It is going to be impossible to summarize a journey spanning over 12 years, 4 houses, one home ownership, a marriage, two dogs, many travels, experiences, years lived and time in just one single post. Forgive me if I leave anything out as there is simply too much to capture here. At this moment, I have an outline written but many stories swirling around in my head and I need to make this short enough that most people will consider reading. That means this post will only be about TomTom and my decade long career there and why I’m departing.
I always start these posts by reading what I wrote on this blog in the past. Re-reading what I wrote a month before joining TomTom was therapeutic and fun. I also spent time in my Inbox reading emails from June 9th 2010 (the first interview request) until the 1st week of August when I received an offer to join. My title was Senior Project Manager for Content Production, Community Management and I was to join TomTom as an entrepreneur in residence even though that title did not exist officially. I still managed to get the EIR title on a small batch of business cards to pass out at SxSW and other events. I joined a team of people known as community management and every single one of them including the two managers who hired me is no longer with the company. However, there are a few in the organization who are still here. First, my current manager who first came to our US office from South Africa and ended up at my house for my big 4th of July fireworks and BBQ the 2nd year I was at the company (2011) and my boss’ boss who joined the same year I did but was just elevated to a VP position at our company just yesterday. It’s as if the people who not only stuck it out but also invested their lives have been rewarded and gone on to do really amazing things and I have been there with them as a supporter to our company’s vision but not 2010’s vision but today’s and always evolving my mindset, priorities and changing with the times putting the company and our people first.
I’m getting off-topic a bit. Let’s look back at my career at TomTom with as much detail as I am allowed to share:
- March of 2010 – I join BrightKite in charge of marketing & operations
- June of 2010 – I start talking to TomTom’s recruiters eventually accepting an offer in August
- September 3rd – I move to New Hampshire, bought a car and rented a house all in one day
- September 7th, 2010 – I join TomTom and begin my new career with a more modern title of project manager
- January of 2011 – The manager who hired me and assembled our team left the company and the team was broken up with the hopes of our entrepreneurial individual qualities spreading throughout the organization
- 2011 – Worked on a web based map editing platform with a partner
- 2012 – Ran our content moderation dashboard, Trusted Partners, Trusted Users and forward facing editorials for community map making projects
- 2013 – Worked in some way and form on Apple Maps
- 2014 – Spent 6 months in California working in some way and form on Apple Maps among my other projects
- 2015 – Created half a dozen or so tools and processes in an R&D lab that I believed could help the company’s bottom line in map making and many did help
- 2016 – Received 2 direct reports and worked on our leads program for traffic and pre actuality and began to join various leadership teams that impacted employees throughout our region and then the globe
- 2017 – Fought to improve employee inclusion, equity and provide more to our employees through a few initiatives, joined site leadership team and our local employee council
- 2017.5 – Fought for and had approved our to bring on an intern into a program based on what I thought an early – careers internship program should look like and how it should function. Jake and I built a tool that benchmarked the quality of POI supplier data and I rolled out community mapping tools that helped us gain business inteligence through content moderation and external review
- 2017.10 – Little did I know that Jake’s work kick started a move that would bring much of our engineering initiatives back to USA versus outsourcing that had grown in popularity over the years. People saw how great it was to have a coder sitting right next to you. This was a massive shift in our philosophy
- 2018 – Took on event planning, global speaking and representation of our USA based initiatives, created a mobile field collection tool to drive more community mapping, promoted the importance of gamification in map data verification and I wrote the memo that launched our global internship initiative
- 2019 – Continued work globally with multiple trips to Europe, to Berlin to represent TomTom at world developer conference and created the frameworks for early careers mentorships and hiring and grew that headcount
- 2019.5 – We created our first breakthrough product using machine learning and data science using exclusively intern hours and this product, while much different now, is still in use today
- 2020 – The pandemic hit, we all went home but we stayed the course building more tools, R&D initiatives, learning portal for employees, I joined the global steering committee on how we design and implement work from home standards and I worked to design a space for early careers talent at our office when we reopened at some point that year (hah)
- 2021 – We shipped our 18th proof of concept supporting automated mapping using intern talent with me as program/product lead and welcomed our 60th USA based intern to the team and then we launched our first and second country outside of USA which was a great experience for me and I grew a lot and created two very strong partnerships with local universities further growing our talent resources
- 2022 – We had almost 90 interns by then through our doors and on track to have 60 more in 2023, I worked on our 2nd annual university hackathon with our partner universities that are feeding our early careers talent program so external marketing and involving young people into computer science and engineering. I joined and worked on our global 1000 person hackathon planning and operations committee, I worked on internal groups on employee branding, recruiting, mentorship initiatives and designing a program I believed we could launch globally
- 2022.5 – We shipped our 25th proof of concept in the R&D lab and I began the next step in the plan of integrating our early careers talent into the software development lifecycle and our product teams building our production tools and services. It was risky but it paid off. We were both finding new talent, nurturing interns and growing our future leaders by allowing them the chance to mentor and gain management skills who are currently individual contributors.
- 2018-2022 – I published many one pager memos company wide on the topic of equity, remote work, transparency, the importance of training and remarks on how we execute at the lowest levels of the organization. These memos were my way to share opinions but also to solicit feedback and build a community around my ideas and to be challenged on them constructively. Throughout my time at TomTom, I found a way to foster collaboration through ideas-sharing. It worked in many ways. The projects I’m most proud of were kickstarted by simply raising my hand and sharing an idea that was floating around. I’ll miss this level of independent creation and founder’s voice.
Throughout the last 12 years, I can think of 7 reorganizations where TomTom shifted in a way that shuffled around employees and led to some losing their jobs. I’m not going to get into the micro-level of what was fair or just when it came to those changes. That’s not my place but in 2022, TomTom in part thanks to many of our efforts to make mapping more efficient and streamlined meant 500 more people were leaving the company. This was announced early in the Summer and sat as a dark cloud over many of us until Q4 began. Despite my contributions, I didn’t feel safe or secure at the company any more. I didn’t know if my initiatives would have value anymore. I didn’t know if I was safe from being fired. Maybe not this re-org but maybe the next one? I had lost trust that I could enjoy everything I had built and feel safe in the future of the company.
It is a large part of what led me to begin looking for a new position. Another reason is looking for a new challenge that could invigorate me in a different way. I worried if I was a one-trick-pony, had I stagnated or plateaued where I could go at TomTom? I’ll never know because I’m leaving.
What is most important and what I leave feeling the most proud of is that recounting everything I was able to do for TomTom was, at the time, a critical impact to a lot of people. Driving change, strategy, efficiencies and contributing to the organization. My job title over the last 12 years never fully lined up with what I was doing every day but I was free to think of what our company needed to achieve this year and quarter and I was given the freedom to deliver. I didn’t need to convince anyone I deserved to be here and the culture and embracing of entrepreneurial spirit and whoever wanted to drive change along with a compelling reason to do so was given the ability to do that. I was sat down a few times and told what I should be spending my time on but if I did that and then did something else in addition to that, I wasn’t chastised. I was celebrated for stepping up and creating something new.
I believe entrepreneurial culture is growing in TomTom and it really, nearly, drives me to tears to think about how I was able to survive the most turbulent decade of this company losing only a couple of friends when right now, TomTom is at the edge of realizing its greatest potential ever. No this isn’t a puff piece. TomTom IS on the cusp of something truly amazing. I’d be stupid to leave now. Huge things are happening and we have a leadership structure, product teams, vision and we’re lean and hungry and everyone has worked hard to set us up for an amazing 3rd act. I joined at the end of the 1st act and while the 2nd act was profitable and TomTom flourished despite having to re-organize around new strategies every couple of years, we are setup for a really special next 10 years. Anyone joining this company today is joining a magical place. Making maps is magic but making maps with AI and also shipping services and products that billions of people use every day is freaking wizardry. The best days for this company are ahead and I’ll have to watch from the sidelines.
There are things I wish I could have done at TomTom and there are regrets of bad decisions and some battle scars. I should have fought harder for some things and let go of others. What I realized in this 12 years of a global project/program manager at a mapping company or really any tech company is you have to give a shit. That’s not hyperbole or lip-service. You give a shit about the products, the customers, the people. You are important but you’re not as important as the customers and products keeping you there. I look at the letter I wrote to my team today as this example:
Dear _____ Managers and members of our organization,
After 12 years at TomTom, I will be leaving you on the ______ to pursue a new opportunity. It’s my belief that this opportunity will challenge me in new and different ways and that I am able to take all of the learned experiences you have given me within TomTom. I appreciate all of your support as we have matured into the ______ Team we are today and I miss that I won’t be able to be a part of our future with ____ and ____ leading the charge into a brave new world and ____ at the cutting edge. I’m really going to miss you all and what we are working toward.
2022 has been a year of immense change for all of us. We have lost coworkers organically and through a change in business strategies. I believe all change is for the better even if it takes a week or a month or even a year to realize what the better was in that change but realize it we will. Whatever happens with Team ____ built by ____ and I over the last 5 years and our partnership with ____ and the growth of Team ____ beyond USA and into other countries, it will be what is meant to be. My ego is hopeful that what we all built together continues but the evolution of it will be for the better. Maybe it takes a hiatus or maybe it grows and maybe you find a talented person to carry this program beyond my wildest dreams. I am anxious to see what happens next but I am honored that each of us, in __, __, __-__ and now__ have been able to touch the lives of almost 100 young people. Their careers at TomTom or elsewhere are forever changed because of the time we gave them. We should all be proud of what Team __ has achieved. I could not be prouder of what we’ve done.
If you are inclined, please connect with me on LinkedIN. Life has a way of bringing us back together in the strangest ways. I will remain a person who writes, takes photos and makes videos. Let’s keep in touch. I’ll always make time for a phone call or email with any of you.
You all have my permission to share this with individuals or teams who need to be made aware of my departure. I trust you.
My communications within the organization both direct and widely syndicated have always been from a place of honesty and integrity and 100% complete trust in my peers to give as much of a shit as I did about everything we’re doing. We have great leaders, clear strategy and we give a shit. Again, not lip-service. I lead by example and I put everyone before me on every initiative. I believe clear and honest trust in yourself and your people is paramount. It creates empowered teams.
I think the skills, some of them I was born with and others I have cultivated over trial and error are transferable to whatever I do next and I hope egotistically that much of my work wasn’t for nothing but that’s my ego talking. Strategies change and I chose to leave so there’s nothing I should do to keep that hope or dream in my mind on my last day and beyond.
TomTom has been my daily reality for 12 years and tomorrow, it won’t be. That is a very scary thought.
The last thing I wanted to mention is that I regret not keeping a notebook of some of the amazing pieces of advice my mentors have given over the years. I could fill a book. Just today, meeting with my boss, there were so many great pieces of advice he had for me. I won’t post any of it here but what he said meant a lot to me. Despite what his words meant, it doesn’t make me less prepared for what’s next. It’s scary to start over. I hope everything I learned at TomTom has prepared me for that next evolution.
I’m going to miss solving problems with my friends and I know you’re all going to achieve greatness beyond your wildest dreams.
Maybe there’s more I’ll say about this experience in a few years but this is all I’m prepared to write for now. To my readers, thank you for sticking by me. The ride is not over yet.