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TomTom NEXT: How a global student hackathon is inspiring future mapmakers

Being a student comes with a lot of responsibilities: a library of books or articles to read, long hours studying for exams and one too many takeouts, probably. It also brings hands-on opportunities that can feed into future careers: internships, work placements and, not to be missed, the student hackathon TomTom NEXT.


What is TomTom NEXT? The company’s hackathon designed to unite students from universities across the globe in solving real-world problems, supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4 to “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.” Like TomTom’s internal hackathon, What the Hack, TomTom NEXT gives students the opportunity to work on challenges that are currently relevant to geolocation and mapping. Students think of a solution, put together a team and spend the duration of the five-day hackathon bringing it to life.

The student hackathon is structured to help every participant make an impact, separating teams into two levels. The hacker level best suits those just starting in tech, while the master level best fits the more experienced coders. This way, teams at each level accept a challenge that is approachable yet pushes their capabilities.

In the latest edition of TomTom NEXT, challenge one asked students to use TomTom’s SDKs and APIs to make improvements to navigation. The second put safety first, setting students with the task of creating a routing mode that reduces stop-and-go situations. And finally, challenge three focused on fleet and logistics, tackling tough spots in the delivery process to create a smoother experience for drivers.

We talked to two teams – Team CodeBlooded, featuring Sakshi Khaire, Tanaya Khaire and Mrunal Jambenal, and Team Impulse, featuring Arushi Dubey, Srushti Chiddarwar and Aditi Bornare – to find out how they got on, what inspired them and how it felt to put their skills to work on TomTom’s challenges.

Searching for inspiration

Do you ever find yourself looking for that spark of inspiration that drives you? It could be a passion for the activity you’re doing – engineering, writing or caring for cute dogs in a local center. Or it could be the purpose behind your work – understanding why you’re engineering and feeling inspired by that. TomTom NEXT seeks to bring both of these things together.

Sakshi, Tanaya and Mrunal from team CodeBlooded described the challenges as “captivating… Developing a working solution that will actively solve a real-life problem and help people was our plan.” By connecting students to the world around them, TomTom NEXT gives meaning to the students’ work. And this is ultimately what TomTom strives for: helping students and engineers find their impact.

The team also shared that TomTom NEXT had inspired them, “to further develop software engineering-based projects in mapmaking and navigation-based systems.” Because tapping into mapping, they saw its potential. When you really dive into what maps can do and how they assist drivers, car manufacturers, app developers and more, you quickly see how the technology can be used to change things for the better.

In fact, Arushi, Srushti and Aditi, from Team Impulse, summarized this well: “By the end of the hackathon, our interest in this domain peaked. We never had any exposure to mapmaking, and therefore had no idea that navigation tech goes far beyond traditional route-finding.”

I have a particularly improved set of skills…

As TomTom NEXT is exclusively for students, there needs to be an element of development – what do students get out of it?

First, there’s the chance to think of an idea and make it happen. No ifs, buts or maybes – the NEXT teams brainstormed a solution and made it happen. Sakshi, Tanaya and Mrunal from Team Impulse tell us, “The challenges got our brain juices flowing as there were new, fresh problems we had never encountered or even thought of before.”

Then came the planning, which tested Team Impulse’s abilities. To create something bold and innovative, there needs to be a design stage, tests and final delivery. So, organizational skills were a necessity, giving Team Impulse the opportunity to improve, as they emphasized, “Especially collaborative development, performing under pressure and deadlines, time management, and presenting and communication.”

Finally, each team was assigned a TomTom mentor. This gives the participants that little bit of extra experience and knowledge to take their ideas further. Sakshi, Tanaya and Mrunal highlighted this, saying, “We were actively connected with and guided by our mentor, who provided us with insights that helped us understand the problem statement and deliver our final proposal.” So, even if a TomTom NEXT team feels a little lost or unable to move past a hurdle, the mentors are there to show them guide them forwards through vision, understanding and next steps.

With all of this, any participant can build on what they’re already able to do while receiving the missing information they lacked beforehand. They get their hands stuck into real-life work while learning on the go, having done the preparation for an entire project’s ups and downs.

TomTom – a mapmaker encouraging future mapmakers

The learning and purpose gained from events like TomTom NEXT are invaluable when it comes to finally taking those first steps into an engineering role. Arushi, Srushti and Aditi shared these sentiments, adding, “After realizing mapmaking is a broad domain that solves relevant problems, a career in mapmaking seems very lucrative not just in terms of our growth, but also in terms of contributing to society.”

As TomTom pursues its goal to engineer the first real-time map, it’s not only today’s ambitious TomTom’ers that will make an impact. All up-and-coming engineers have a chance to contribute.

Take the next step in your career. Engineer the first real-time map at TomTom today.

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