Why hackathons matter, according to a winning team
Christian Lynn·Feb 24, 2023

Why hackathons matter, according to a winning team

Christian Lynn
Feb 24, 2023 · 5 min read
Why hackathons matter from a winning team | TomTom Newsroom

TomTom Lab, TomTom’s innovation program, recently ended its eighth version of What the Hack, the hackathon that brings all TomTom’ers together to watch or participate. Nostalgia for the event is already kicking in and we’re excited for the next edition. TomTom’ers consistently mention it as a highlight of the year. There’s something special about it – the way it brings people together, combines unique skillsets and produces fascinating results...

This year’s winning team knows this better than anyone. Its members? Adam Sidor, Abdeljalil Karam, Gaurav Shah, Artur Banach, Subodh Vijaykumar Dani, Kris Kobylinski, Michał Węgrzyn and Marek Strejczek.

Sure, TomTom’ers are revolutionizing mapmaking every day. But TomTom Lab enables TomTom’ers to stretch their innovative mindsets beyond their usual work. In a recent interview, Abdeljalil, Product Manager, shared these sentiments, saying, “TomTom offers an entire week dedicated to explorations, free from any time constraints. The wildest ideas are welcomed and not judged.”  

TomTom’ers think of an idea that improves existing TomTom products or invent an entirely new one. Take the winning team, for example, who started with how to transition sensor-derived observational data into ADAS in seconds. 

From the idea, a team is assembled to bring it to life, ready for a three-day sprint called the “Sofathon,” where TomTom’ers develop and reiterate their idea until the grand finale.  

This is What the Hack. Here, TomTom’ers present their ideas to a jury of TomTom’s leaders and experts. Then, at the end of the night, teams receive dedicated awards and the chance for their idea to be taken forward by TomTom. 

Having the space to challenge the status quo

Everything we do, like the ideas developed during the hackathon, comes back to the overall goal of engineering the first real-time map. To achieve this, TomTom’ers must flex their creative muscle as much as possible. Gaurav, Software Engineer, explains, “We need innovative ideas and platforms like TomTom Lab to encourage people to think outside the box.”  

Engineers may not get much time to work on their random innovative ideas on a normal day. And in many cases, it might seem impossible to get management on board when they’re worried about what’s already happening with the business. TomTom Lab creates a space where all that can happen.  

Ready to go on the biggest internal event in the TomTom calendar – What the Hack

The opportunity is straightforward. No matter how crazy an idea is, it just needs to follow the line of TomTom’s long-term vision and mission. That’s why all proposals must fit into an idea theme, each helping push TomTom closer to creating the smartest, most useful real-time map on the planet.  

As long as the team aligns with one of these themes, “Your mind can run free,” Adam, Senior Quality Training Methods Coordinator, says. TomTom owes the success of TomTom Lab to this freedom.  

But that freedom remains in check. Any innovation that comes out of the hackathon is never brought to the table just for the sake of it. There’s the intent behind it and energy too. As Subodh, Software Engineer, says, “You’ve got to come up with disruptive ideas.”  

Bringing TomTom'ers together

The beauty of TomTom Lab is how it brings all types of expertise together to solve common goals. Artur, Content Quality Manager, recognizes, “All roles are important. Not only engineers. Some people bring knowledge related to specification/rules, some to coding and more.” To solve a problem as big and unique as mapping the world in real-time, TomTom needs every pair of hands it can get.  

“Fresh perspectives are often more insightful than we assume – the strength of What the Hack lies in the ability to create multi-disciplinary teams. During the hackathon, we contacted many colleagues across teams, locations and expertise. And undoubtedly, their feedback and advice played an extremely crucial role in our team's success,” Subodh highlights. Artur reminds us that some “people even bring knowledge related to specification/rules or presenting skills to pitch and ultimately sell the idea to the jury.”  

What assembles these unique skills like a comic book team-up? Purpose. The feeling that what’s being done isn’t just a fun exercise but can make an impact.  

Adam – “Your mind can run free and new ideas can come up anytime. I think we have the proper people and technology to achieve great things at TomTom.” 

Abdeljalil – “We built a dream team from every department we needed, which helps delivery and follow-up development. Our idea was also clearly connected to the company strategy.”  

Kris, Director of Product Management – “I identify with many of our products, but every TomTom Lab made me feel even more connected to TomTom.” 

Hackathons will continue to be popular and influential because everyone feels like they’re achieving something. Pushing boundaries is just a normal part of a TomTom’er’s day. TomTom Lab and What the Hack take it to another level.  

There's always next time

Purpose. Collaboration. Challenging norms. These are reasons why the latest winning team found value and success in What the Hack and TomTom Lab overall. But there’s plenty more to come. More chances for TomTom’ers to think of and build out an idea that disrupts the way the industry approaches mapmaking, even to the tiniest detail.  

If you’re considering a career in software engineering or you feel like you cannot currently innovate the way you’d like, Kris shares some advice: “While work may sometimes make coding feel like a chore, hacking with a bunch of passionate people during[an event like TomTom Lab will make you fall in love with coding again!”  

Whether you’re ready to take the lead in a team of equally ambitious colleagues or want to contribute your expertise to something bigger, events like What the Hack can help. All while connecting with people you can motivate and vice versa. “Who knows, you might even come up with the winning idea,” Subodh says.  

Don’t bottle up your ideas – bring your energy and use it to power the future of mapmaking.

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