2007 to 2012 - TomTom

I worked at TomTom between 2007 and 2012.

While doing research on the Internet topology at the University of Amsterdam, I explored opportunities for a PhD and concluded that it wasn’t something I wanted to do. Those few years in the academy felt enough and I was ready to look for something else. After a few job interviews I accepted TomTom’s offer. At that time, growth was really fast and TomTom was hiring about 30 people on a monthly basis!

Over the course of 4+ years I covered different roles, mostly in embedded development. The pre-2010 devices worked with a home-grown framework written in C++. In fact, it was the legacy of the very first code written by the TomTom founders back in the 90’s.The core functionality was a loop that would give resources to all necessary components in a round-robin fashion. There were about 25 items in this loop - things like the UI thread, the GPS signal, data connectivity via GPRS, map data and so forth.

I personally worked on the user interface, dealing with user clicks, fetching stuff and coloring the screen. A big part of it was collaborating with the UX department, which was sometime joyful and sometimes frustrating 😅 One of my biggest achievements was the modernization of the status bar at the bottom of the navigation screen.

Around 2009 we started working on a big project: the UI was moved out of the C++ framework, and rendered instead via a web-like combination of HTML / JavaScript / CSS. Because of my experience, I sat in the middle, working on the interface that would connect the two parts. The result was a UI that looked fresh, came with some ‘free’ features (for instance, animations became a lot easier) and was easier to innovate on.

As it turned out, this implementation was short-lived. After releasing a few devices, some new management decided to switch the entire thing to a custom version of Android. In the meantime, TomTom had secured a few big automotive contracts to build “infotainment” systems that would come with the car. The last project I worked on was the Bluetooth connectivity to enable hands-free calling, music through the car stereo and things like that. Being one of the first Android iterations, the whole thing was powered by Java - version 6 I believe.

Tech aspects aside, TomTom is one of my best professional experiences to date. It was that magical phase where youth and novelty made every atom in my body love the company and my colleagues. I have wonderful memories of TomTom. It was my first experience in a young, vibrant company in a new country. Some of my closest friends in Amsterdam come from that period. I even ran the charity Dam Tot Damloop 2008 with the company!

That particular experience was actually insane. In my young optimism, I hadn’t trained for a single minute before the run – I just showed up.
This is what I wrote to my friends afterwards.

I could run something more than 10 km, after which I’ve been mostly walking with a left leg unwilling to cooperate any further. A good thing is I had a running mate: an English guy who also hadn’t trained at all. Those are excerpts of our conversations at different stages:

  • 0 km, countdown to start: “good luck!!! how do you say in italian?” - “in bocca al lupo” - “ok, een bowcah aw loopow!”
  • 1 km (out of the ij tunnel): “we see the light at the end of the tunnel!!!”
  • 3 km, total excitement: “hey this is going good man, we can make it!”
  • 5 km: “wow all these people cheering are motivating. maybe we can make it”
  • 7 km: “how are you man?” - “i’m in pain. how about you?”
  • 8.5 km, pain rises and questions about physical details too: “do you feel your stomach contracting?” - “yeah. do you feel your heart bumping in your brain?”
  • 9.5 km, desperate comments: “it was pretty crazy of us to enroll” - “right – this is the most stupid thing I’ve done this year”

I crossed the line walking like a mutilated penguin and went home with my left knee screaming Italian blasphemies. I could barely walk and I only had a frozen Alaskan codfish to help ease the pain. My sister tried to cheer me up repeating that it was for a good cause.

I feel so lucky to have been part of the TomTom family for those years. Some friends still work there after 12 years and I know exactly why.