A pastor’s kid, Tom Byker ’05 had lived in six states by the time he arrived at Calvin. “I loved the travel,” he said, “and tracking where I’d been.”
Not surprisingly, the travel enthusiast made his way to the geography department. He also began teaching himself GIS—geographic information science—to make digital maps of the places he’d visited.
“I decided to start from scratch and visit every county,” Byker said. “Learning the mapping software was an excuse to see the whole country.”
Each May, on the way to his summer job on a fishing boat in the Bering Sea, he drove a different route. When he came to the boundary of a new county, he snapped a picture of the county-identifying sign. By graduation he’d visited 60 percent of the nation’s 3,142 counties and plotted them on his map with 17 categories of data, like “places of interest,” for each.
That map became part of the resumé Byker submitted to TomTom, then a primary manufacturer of personal navigation devices (PNDs). “They thought it was a little quirky, but it definitely helped me get the job.”
In his first year at the company, Byker drove a vehicle with mounted cameras recording data—like intersection configurations, business locations, traffic flow—that TomTom needed for its navigational maps. When smartphone technology made PNDs far less relevant, TomTom shifted its business. Byker now works from his home computer in Cincinnati collecting geographic data, refining it, and transferring it to existing maps to accurately reflect changes in the landscape.
For example, for the new I-69 freeway being built from Indianapolis to Texas, he gathered detailed construction plans from Indiana’s Department of Transportation and overlaid them onto TomTom’s existing map of the state so the new map accurately reflects reality when the highway opens.
Full-time work and marriage slowed Byker’s work on his all-county map. But in January 2017, he flew to Kalawao County on the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i, then to Kalaupapa, remote site of a former leper colony.
“That was the most meaningful visit for me,” he said, “not just because it was the last county in a 15-year project, but because of its story. Father Damien, a Catholic priest, gave his life to the lepers forced to live there. His selfless example was inspiring.