Behind the Unicorn Magic: Get to know the VGV Team

Meet Tom Arra, VGV’s Director of Product Development

December 5, 2023
December 5, 2023
updated on
April 18, 2024
Guest Contributor

Toms's Background

T: I initially started as an engineer, working with a startup in the mobile web browsing space. This journey led me to Nokia when the startup was acquired. Over time, I transitioned to product management, finding a passion for the business side of technology. My career spans over 14 years with significant time working for Nokia and Microsoft in their mobile phones division. Additionally, I spent six years at BMW, where I ran the Tech office in Chicago, working in mobile but also in the automotive space.

It was at BMW that I was introduced to Flutter, a technology that I knew I wanted to stick with. I found it very interesting as a technology and it seemed to solve a very real problem I have spent a lot of time in my career trying to manage, especially when it came to supporting lots of platforms.

Role at VGV

Can you describe what you currently do and how you found out about VGV?

T: I am currently the Director of Product Development at VGV, managing our internal investments and products, which include our Open-Source tools and projects for both our internal teams and the broader community. At BMW, we faced a challenge with feature work going primarily with the iOS app, creating a lag in the Android app updates leading to customer dissatisfaction and bad reviews. We explored various technologies and eventually settled on Flutter due to its rapid improvements around mid-2019. The result was the successful launch of the My BMW app in 2020, showcasing Flutter's prowess. During this period, we engaged with Google and the Flutter community, which led us to discover the work being done by VGV. 

In early 2020, some teammates from BMW joined VGV, and that further sparked our interest. I was impressed by VGV’s work and that’s why I ended up joining the team given the exciting technology ecosystem and the prominent growth trajectory. 

What are the common challenges you face in your role, and how do you approach solving them?

T: Balancing the needs of our clients with our internal goals is a key challenge. We have our internal initiatives and client projects, and finding the right equilibrium is crucial. However, when we have strong partnerships, there's an opportunity for knowledge sharing, mutual growth, and a symbiotic relationship. This balance is evident in our investments in open source and tools, which ultimately accelerates our overall progress, while building up our tooling and expertise around certain processes. We aim to have that symbiotic relationship so we along with our partners can grow together. 

What are some of the projects you've worked on at VGV that you're particularly proud of?

T: When I joined VGV, the Program Management team wasn’t yet established as an idea or a department. My initial challenge was to build this team from scratch, developing processes and gaining buy-in, particularly from existing clients. Transitioning a growing company from zero to a fully functioning department was significant. It involved standing up new processes and ensuring our clients embraced these changes. While it's relatively easier to implement changes with new clients, securing buy-in from existing clients requires strategic efforts. Over the years, I've played a crucial role in joining and supporting the growth of the team and also engaging in various Google projects. One standout project for me was I/O Pinball, where my engineering background proved valuable during crunch time. Despite the challenges, the project had a successful outcome, and it's always gratifying to witness the positive reactions and further solidify our relationship with Google.

Are there any emerging technology or business trends that you get excited about?

T: I know it might sound cliché, but my interest in AI and LLM AI models is not driven by the fear of them taking away our jobs. I'm fascinated by the potential to redefine how we approach our tools. Over the past decade, software engineering has evolved into more of a craft or even an art form, with a shift away from mundane tasks. The goal is to eliminate repetitive tasks so that we can concentrate on tackling complex problems and building solutions that truly resonate with our clients or end users. I've been particularly impressed with the ability of these tools to streamline problem-solving. For instance, asking an AI to examine code and provide guidance on a challenging issue can save valuable time. What might have taken an engineer seven hours can now be addressed in just five minutes, allowing them to move on to more impactful work. It's about supercharging our existing efforts rather than negating the value of the work we already do.

Looking Forward

What aspirations do you have for the impact of your work at VGV in the future?

T: A lot of my background has been at larger companies like Nokia and Microsoft, where I worked on projects with a global scale and products catering to millions of users. I've experienced the challenges and rewards of large-scale releases and broad-reaching impacts. As VGV continues to grow, I see the potential for us to achieve a similar expansive reach, whether it's through our own projects and products or in collaboration with our clients—many of whom are already well-established global brands.

In the earlier part of my career, I may have taken the global scale for granted while working for these large corporations. However, having had the opportunity to work with smaller clients, I've come to appreciate the unique dynamics of their niches. Guiding clients, whether big or small, from one point to another is something I find enjoyable. Witnessing the growth of our clients and hoping that our tools and products will follow a similar trajectory, transitioning from a smaller scale to making a significant impact or achieving global growth, is where I focus . It's a fun story to tell, especially when you've been successful in the journey.

Who is Tom beyond VGV?

  • Born and raised in Chicago suburbs
  • Graduated from DeVry University and Keller Graduate School with a degree in Computer Information Systems and an MBA
  • Hobbies: Given his daily work behind a computer, Tom tries to have pretty active hobbies across a range of climates: Triathlons during the summer, having completed more than 15 races, including a 70.3 Ironman. In the winter, he participates in Curling, a sport he has been playing since 2017. Additionally, he enjoys Scuba Diving any time of the year, especially since it typically means travel to a warm climate. With over 100 hours of underwater time, he tends to always be planning the next road trip with his wife.
Connect with Tom on Linkedin >


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