Talk to a Tykling: Geofrey Ernest, Go Engineer

Meet the team – getting to know Geofrey Ernest, Go Engineer

Users around the globe are familiar with the benefits of Tyk in great detail, but many of them will never speak to the vast majority of the talented Tyk team members. As such, our Talk to a Tylking interview series is drawing our hard-working staff out from the shadows and getting to know the people behind the product.

For our most recent interview, we sat down with Go Engineer Geofrey Ernest to discover just what goes on behind the scenes when it comes to tinkering with Tyk. Geofrey kindly shared his insights into everything from the value of open source technology to why podcasts are too time consuming! Read on to find out more…

What do you do at Tyk?

My title is Go Engineer but I work on the whole platform. There are a lot of projects going on and I’m involved in quite a few of them. Specifically, I focus on our main product: the open source gateway. My day to day role is to progress work on that, reaching milestones and planning things that need to be worked on on the gateway – very much behind the scenes! Our customers see the product but I’m working away on it in the background.

What’s your background experience – what led you to Tyk?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce and Finance degree, so I was more into finance and business than technology at that time. Then I discovered programming and absolutely loved it, so I decided to pursue that as my career. One thing led to another and I came across the open source concept, where you can access the technology that other people are developing and using. You can collaborate with them and know what is happening… The whole idea was new and interesting to me and really hooked me in.

And that’s what led me to Tyk. The gateway is open source, so the role involved me being hired to work on something that I already enjoyed working on for free in my spare time! It’s been a wonderful opportunity for me to progress my career and interests.

Where did you go grow up and study?

I grew up in Tanzania and went to the University of Dodoma in the capital, Dodoma City. I’ve since moved to another city within Tanzania, which is where I’m based now.

Do you work remotely from home or do your work from somewhere else (lockdown aside)?

I’ve tried working outside of my home but been let down by unreliable connectivity. If I do work somewhere else, I usually opt for a hotel rather than a café – they’re quieter and you can find your own spot to settle down.

I find coffee shops to be too noisy and hectic to work in. They also aren’t great if you get a call while you’re there and don’t have headphones with you. So normally I like working from home. It’s a simple setup with a reliable internet – perfect! If I do need a break from working at home, then a hotel is my preferred option.

Of course, with the quarantine, I’m working from home full time, whether I like it or not!

What do you like about working at Tyk?

The flexibility. We are a very flexible company. I have a good boss too, which helps!

We have a policy of unlimited vacation, which is excellent. If there’s something that I need to do then I can just let people know that I’ll be unavailable for a couple of hours or perhaps the whole day. It’s never an issue – you can take your time and then go back to work after your time off. It gives you a real sense of security. I know that once I’m back to work I can just pick up where I left off and it’s not a problem.

These processes are all well established at Tyk, so everything is set up and working beautifully. There’s no stress about making up policies to keep up with growth – everything is in place to enable you to be productive in your own place of work, no matter which time zone you’re in.

Personally, my working day overlaps with that of the team in London but not the US team – they’re usually just having breakfast as I finish for the day! Even so, it’s good to be part of such an amazing team. It’s not just the engineers who are great, but the whole organisation. I can reach out to anyone in any capacity and they are always there supporting each other.

Has Tyk changed much in the time that you’ve been there?

I’ve worked at Tyk for a year now. It’s changed a lot in that time. When I joined, we were a very small team, so we had to fulfil a lot of different roles. Now there are so many people, as we’ve been hiring and hiring, you don’t have to do everything, you can focus more on one area, which I love. There’s less stress in terms of meeting deadlines because there are people working with you to achieve them.

I really notice the difference when we have company calls. There used to be about 10 people on the screen, now it’s more like 40 or 50. It’s nice, although I used to know everyone in the business and now I’m losing track! But it’s certainly made me feel more relaxed about my work. Someone’s always got your back and there’s always support if you need help with an issue. Previously if I didn’t know something, there weren’t so many people to ask!

Tyk exists to help people make, create and build things better. Is there a particular pain point in the tech sector that you would love to be able to fix?

Tyk is already fixing the issue that used to be a pain point in the tech sector! It’s necessary as a fix. The whole concept of the gateway is that it stays between you and the rest of the world, whether they’re your customers or anyone else. Tyk is the gatekeeper, giving you the keys that you need to secure everything and ensure that your services aren’t exposed.

In an example from my own country, we have a system with identity numbers assigned, where they’ve gathered all of our personal details, and I have no idea if that information is secure! Data is king these days, it’s everything. So keeping it secure is incredibly important as we transition to this increasingly online life.

At Tyk, we’re trying to keep our customers safe. I’m playing a very tiny role in the grand scheme of things but I’m loving at least trying to help. We’re enabling our customers to make the right decisions when it comes to exposing their services to their customers and to the rest of the world. They need to know that their information is secure. Us doing what we do best means that they can do what they do best and focus on providing their services.

What advice would you give to a new remote worker to ensure that they got the best out of their remote working arrangement? 

Communication is everything. Reach out and video call, talk or text with your colleagues as much as you can. And don’t assume anything. People won’t really know how you’re feeling or what your mood is, so there’s potential for you to take offence at something somebody says, simply because you don’t know the context behind it and they don’t know how you’re feeling.

When you interact more and you’re open, you can give people a heads up on how you’re feeling on that particular day. You’ll also be more comfortable letting them know if you’re offended by something! Remote working becomes so much harder when you don’t communicate.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you’ll be chatting all day long. But if you communicate with people and express how you are feeling then your work will become easier. And you need them to communicate with you too – it’s a two-way street. When you work in an office, you only have to glance at your colleagues to know how they’re doing on any given day. Texting an emoji doesn’t achieve quite the same result!

So I would advise anyone who is transitioning to fulltime remote working is to talk a lot – any chance you get! It doesn’t have to be a lengthy conversation, just a quick hello. Communication is at the heart of everything when it comes to remote working. It means people can understand you better and you can understand them better – you can’t expect that to happen automatically.

Can you share details of a mistake that you made early on in your career and what you learned from it?

My mistake was that I was trying to impress the people around me instead of focusing on what I really wanted to do. I was trying to prove myself instead of working to what I know best, which is what I should have been focusing on to begin with.

Just after I graduated with my finance degree, when I was job hunting, I knew deep down that I wasn’t out for the finance sector. I was self-educating and learning a lot. I tried to see if I could get a job as a programmer or a software engineer without a computer science degree.

It wasn’t a good experience. I was able to impress with what I could do workwise, but when potential employers looked at my education, they queried me having done a business degree. Some told me to apply for business roles instead of tech jobs.

I’m not blaming them, but it taught me that if you really know what you want to do, be determined to do it. Some people will project their fears onto you and become obstacles to you progressing.

I felt I was losing my way until I eventually met with the right people. There are very few opportunities here to do the things that I wanted to do. Everyone was more interested in website design and creating websites. That didn’t interest me. I was into system programming. I like to make things – systems that work and that are efficient. And I love new technologies.

One company told me that I couldn’t be hired without a computer science degree, but then hired me anyway to do website design – something that I didn’t even like! It didn’t end well. At some point, I realised that it wasn’t important to convince people who didn’t matter to believe in me, just to do what I’m good at and what I enjoy. Then those who matter will see and understand! Now, the people I was meeting with who said my skills weren’t needed or my background wasn’t right are realising that these are the skills they need.

I learned that if people don’t want to understand, it’s a waste of time explaining to them. It’s easier just to show them and let them catch on eventually.

What’s important to you? What are the values that drive you?

Being understanding is very important to me and something that I try to do myself. No matter who I’m interacting with, or the circumstances of the interaction, I will always stay positive and try to listen and understand them. All of life is interaction, whether we’re interacting with people, things, occasions, places… So I listen and try to understand. And if I don’t understand something, I let people know and see if they can help me to understand it. I do the same myself, in the workplace and life in general.

It can produce very positive results. Just listening to people has helped me to avoid a lot of trouble. So understanding is my biggest value. And if I encounter people who lack understanding, I try to convince them that it’s a good quality to have! It’s something I really try hard to do.

What are your three favourite books and/or podcasts?

I don’t listen to podcasts at all – they just take too long to get to the point! You have to listen for an hour to really understand the context and you only get to the really interesting point halfway through. They’re really not my thing; I like to access information fast.

In terms of fiction, I loved A Bridge Too Far by Cornelius Ryan. I read it a long time ago but I really enjoyed it. It’s a classic.

When it comes to programming books, it has to be Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson, Gerald Jay Sussman and Julie Sussman. It’s very fundamental – it ticks all the boxes for introducing someone to technology.

For me, finding the time to sit down and read a book is a very rare occasion. Although I do read science fiction from time to time. There’s an author called Charles Stross, whose books I like. But between juggling my work, daily life and other demands on my time, I usually only read a page then move onto the next thing.

If reading in your spare time isn’t your cup of tea, what is?

I like to spend time with my friends and their families. Well, before the coronavirus quarantine, obviously! We’ll find somewhere to go together, chill and have a barbecue or just drive around and enjoy each other’s company. Just simple stuff!