#IamaGDE series presents: Google Maps
Welcome to our extended #IamaGDE series! Over the next few months, we will be presenting spotlights of Google Developer Experts from across various product areas. Discover their stories, passions and highlights of their community work.
The Google Developer Experts program is a global network of highly experienced technology experts, influencers, and thought leaders who actively support developers, companies, and tech communities by speaking at events and publishing content.
Today, meet Kristina Simakova — Maps and Android GDE.
Maps GDE Kristina Simakova works as an independent consultant and spends 60% of her time as an Android manager for a consulting firm in Norway. In that role, she helps Android consultants on their projects.
“It has been a new experience,” Kristina says. “I’m suddenly responsible for 14 people and have switched from coding to being a manager. It has been very helpful in our current COVID situation, because if you’re a developer sitting at home coding, that could be a bit lonely and monotonous, but when you have to be more interactive with people, even online, it’s different.”
Kristina used to travel regularly and was an organizer of a conference in Norway, when suddenly, everything came to a halt. She stayed active in the developer community, participating in online events, like DevFest and a Women Techmakers event in April.
“We tried to do mentoring sessions, so people could book a half hour and ask questions about career development or projects,” she explains. “I want to continue doing that.”
Becoming a developer
Growing up in Russia, Kristina didn’t have a computer until she started university at 17.
“It’s quite common in the U.S. and Norway that kids get computers early, but I grew up in Russia, and my family couldn’t afford a computer,” she says. “In school, we didn’t have much access to computers.”
Kristina started university in an IT program, computer aided design systems, which was a combination of programming and engineering. She got her first computer and learned to code.
“I really like computer graphics, and we had a lot of that,” she says.
Kristina moved to Norway to study for her Master’s degree, but she wasn’t sure which program to choose, and the program descriptions were in Norwegian, which she hadn’t mastered yet. She originally applied to study engineering design but switched to computer science at the last minute, with a focus on computer graphics, and got another two years of C++, and OpenGL studies under her belt.
Kristina’s Master’s thesis came out of her summer job at Equinor (formerly Statoil), the biggest oil company in Norway, in 2011. Tablets had just come out, and Android was brand-new. The company offered to provide Kristina with a tablet if she could figure out how to use AR with Android when company engineers went to evaluate potential oil fields. They told her they liked Google Earth, which wasn’t yet available on mobile, and envisioned a type of Google Earth experience for their app.
“I was trying to build Google Earth for mobile with OpenGL and Java,” Kristina says. “I found the data for NASA and could build it, kind of.”
Kristina’s prototype app allowed users to see points of data in 3D and use a mobile device’s camera and AR in the field to see what data is nearby. Kristina used a small area in Norway for the prototype, so her app wasn’t scalable, but she says it was an interesting experience.
“I learned a lot about maps projections and did experiments about how accurate the GPS was,” she says. “My professor said, ‘Why don’t we create an experiment to measure the accuracy of GPS locations we get from a mobile device?’”
“That was my first Android project and first intro to Google Maps,” she says. “It was intense.”
Kristina’s Master’s thesis aimed to explore the possibilities of using multitouch tablets in field work for the oil and gas industry. Statoil Research Center in Bergen denoted the features they hoped to see in a prototype application: the usage of sensors to control a camera; multitouch tabs; the ability to place 2D data in a 3D world; and the ability to edit pictures.
“These requirements describe a software solution that contains a VR and AR parts,” Kristina says.
After earning her Master’s Kristina stayed interested in Google Maps and AR.
“I went to work for a great company and did ship and crane simulators for training for oil and gas companies, she says. “We had big rooms with monitors — you feel like you’re onboard a ship or something — you have all the buttons, but it’s just a simulator. I worked there doing OpenGL and C++.”
After a year, Kristina moved to Oslo, to work at a startup that focused on the construction industry and 3D Android development. After that, she became a consultant.
Getting involved in the developer community
“When I moved to Oslo, I’d heard about Google Developer Groups, and I met with the people that organized our GDG and told them I could help, and they were really happy to pull me in quickly,” she says. “I started helping out in 2015 and stepped down as a GDG organizer last March.”
Kristina also became a GDE for Android in 2018 and a Maps GDE as soon as the opportunity was available in 2019.
Favorite Maps features and current projects
Being a Maps GDE gave Kristina access to Google Maps Platform gaming services, which is her favorite Maps product. She’s followed gaming services since its 2018 introduction and thinks it provides numerous solutions for game and app developers.
Kristina wrote a blog post about how to use maps styling, another favorite feature.
“It’s so easy, and with Google Cloud, you can add a simple ID to your app without doing anything extra,” she says. “You can use brand colors and even remove features your app doesn’t need, so the map isn’t cluttered with other information.”
Kristina says 2020 was a good year for Maps and is also happy about the new Android SDK.
“I feel like this year had a lot of updates and exciting opportunities for maps developers,” she says.
Kristina is currently working on two consulting projects for museums that are targeted to elementary school-aged children. One is a geocaching scavenger hunt app that will use Google Maps.
“I’m looking for styling options,” Kristina says. “I really want to make it a special experience that’s kid-friendly.”
Kristina plans to document the development process of the scavenger hunt for children.
“I’m also very keen on doing some educational content on the gaming platform,” she says. “I want to explore more about teaching and being an educator. I like to work with students.”
Follow Kristina on Twitter @KristiSimakova
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