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How TomTom’s co-founder is empowering future devs

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At TNW Conference last month, tech leaders came together to discuss the future. Corinne Vigreux, co-founder of navigation tech giant TomTom, explained how her latest venture will equip the next generation with digital skills. Vigreux founded CODAM College, a tuition-free school where anyone can learn to code. On stage, she shared her thoughts on how peer-to-peer learning is the next big thing.

After watching her TNW2019 talk, I was curious to find out more about Vigreux’s success in the tech world, how CODAM can make a difference, and how TomTom is helping pave the way for autonomous driving:

As co-founder of TomTom, you led the company through several transitions. What do you think is the key to tech companies staying relevant in a world that changes so rapidly?

I believe in technology as a way to solve big problems and issues. The key to staying relevant is to never lose sight of your long-term vision and purpose, or the bigger picture. Making sure that your workforce has the right skill set is also essential, so constant training and talent development needs to remain central to the overall strategy.

The tech industry seems to be dominated by a few big monopolies. How do you keep your competitive edge in innovation against Silicon Valley giants?

To keep the edge, you need to be relentless and focus on the problem you are solving, be true to your purpose as an organization, and understand your customers’ needs and macro trends. For example, we decided to invest in High Definition mapping, which is key to making autonomous driving a reality, and which will ultimately make the roads safer.

You can also differentiate yourself from the competition with an alternative business model. Unlike some others in the mapping space, we don’t rely on monetizing people’s data. Instead, data privacy is central to everything we do.

Corinne Vigreux on stage at TNW2019 in Amsterdam

How does mapping further the development of autonomous driving?

Maps are critical for automated driving because they increase the safety and comfort of the ride. Safety, because maps can ‘see’ through dense traffic, through obstructions (such as the truck driving next to you), through adverse weather, and around corners. Comfort, because maps can see far ahead (sensors can see only up to 200 meters in every direction) and can help you get in the right lane well before you are at the exit. 

We’re only at the start of uncovering the potential of mapping for autonomous driving. We’re continually expanding the attributes of the map to enable the car to deal with more situations. How can the car come to a safe stop if the sensors don’t work? How can it manoeuvre across an intersection with no visible guidance? 

We’re proud that we’re already powering half a million Level 1 and Level 2-enabled automated vehicles on the road today. But there’s still lots to be done, and as one of only three global automotive-grade maps players, it’s certainly an exciting space to be in.

You founded CODAM, a nonprofit coding college in Amsterdam that covers students’ tuition fees. Why is access to free coding education so important and who can benefit most from it?

Digital literacy is key to economic growth. Coding skills are needed everywhere, not only in the tech industry. We’re living in a digital world which means we need to be comfortable with industry disruption, and prepare to unlearn, and then completely relearn.

I’m an advocate of equal opportunity, and I can see the divide between rich and poor soon turning into the divide between the digitally skilled and the non-digitally skilled. There’s a societal importance to teach digital skills to everyone, especially as automation will disrupt every job in the next decade.

That’s why I founded CODAM. It focuses on a peer-to-peer learning model. It’s a school with no teachers, no college fee, no books, no schedule, and no diplomas. It’s where you learn to learn and will therefore be prepared for tomorrow’s world. Our students will write the future!

 

The percentage of female students at CODAM is higher than in most coding courses. What steps would you recommend to educators who want to attract more women and create an inclusive learning environment? Which strategies work best for CODAM?

Women make up approximately thirty per cent of CODAM College students today, which is indeed higher than any other coding school. But it’s still not high enough. My goal is to increase that number to 50 percent.

In order to attract more women in tech, we need to change perception. For instance, you don’t need to be skilled at math to code. You need to be creative. A problem solver. We need to show how much impact you can have when you are digitally literate and how empowering it is.

As one of Europe’s most successful female entrepreneurs, what advice would you give to women who aspire to a career in tech? What was the best advice you ever got yourself?

If you want to make an impact, the tech industry is certainly the right place to be. When you innovate, you build the future. There’s something rewarding about being able to make a difference, and if there’s one thing I learned in my career, it’s that everyone can make a difference. The tech environment is fast-paced — you need to make bold decisions and often rely on intuition when the data is not available. You also need a good level of confidence and passion in the issues you are trying to solve.

It’s important to work with people you respect and who have complementary skills to your own. It’s a rollercoaster and can be hard work at times, but working with trusted colleagues makes all the difference.

As for me, the best advice I ever got is from my mother. She taught me the importance of being financially independent and that nothing is impossible… where there’s a will, there’s a way. After 30 years in the tech industry, that has kept me going!

Published June 14, 2019 — 11:12 UTC