TomTom Mapmakers: Meet Olivia Vahsen, Developer Advocate
Our MapMakers Series
TomTom started with a simple idea: Make digital navigation accessible for everyone. Our people are what make this vision possible. We are excited to celebrate and showcase the amazing individuals who make the location technology that help people every day. In our TomTom Mapmakers series, we publish an interview once a month with some of our product experts, designers, and developers to learn more about their journeys, roles, and hear their insights on the future of location tech.
This month we spoke with Olivia Vahsen, Developer Advocate. Keep reading to learn more about her career journey from mobile game design, to UX and development, to developer advocacy, and hear her thoughts on the future of data privacy and diversity in tech.
Can you tell me a little about your career path?
Over the span of a few years before and during my undergraduate education, I worked for a mobile game design studio, starting with light UX projects and development with Unity,and gradually growing my industry experience. I learned more about data visualization, game psychology, and how user experience affected KPIs – including the development process behind each version. When I started my BA in Computer Science, I still originally focused on UX flow design and learning team management skills, but found many traditional software engineering roles to be very introverted, where I enjoyed public speaking and presenting new ideas + strategies to larger groups.
Coming from a technical-leaning UX and game design background, I took on an internship at an HR startup which was aesthetically focused in their application development. I realized during my work there that there was a seldom-filled niche for improving communication and feedback loops between product design, technical teams, and marketing messaging. I used this opportunity to take on more responsibilities such as assisting with pitch decks and events, and without realizing it, was actually doing Developer Advocacy – which led me here!
Can you elaborate more on your role at TomTom?
I often take technical topics related to our products and break them down into topics which are approachable to multiple kinds of engineers, in many different mediums. Because I work on a marketing team, I’m able to be a part of the messaging development around technical product launches which are communicated out to our community. For me, this means creating blog content which helps piece together how our products and data shape the world of map-oriented application development, supporting YouTube tutorials, and speaking at events (virtual and IRL!).
What is your favorite part of your role?
I love when a passion topic of mine, such as ethical data usage and privacy, can become center focus for a talk, and I’m able to delve into the science behind location data at the same time – maybe it’s the “scientist” in me, but I’ve always found talks given by others in this area to be especially riveting, so I’m always excited to take part myself.
I love that. Speaking of passion topics, what are your thoughts on the future of privacy and ethical data usage?
I don’t know that the idea is to put the current data ecosystem back in the box, so to speak – as such, my wish would be to focus more on matters of informed consent where data usage is concerned.
Those with technical backgrounds have a greater awareness of where their data may be going as they lead their online lives, but it shouldn’t have to be that way. Informed understanding should be able to reach all potential application users, because everyone (developer and non-developer alike) has equal right to ownership and control over their own data.
To me, this means greater effort to reduce gatekeeping to data privacy conversations through simplification, and to create continual, accepted messaging, prompting anyone to question what information they might unknowingly be sharing, and how much control they wish to exercise over their details.
Developers hold a unique influence on the future of implementing ethical data usage practices, where they can empower users through creating application experiences which support informed consent to data collection and opportunities to eliminate unnecessary data usage.
What is a challenging aspect of your role?
TomTom has a wide product set which reaches across multiple different industries and use cases – which is great for content creation, but can be challenging to explain concisely to the wider technical community. I’ve tried to take on this challenge in my article series on learning the differences between our data license products and our APIs.
Are there any interesting trends around location tech and/or current or future opportunities for developers that you find interesting?
It’s my hope that evolutions in the domain of map data, such as advances in ML, will help us more quickly and accurately remap areas of disaster and disputed borders. This empowers local communities, and where road networks are concerned, can provide important insight for organizations looking to send assistance into areas over longer stretches of time.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I’m a fiction & poetry author and musician – I record vocal covers, play bass and baritone ukulele. When I’m not doing all of that, I’m also tending to my roommate, aka a very large bird of paradise plant named Phillip.
What are your thoughts on diversity in tech?
Better diversity is in the details, not just the numbers. There has to be support for the specific challenges that women, nonbinary folk, people of color, and the LGBTQ community face while pursuing tech careers – to acknowledge that recruitment involves the whole person, who carries their own personal journey as well as their career history.
This focus should also support more of underrepresented groups’ progression into management and leadership, as opposed to just recruitment of college graduates, so that we see more and more balance within key influencers in the tech space down the road.
What do you think would be the most fun country to map?
Vatican City (as it’s so small). I’ve always wanted to visit.
To see Olivia in action, read some of her articles or watch some of her YouTube videos below:
- Keeping maps fresh: The life of a TomTom mapping car driver
- We Can’t Talk About Privacy Without Developers
- Mapping Star Wars Filming Locations for May the 4th (be with you)!
To read more from our Mapmaker series, check out these articles:
- Meet Hanno Spijker, Product Manager, EV Routing
- Meet Marcin Graczyk, Engineering Manager
- Meet Jonathan Americo, Product Marketing Manager
- Meet Leen D'hondt, Product Manager, TomTom Maps
- Meet Jose Jose Rojas, Developer Advocate
- Meet Maarten Clements, Search API Product Manager
- Dominika Spolnik, Product Manager, Map Display & Traffic APIs
- Meet Kasia Kaczmarek, Product Manager, Maps SDK
Remember, you can always reach out to us in our Developer Forum for any questions you may have.