as well as functions to be executed during the transition process.

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data class Transition(
    @LayoutRes val layoutRes: Int,
    val beforeTransition: () -> Unit,
    val onViewInflated: (View) -> Unit,
    val afterTransition: () -> Unit
)

We then have some sort of TransitionCoordinator class that is able to take in Transition objects and perform our transition as well as execute these various actions when needed. The key piece of the puzzle that makes the command pattern so useful is that the TransitionCoordinator doesn’t need really know anything about the calling class in order to go about this transition process. It is very generic and can take in functions from any class without knowing its innards. This makes the command pattern very powerful while being quite generic. This TransitionCoordinator might look something like this:

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class TransitionCoordinator {
    fun startTransition(transition: Transition) {
        transition.run {
            beforeTransition()
            val view = inflate(layoutRes)
            onViewInflated(view)
            doTransition()
            afterTransition()
        }
    }

    fun inflate(@LayoutRes layoutRes: Int): View = { /* Inflation code */ }

}

Thanks to the brevity of Kotlin, we are able to execute this transition process in very few lines of code.

In our Activity (or wherever we’re calling this code) we can now do something like this.

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transitionCoordinator.startTransition(
    Transition(
        layoutRes = R.layout.activity_sample,
        beforeTransition = { unsubscribeObservables() },
        onViewInflated = { view -> bind(view) },
        afterTransition = { fetchData() }
    )
)

In this scenario we want to transition to some sample activity, unsubscribe to some observables before our transition, bind the newly inflated view upon transition, and fetch data after we’ve transition. Of course, once we brought this into the real world, our implementation would likely not be this simple, but it’s easy to see that encapsulating these method calls with “Command” objects makes them generic and easy to use.

Null Object Pattern

One other convenient design pattern, but possibly less frequently used is the “Null Object Pattern”. For those of us who have been Android developers for ~2+ years (before Kotlin came into play), we are all too familiar with null pointer exceptions that bring our apps to a crippling crash. Kotlin has helped to reduce this greatly, but there are still some cases in which we may need to account for null or empty states. The null object pattern can help us in scenarios where, although we may not have the necessary data to say populate a view, we still want to show some sort of empty (null) state in the meantime. This is only one potential example, but is a good place to start. Consider some sort of MVWhatever framework we’ve implemented in our UI layer. Our View takes in ViewModels and shows them on the screen. Let’s say for instance we’re displaying a user’s profile. In the ideal scenario, we simply fetch the profile from our database, cache, api or wherever and display it on the screen. Simple as that. However, what do we show if api request is taking a very long time? Maybe the user has bad cell signal or our server is at high demand for some reason. Of course we’ll want to show some sort of loading indicator here to let the user know we’re working on loading this info, but one other cool thing we can do is actually populate the view with an “null” or empty user state. Many popular apps (Facebook, Twitter, etc) utilize this type of pattern to give the app the appearance of loading even faster than it technically is. Let’s take a look at brief bit of code to help make better sense of this.

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interface ViewModel {
     val titleText: String
}
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data class UserViewModel(val user: User, override val titleText: String = user.name) : ViewModel
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data class NullViewModel(override val titleText: String = "") : ViewModel

So what we have here is a ViewModel interface that holds the titleText we want to show on the screen as well as a couple of data classes that implement this interface and pass the necessary bits of data for the view to show what it needs to. Take a look at the NullViewModel data class. It might look pointless to pass this object to the view since there’s really nothing to show. However, by passing this model instead of waiting, our view can start to draw and allocate space on the screen. We can then even recycle this view when a real UserViewModel is available to make our rendering time even faster. Again, this is just one of many applications of this design pattern, and although it’s very simple it can be very useful in the right scenario.


Hope you enjoyed this little list of some design patterns less talked about in the Android development community. Again, there are not always applications for all of these, and they should only be used when the provide a tangible benefit to your app. There’s many more design patterns out there, each with their own specific purpose. A couple great books that go more in depth into different patterns can be found here and here. Happy coding!


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Customer and Experiences and ‘Customer Experience’

When I was in 8th grade, I got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel from my small town to Disney World as part of a school trip. It was an extra special experience in my mind because it was also my first time ever leaving home without my parents right by my side. Independence!

My teacher gave our whole group tons of agency on the trip: We were responsible for all of our own meals, and we dictated most of our own daily schedules. We were a special kind of obnoxious tour group, I’m sure. I mention the meal thing specifically because my strongest memory from the whole trip involved a lunch that changed my life.

When you’re first stepping into big responsibilities there can be a learning curve. Sometimes small things get dropped or forgotten. In this case, that small thing was my very expensive retainer which I had forgotten about and dropped directly into the trash can outside Frontierland.

Of course, I was embarrassed. I can only imagine the hard work Disney cast members do on a regular day and the last thing I wanted to do was to add “dig through the garbage to fish out a tween’s mouthguard” to their to-do list. I also knew what would happen if I flew home and told my parents that I’d doomed my teeth back into being crooked. Braces are expensive. This trip was expensive. Having one ruin the other was not the best situation.

I was stuck at the trash can, panicked. Other people passed, dumping their trays before heading off to Splash Mountain. I swear, Disney employees must have a sixth sense that helps them identify kids who are about to cry because this cast member got to me right in time. “What’s wrong?” She asked with the warmest, kindest, most genuine tone you can imagine. I don’t even think I said the entire word “retainer” before she ripped the top off the can and started hunting. She found it within seconds and saved the day. What was even more surprising was that she thanked me for letting her help. What the heck?!

I wasn’t “garbage she had to go through” at her job. To her, I was a person in the middle of the experience of my life, facing an issue that brought all that to a halt. She knew what she could do to positively affect the person at the other end of this interaction and she dove in without hesitation. That is amazing and it showed me how much of an impact someone in service can have on others.

As a company, we’re obsessed with getting more people out to live events they care about. We pour our energy into creating a smart, intuitive website and app that connects people and unlocks their ability to go make memories with the people they care about, seeing the artists and teams they love. It’s a sweet gig. Obviously an app can’t answer every question or resolve every issue that may pop up, which is why we have a dedicated (and sizeable!) customer experience team in the first place.

We have a special CX team at SeatGeek. A group so passionate about helping people create memorable experiences that we built careers around it. We dive in without hesitation and help people resolve anything that’s stopping their outing from being the time of their life.

What’s extra nice is that our work in CX goes beyond emails and phone calls. We have high level conversations about what our customers go through at every step, from browsing for events to the very last song performed during an encore, and we get to base them on the first-hand accounts we hear directly from fans. Then we use all of this information to connect with the other teams at SeatGeek and together we improve.

Empathy is the name of the game and it’s not just a buzzword that we fling around. We’re bold in our consumer advocacy: protecting them with our SeatGeek guarantee, anticipating their needs, and using the focus of who is on the other end to influence our decision making. We are truly in service to others in a way that would make Disney proud.

In a world that’s becoming more and more automated, our team is excited to learn and offer new and better ways for customers to reach us – we are a tech company, after all. However, we take special care to maintain a human touch at the end of those channels. Email, phone, or social media, any way someone tries to reach us there’s another person waiting and ready to help.

We’re dedicated and committed to connecting with the person on the other end. Reach out to us and let’s dive in.

Consistent Design, Fully Modular, Can’t Lose

Last Summer we decided to update the look and feel of our apps. This post shares our process from start to finish. It’s broken up into four sections:

  1. Why we prioritized a redesign
  2. Our goals
  3. Our plan of attack
  4. The (latest) results

1. Why Prioritize a Redesign?

There are many reasons to prioritize a redesign: fix usability issues, re-prioritize the problems you’re solving, align with the latest design trends, improve intra-app and inter-app consistency, as part of a rebrand, etc. While this project was initially triggered by wanting to make sure our designs were consistent with the new iOS 11 styles, we ultimately decided to expand the scope and prioritize a more comprehensive redesign across all our platforms. At a high level we aimed to:

  1. Create a more trustworthy experience
  2. Remove unnecessary distractions
  3. Design and develop new features more efficiently moving forward

Creating a More Trustworthy Experience

People are (rightly in many ways) skeptical of the secondary ticketing industry. Accordingly, it’s important we do whatever we can to make a good first impression. Using consistent messaging and styling across a user’s entire experience (subway ad, app store, onboarding, emails, intra-app, etc) can go a long way in helping users feel more confident about buying tickets on SeatGeek. While we are proud of many aspects of SeatGeek, the consistency within and across our apps was not one of them before we started this project.

Removing Unnecessary Distractions

Simplicity is one of our core product values. While we generally try to avoid unnecessary elements and features throughout the design and development process, our iterative approach can lead to some nonessential features slipping through the cracks. We saw this project as an opportunity to cut back the visual noise and put more emphasis back on the core features of our apps.

More Easily Designing & Developing New Features Moving Forward

Over the past couple years there have been many advances in frontend technologies and design tools to make it easier to create, maintain, and use a modular design system. On the design side, you can create reusable symbols in Sketch and share these symbols across files using Sketch Libraries. This isn’t even taking into account all of the new tools like Figma and Invision Studio that have been built from the ground up with components in mind. On the development side, you can now build a react component once, document it using Storybook, and reuse it throughout your application. If you’re really fancy you can even leverage Airbnb’s React Sketch app to automatically generate these React components in your Sketch files. With a bit of upfront investment, all these new technologies can radically improve the speed and ease at which you build new features, and also ensure you’re being as consistent as possible.

2. Goals of the Redesign

We took the above ideas and distilled them down to the following success criteria:

  • Being more consistent
    • Intra-platform (including latest OS trends)
    • Cross-platform
    • Between marketing and product design touch points
  • Having the designs and interface work in a modular manner
  • Doing the above without hurting conversion rates1 or upsetting core SeatGeek users2

3. Plan of Attack

When starting this initiative, we knew we wanted to take an iterative approach, where each phase could stand its own but also build towards a more ambitious long term goal.3 You may be thinking, “How the hell do you iteratively roll out a redesign?” If you are, you’re not alone. However, when we started thinking more about our goals, we realized that we could accomplish a lot of what we were aiming for (consistency, modularity, and simplicity) without radically changing the look and feel or structure of the app.

Based on the above, we decided to break out this redesign into two phases. The first (main) phase consisted of updating the look and feel of our apps and making sure all elements are part of a cohesive system. This phase did not involve any radical structural changes, so we’ve been referring to it as a “Visual Refresh.” This foundation laid the groundwork for the second (much longer, practically never-ending) phase of using this new modular foundation when working on future projects.

To help us learn even more quickly (and partly due to design capacity) we decided to work on this one platform at a time. We started working on the modular design system on iOS, then took those learnings to other mobile platforms, and are just now beginning to apply this system to our desktop site. Additionally, to go along with the iterative spirit we focused our efforts solely on the core functionality of the apps to help keep the scope manageable.4

4. How’d It Go?

What Went Well

While we’re still far from finished, overall we’re extremely pleased with how this project has gone so far. As of now we’ve launched Phase 1 across iOS, Android, and mobile web, and are currently begin the design stage of Phase 1 on desktop. While in some ways the launch of the visual refresh was a bit anticlimactic, when working on a project like this that’s not necessarily a bad thing; the apps are way more consistent, the new designs work in a very modular fashion, and we did the above without hurting conversion rates or upsetting core SeatGeek users. Additionally, we now have a great new foundation to more quickly build incredibly consistent and delightful features. Given that this project was highly visible, some examples will be more effective at sharing the results.

iOS filter screenshot

iOS team screenshot

Android event info screenshot

Mobile event page screenshots

What Could Have Gone Better

While we’re pleased with how the initial phase of the project went overall, there were certainly things that could have gone better.

For starters, it took us much longer than expected. In particular, we underestimated the amount of time it took to apply the system to the long tail screens and features5. There were also some more custom elements we decided to incorporate into the designs (custom nav bar, custom animation when selecting a ticket) that ended up taking longer than expected to get right. While these ended up being some of the more delightful pieces of the new version, they did drag the project on a bit longer than expected.

Related, while we were able to design most of the core screens in a modular fashion, we ended up deciding not to implement all of it modularly in order to make time for other initiatives. While modular designs alone are a step in the right direction, translating this modularity into code is vital to fully take advantage of the benefits of such a system.

Lastly, while there is certainly much more consistency both intra- and inter-platform, there is still a lot of room for improvement. In particular, we’ve found it more challenging than expected to balance platform paradigms with cross-platform brand consistency.

On the bright side, all these challenges have been great learning opportunities. Given that this is a never-ending type of project, we’re able to put these lessons to work right away!

What’s Next?

We’re currently focusing on applying the same strategy to our desktop site. There are a lot more features and screens on desktop, so it will likely take us a bit longer than any of the platforms we’ve already worked on. In addition to the desktop visual refresh, we’re also beginning to use the new system for all new features. Referrals (which we’re in the midst of beta testing!) is a great example of the new system in action:

Mobile referral screenshots

We’re also improving the design system based off of what we’ve learned actually using it. These improvements include making it more accessible, putting more emphasis on component language consistency, and more clearly communicating the rationale behind certain patterns. We’re really excited about the progress we’ve made, but also realize that we’re really only getting started.

Whether you’re trying to get a redesign prioritized or in the process of planning for a similar project, we hope you have found it helpful to understand how we approached this type of project. We’re always looking for ways to improve, so if you have any design system suggestions (or questions), don’t hesitate to reach out to design@seatgeek.com.

Notes

1We decided not to specifically aim to improve conversions because (as you’ll read later), we decided to approach this in a very iterative manner, so much so that we didn’t really expect to drastically affect conversions one way or the other. However, given that when you make large changes there is always a chance that you introduce bugs or affect the experience more that you expected, we wanted to make sure we didn’t negatively affect any metrics.

2In general people don’t like change, so it’s important to be mindful that any large changes may leave a sour taste in people that are very familiar with your platform even if there are good reasons for those changes.

3Allowing us to test hypotheses early on and learn from our mistakes earlier as famously depicted in this great slide.

4We still made sure the experience looked decent on non-core features, but we didn’t spend time building each from scratch and making sure it worked seamlessly with the new modular system.

5Despite the focus being on core features, we still need to make sure that the new look and feel worked across other areas of the apps.

SeatGeek is a Glassdoor Best Place to Work (Again!)

The past year has been an extraordinarily exciting one for SeatGeek. In 2017, we’ve built the industry’s best seating previews, signed a deal with the world’s biggest social media network, launched our primary ticketing brand, and partnered with our first-ever NFL and NBA teams.

But in the last month of the year, we’re lucky to add one more accolade to the list. It’s an important one to us because it’s about our team. We’re thrilled that for the second straight year, SeatGeek is on Glassdoor’s list of Best Places to Work in 2018.

Something noteworthy about this award is that there was no self-nomination process. The scores are based on SeatGeek employee feedback given voluntarily (and anonymously) on Glassdoor over the past year. It’s humbling to make the list two years in a row – there were only nine other companies in the US that did so.

The fact that SeatGeek is a great place to work is one of the things we’re most proud of as a company. Working here has its perks: SeatGeek’s social calendar is full of parties and retreats, our kitchen pantry is on par with that of a five-star restaurant, and our monthly ticket perk helps employees attend their favorite live events.

But what really makes this a place to do great work – and have fun – is less tangible. SeatGeek is is an amazing place to contribute, grow, and build something special. The team believes in the power of live entertainment to make people happier, and there is a genuine passion for building a product that enables great experiences. The environment here encourages that, and the reviews reflect it.

As a company, we have some lofty goals for 2018 and beyond. We operate in an industry that has long been overdue for a fundamental shift, and SeatGeek is a catalyst for change in ticketing. We’ll stay focused on launching great products, partnering with amazing clients, and building out a distribution network for ticketing across the internet.

But one of our most important goals is to continue to be a fixture on awards lists like Glassdoor’s. As our team continues to grow, we’re fortunate to have found people that continue to embody SeatGeek’s core values. The people at SeatGeek that bring these values to life are our most valuable asset, and are what we hear about most often when employees talk about their favorite parts of working here.

SeatGeek Portraits


If this sounds interesting to you, come work with us at SeatGeek! We have a number of roles open across engineering, marketing, business development, and more.

Distributed Team Meetings and Learnings - Copenhagen Edition

WorldUnited

Cultural diversity is an important ingredient in creativity. At the tip of our process and teamwork, we leverage the different ways we use the internet and user interfaces to help us craft a well-rounded product and user experience. While cultural diversity can often be taken for granted being in New York City (where we call home, and can arguably be considered the “melting pot of the world”) we at times will hire extraordinary talent, no matter which city they call home.

I’m a Senior Director of Engineering at SeatGeek, and my team consists of engineers from 5 countries across 3 continents: North America, Europe and Africa. My situation is not at all unique in the engineering industry. Distributed team management is often a challenge many organizations face as they scale and sometimes hire extraordinary talent outside of their borders.

In my career, I’ve been involved in rapid scale, with remote teams, across many timezones and different working cultures. This type of scale and distributed team organization would not have been successful without travel, regular facetime, lots of communication, good processes and supporting software. So, naturally, one of the first things after I started at SeatGeek and joined my team was book flights to Copenhagen to meet some of them.

Now, I realize there are very good blog posts, books and talks about distributed team management and I certainly don’t have all the answers (I read those blogs and books, too!), but I felt it would be interesting to you to hear about my trip to Copenhagen, and share with you where we learned to be better with our distributed team.

Here’s what went down:

Copenhagen

Saturday & Sunday - Day 1 & 2 - Copenhagen:

It was great being back in Scandinavia (I used to live in Stockholm, Sweden). The weather was cool, the food was delicious (fish, pickled everything, breads, cheeses…) and the beer (Mikkeller ftw) was plentiful.

If you ever get out to Copenhagen, here’s my hit list:

  • Warpigs
    • An American style BBQ joint which is founded by Mikkeller and Three Floyds brewing. Expect nothing but amazing beer flights and hearty meats.
  • Mikkeller everything
    • Mikkeller is a tour de force of beer in Copenhagen. Their locations around Copenhagen are all worth checking off your list.
  • Nørrebro neighborhoods.
    • The northern neighborhoods of Copenhagen are tree lined, quaint and picturesque. Easy to get lost and found again.

Monday - Day 3 - Meets and Greets:

Workspace

Workspace

Workspace

Workspace

One of the immediate thoughts I had walking into workspaces is that it felt just as I remembered what any good Scandinavian workspace should be. Lots of plants, the low northern sunlight creeping through some shades, the smell of coffee, subtle music playing in the background… the atmosphere was very familiar. The floor the workspace is on is packed with other Danish tech startups. Some companies were game makers, others were building PaaS software, and there was everything in between. This workspace definitely had the better corner views, though. Great vibes all round, I loved being surrounded by other technologists and watching the Danish startup culture in full flight.

Day Agenda:

  • SeatGeek news, updates & open conversation
  • Distributed Team Effectiveness (Open Conversation)
  • 1:1’s!
  • Dinner and beer.

SeatGeek news, updates & open conversation:

We sat around the workspaces in an open conversation and discussed things that have been going on in the SeatGeek offices of New York. As a distributed team you can sometimes miss out on the regular news updates that you can get at the HQ. I learned that we can be better at sharing milestones and regular news, which at first may not seem mission critical, but really are vital to building the SeatGeek culture across the pond.

Distributed Team Effectiveness:

This was a great discussion around how we can be better working in a distributed team model. Hot topics like being social, communication and process and tools were discussed at length.

Being Social:

While we don’t follow “Capital A” agile strictly speaking, we do conduct the typical scrum ceremonies. I learned that we can be better in our standups. Given that standups are the one time of the day that the whole team is together, we should give our best effort to make it as effective and useful as possible. One idea was that since we are a little loose in our agile ceremonies, given the distributed nature of the team we thought that being a little more social in those meetings would help grow relationships and allow us time to bond. Having a few offtopic points about our weekends, or hobbies are a great way to learn about each other. This has been a great tweak to our process and I know there is some great back chatter amongst the team. We do our best to stay the course during the stand up, and enjoy some light chatter afterwards.

We also decided to have an “always open” Google hangout for people to join and chat like a party line. This has proven to be a great idea and a lot of fun!

Communication:

We felt that the communication channels we use should be consistent. Sometimes an issue will be discussed in a private chat and not in the team chat, or sometimes an issue is discussed in a ticket and not updated in any chat channels. We agreed to be better at communication and work to moving the conversation into a single channel, and to use our tools to help communication be more visible to the wider team.

Process and tools:

We recognized that there needs to be a little more planning in place to avoid being blocked by the 6 hour time gap between Copenhagen, Africa and NY being online. Let’s use our tools to understand the bottlenecks and try to resolve them and any blockers before EOD.

We have been using Geekbot as our stand-up / stand-down bot in Slack. It’s working really well for us.

Dinner and beer:

Beer

Beer

One of our engineers, having just returned from a vacation to Croatia, decided to take all of us to a Croatian restaurant in the center of Copenhagen - Restaurant Dubrovnik (don’t worry, I got my fair share of Danish cuisine in). We ate some delicious Croatian fare and started to get into the nitty-gritty of our work.

It was getting a little warm in that restaurant, so we decided to move to a craft beer bar called Taphouse. Taphouse is a pretty cool bar, owned by a Danish engineer with a love for beer and tech (perfect!). It had digital displays for what beers are currently on tap and the lights of the bar would flash when a new keg got hooked up – us geeks loved that. Great selection of beer!

Our discussions went long into the night, and without realizing it an hour had passed with empty glasses due to rich conversation. We decided to call it a night and pick things up in the morning.

Tuesday - Day 4 - Wrap up:

We were off to an early start and continued our conversations around being distributed, our engineering duties and plans for the future. A quick taxi ride to the airport and I was back on my way to NYC… a whirlwind trip but the facetime is invaluable and sets grounds for a great long lasting relationship.

In summary:

Overall, traveling, whether you’re going there or coming here is going to be the catalyst for a great engineering culture with distributed teams. Some of my best friendships were forged through working in a distributed team. I have been on the other side of the fence (living in Stockholm and working for a NYC-based company) and I understand that it takes extra effort to be effective and optimized. If you encourage a great communication culture, and use good processes, and travel, you’re already heading in the right direction.

Some reading / viewing:

Karl Stanton is a Senior Director of Engineering at SeatGeek with a core focus on technical leadership, career development and distributed team management.

Employee Spotlight: Lily Dai, Finance

Welcome to SeatGeek Employee Spotlights – an opportunity to meet the fantastic folks on our world-class team.

By day, we’re a group of talented developers, designers, marketers, and businessfolk working together to build something new and different. But we are also fans and live event junkies of every kind: diehard sports fans, passionate concert-goers, sophisticated theater enthusiasts, and more. From our lives outside the office and within, we all have interesting stories to tell.

Up next: Lily Dai from our finance team!

Lily Dai

Where were you born?
Los Angeles

Have you always lived in NYC?
No, I just moved from LA six months ago.

Where did you go to school?
I went to the University of Southern California and studied Business and Film with a double major in Accounting

Any funny roommate or apartment stories in NYC? Feels like everyone has at least one…
We were friends on Facebook, but we never talked until I reached out to see if she needed a roommate. Can’t think of any funny stories, but we once had 12 pints of Halo Top in the freezer. I called it the “Juice Cleanse”.

How would your friends describe you in 3 words?
Goofy, perceptive, adventurous

Best project you’ve worked on at SeatGeek
We’re currently redoing our forecast for the next 18 months. We’re talking to the product, marketing, and recruiting teams and learning what their needs are. I’m diving a lot deeper into our business. (I know all the secrets.)

What is your dream project to work on at SeatGeek?
My dream project would be to do a deep dive into our snack inventory and find out what’s the most popular. Personally, some of the protein bars taste like chalk, so figuring out which can go and what new ones we can get.

3 “fun facts” about yourself that people would be surprised to know
* You can pour 5 cans of any beverage into a frisbee disk, and I can drink it very quickly. * I fixed cars with my dad for about 10 years. If I’m ever stranded, I can fix the car. * I’ve taught my kitten to fetch.

Favorite place(s) to hang out in NYC
Prospect Park. I’ve been there about 30 times, and I still get lost almost every time. I also love that NYC has a bunch of queer spaces to hang out.

Best vacation you’ve ever taken
My post-college trip with my friends to East Asia. We went to six countries. We had island lifestyle and ancient temples. It was a great way to close out college plus everything was a dollar. We had an oceanfront hotel room for 50 bucks.

Favorite SeatGeek snack
Peanut butter pretzels

Why do you love SeatGeek?
Besides our business model, I love our culture. We had a pride themed happy hour. I almost teared up at how supportive everyone was of our LGBTQ co-workers. It was the perfect example of how supportive and open-minded everyone is here.

Favorite part of the office?
I love the pods in the lounge. They’re super comfy, and you could take a nap if you wanted to while watching the people at Blink work out.