From July 2018 onward Seats2meet get a new partner apart from its founders Ronald van den Hoff and Marielle Sijgers. We are talking about Wouter van Nigtevegt, who has been the lead programmer in Seats2meet in the last years and is now Chief Technology Officer. Wouter has been a part of Seats2meet since 1996, making him part of almost all tech projects Seats2meet has ever made. We spoke to him to know a bit more about it.
Hi Wouter, congratulations on becoming S2M CTO! How did you start at S2M?
In 1996 I was studying communication management at what is today the Digital Academy in Utrecht, and a part of my studies was programming. In the Netherlands students are obliged to make an internship, and when my turn came I browsed through the companies looking searching for an intern and that’s where I found Meeting Plaza.
At the time another intern from the same school I was in did some research to create a website for Meeting Plaza. He left and I took over the project to execute it. After that I had some extra time from college, so Ronald and Marielle invited me to keep working at Meeting Plaza, and so I did.
You started coding in 1996. Those were very different times technology wise. With which language did you start coding?
My studies weren’t really focused on learning how to code, but it was a small part of it. At the time I learned a very obscure language called Pascal. They also gave us very simple exercises for example creating a square, a circle or even forms.
When I got in college I didn’t really had a focused. I ended up learning more about web development only when I started my internship with Seats2meet.
And you started your internship when you were only 20. What made you continue in the same company for more than half of your life?
Well, in Seats2meet there are a lot of possibilities and opportunities. It was never boring. I kept learning through all the years due all the projects which I participated and was responsible for. Besides the responsibility that also gave me a lot of freedom to execute the way I thought was fit for each product we developed. And I never found any other place where they would offer me that combination, or even the need to look elsewhere.
In 22 years Seats2meet has developed several products. Which ones for you were the most challenging?
That is a hard question because back in the 90s we really created a lot of products. We started out with the reservation system for meeting plaza, and soon after that we began creating features that we thought would be useful for other companies. So for example, for the city of Utrecht we created a platform where people could book everything; meeting rooms, hotel rooms, restaurant reservations and tickets.
Also for KLM we created the first version of the software where flight attendants could book their on-board meals. We really did a lot and each project has its own characteristics and difficulties that needed resolving, so it is hard to pick a single one.
And from all those products which one did you enjoy creating the most?
I really enjoy doing the reservation system, because since we started it is always growing, improving and becoming something new. And when we started we were one the first ones to create an online reservation system. We offered it to restaurants, who were still accepting reservations by fax, and the managers wouldn’t even turn their computer on often, so we were also a bit ahead of the time.
Do you think that you enjoyed that project because it was something completely new? Something you had to start from scratch?
Yes, I don’t know if were the first ones to create an online reservation system, but at the time we couldn’t find anywhere else. So it was fun to create something out of nothing.
You also play a big role in Seats2meet by observing which technologies are on the rise and how we can use it. How do you keep up to date?
By doing new things everyday we are “forced” to figure out new ways of doing things. So by working and improving things daily we question what is the best way to do it and discover new technologies we can implement. That’s where most of my inspiration comes from.
I also read a lot and watch tons of youtube videos. There is a lot of online material with workshops, demonstrations and presentations given worldwide referring to several kinds of coding languages.
Beyond the CTO title you are now also a shareholder, which means you are also betting at S2M as a company. So as the new partner, what is your vision of Seats2meet’s role in the user’s lives?
A lot of my vision is based on Ronald’s trend watching. Based on them we see where Seats2meet should go, what are the next features we want to create and the role we want it to play. Right now I see Seats2meet as a great facilitator for connections and empowering people on getting new assignments and growing professionally.
Most connections happen in the locations, where people can meet each other during lunch or while taking a coffee break. And the online tools are great to work as an icebreaker and knowing who around you can help you out, or maybe need your help. It all together can be really great for creating good connections.
And the latest thing you worked on is the Seats2meet Passport, which people can use to access and navigate the S2M ecosystem. In the future we see more being done with it, as integrations with blockchain. What are the plans for that?
Well, for every service or network we are connected to we have a profile. That makes it so every person has several different profiles in different services. It would be great if we could all maintain a profile in a singular place. Have a single identity. And we see Blockchain as a great solution to maintain your profile, and then share it with all services and networks. You could also choose exactly which items of your profile you would like to share with each of the platforms you connect to. For example, you can let Facebook use your picture and your name and let a delivery service only use your name and payment information. You can be specific about it.
But this is a long term goal. The question is this technology doesn’t exists now, and we have to either wait until someone creates it, or if in the future nobody does, if we should do it ourselves. In the end it is a new technology and there are a lot of people exploring what do with it. But we are keeping our eyes open to it.
Besides blockchain are there more integrations we see happening within the S2M passport?
I don’t know about other technologies, but we do want to connect the passport to more services. Seats2meet is a small part of the user’s daily life. It is an important one, but there is much more that people need, an it would be great if they would also be integrated within the passport. So users could access and manage other services as transportation, food delivery or even insurance from the passport.
Those integrations are a longterm plan, what are the short term goals?
We just launched the S2M passport so now we are trying to make it as customized for each user as possible. We realize there are different kinds of customers, the ones who goes to meeting spaces, the ones who work in the workspaces and now the ones who check-in remotely in the Ecosystem map to connect virtually. Our goal is to identify them and make it so that in the passport fulfils each user’s need as much as possible. So a big part of our efforts is in the passport.
We also want to make the check-in process easier for everyone. So for people attending events, people in meeting spaces or workspaces or even people who aren’t in any of the locations.
From there we will work on new features as groups. For example, if you have an user that would like to focus on a project other users can join him/her and form a group around a subject or a project.
Another feature comes from our AI Driven A&Q, where we see a lot of people are looking for users for a specific job as design or web development. We want to make different category for those questions as jobs board. And at the same time people who are available for new assignments can specify that in their profiles, so we can match them to the jobs that have the same tags as they have. Basically, our goal is to make it as easy as possible for people to find each other and collaborate.
Those features concern more users, what are you working for location hosts?
We are also constantly thinking of ways to make the backend part of the system easier. Right now we are working on a new UI (user interface) and on a smoother flow for new hosts to set up their locations quickly and fast.