Talk to a Tykling: Jack Boad, Product Leader

Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Jack Boad, Product Leader

Tyk’s remote-first policy means that there are Tyklings based in every time zone, working together as a team to deliver a successful range of innovative API solutions to clients across the globe. In this series of interviews, we catch up with some of these hard-working Tyklings to find out what makes them tick.

This week, we talked to Product Leader Jack Boad. Jack delights in the diversity of his role and the variety provided by working with colleagues from all over the world. And he loves having the freedom to “go feral” when working from home. Though he also wouldn’t mind working from a beach one day…

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m the product owner for Tyk Cloud, which is our full SaaS offering. My day-to-day job is ensuring new features, product improvements and product fixes are delivered. I also look inwards to understand what the team is doing, so I can make sure things get delivered to the right standard.

While I’m doing that, I’m also looking out to the horizon to understand what customers and competitors are doing in the market and where people are making money – things that we’ll need to do to become competitive, remain competitive or stay as leader in the market. Then I bring that in, scope it, and understand what’s needed to build it, feed it into the team and watch over it as it gets delivered.

The product delivery lifecycle involves working with development, engineering, design, legal, finance, the web guys, the test engineers, the commercial crew, everybody. So it’s a bit like a ‘glue’ position that makes sure everyone’s on the right track and all working towards the same delivery. And then at the same time having absolutely no power whatsoever and calling in thousands of favours, asking really nicely and remembering to say please!

Are you involved with the Tyk community?

Yes. I should be more involved really. Talking to customers and sitting on customer feedback calls is really important. There’s definitely space for me to be more involved on things like LinkedIn, but there is only one of me! It’s something that we’re always working towards making better. But Tyk has a great team of people who look after the community. So it’s not that we’re missing it, it’s just that I get it from the community guys instead of directly. They do a great job at getting that information back to us.

Where are you based?

I am based just south of Winchester, basically in the country – in the forest.

Will that be your permanent location or, as restrictions ease, would you like to go overseas to work, or work from a beach or a coffee shop…?

I’d never thought about it before I joined Tyk because before that I worked at IBM, which was only 15 minutes up the road from here. Then there was a pandemic and we were forced to work from home. I really hated being remote for the first few months. But then I thought, this is great, I can be as feral as I want and get my job done! I completely transitioned and I now think it’s fantastic. With the restrictions lifting I have been to the office and enjoyed that too. I like the ability to be able to jump in the car and go and work somewhere new for a week. It’s really fresh.

I think working remotely is a massive pull for people to come and work here, being able to work from a beach or rock up to a coffee shop. I know a couple of guys who put the family in the car, go somewhere for a week or so and they do half a week’s work and half a holiday for the week. The flexibility and freedom is brilliant. I definitely like the idea of sitting on a beach somewhere hot with a nice cocktail!

Why did you not like working remotely at first?

The fact I didn’t have the right set up was probably the main annoyance. I was plonked on the sofa and uncomfortable. In my job everyone who’s working on my product is on my floor within walking distance and we were very social and so I had my routines. I didn’t know how to do that remotely. It was all very alien.

But then I settled into it – everyone did – and we got new routines. And I got so relaxed with the routines I wondered why I would ever wake up and get ready, get in the car to be in the office for a certain time when I can literally walk across the corridor two minutes beforehand. It changed my mind-set entirely. I ended up doing more work that was better quality. And I was prepared to chuck in the extra hour if I was trying to push something over because I was feeling fresher. Plus, I didn’t have to bother looking good, it was great!

I’ve gone through a weird transition. My partner and I have changed – we’re now mostly plant-based, with the exception of the occasional weekend bacon sandwich! We’re very conscious of everything. I think the pandemic started that – any excuse not to leave a footprint. We don’t preach it, but we’ve enjoyed doing something different and it’s been a fun thing to do. I don’t like the thought of putting that kind of footprint out there, particularly driving excessive miles and burning a lot of fuel – it’s expensive and it’s extra time in your day sitting in traffic. It’s not for me. That stresses me out so much more than it used to.

Can you give me a one-minute history of where you grew up, your education and your career path to date?

I grew up in Essex and went to school and college there. At college I did graphic design and fine art and then went to Portsmouth University where I did computer games design. Then I got a couple of jobs working in the games industry doing design work but it was really cutthroat. I decided I needed a job that had a graduate scheme and some security.

I applied to a lot of places and IBM was the first one to say yes, so I took it. They had a very young design studio at the time so it was perfect. I worked with pushing out designs and the way that we thought about design in products led to a natural progression into product leadership.

Influencing products from a design perspective is great but influencing them from every aspect was really interesting to me. Eventually I got to a stage where I needed a different challenge on a different scale. So I looked outside of IBM and ended up at Tyk. Sophie, who’s our head of product, used to be at IBM with me. She posted a job ad on LinkedIn and I thought it sounded good. So, a few interviews later, suddenly I was leaving a massive corporation for a tiny start-up, which was quite a culture shock!

How was the Tyk interview process?

I’ve been on both ends of it, as I’ve interviewed people to join Tyk now too. My experience of being an interviewee was interesting because I had been at IBM for nearly 10 years, so I hadn’t had an interview for a long time.

The first Tyk interview was very casual – the interviewer gave me the downlow of what the company and role were like. Then there was a deeper dive in the next interview but it was still casual and not intimidating. It wasn’t like the interviews you hear about at somewhere like Google, with brain teasers or trick questions. It was open and honest. Then they gave me a problem to solve and I had to come back and present it. I got through that stage and the final one was the culture interview, which I had with James, the COO. That one is very much to see if you come across as a nice person and will be a good fit for Tyk.

From the other side, as an interviewer, you want to know, does this person have what it takes to do their job in the world of Tyk, a fully remote start-up that’s quite full on. I think the over-arching thing is, do we think this person’s great and want to give them a chance? Or, if they’re not quite there, will they grow into it?

When I was interviewing, we hired a really junior designer who’s turned out to be brilliant because she was the right person – hungry and really wanting the opportunity. That’s what’s important at the end of the day.

Is there something within the product leadership and design sector that you would love to be able to fix?

So many things! It’s a very testing role sometimes because whether it’s called product leader or manager, you aren’t really managing anyone. So sometimes when deadlines are looming and things are getting more intense, it becomes difficult to apply pressure to people to get something done when they’re already under pressure. That’s the one part of the role that I find quite difficult – finding the right gentle way to push people to get stuff done without enforcing too much. I wish that was something I was better at.

The thing I’d like to eradicate from my job forever is doing pricing stuff. Funnily enough, it’s what I’ve spent a large chunk of time at Tyk doing – the maths, the logic around it, working out the costs. It freezes my mind every time, but I always end up doing it. I wish it didn’t exist, but it does!

What’s great about working at Tyk?

I think I thrive more in a hustle and bustle environment. I found when I worked at IBM, it could be quite slow moving. Tyk is really fast paced. Everyone is doing so many things. And we’re all trying to achieve the same goal. Everyone is aligned and the culture of that is great because it means everyone is working for each other rather than with each other. That’s a great way of working.

I think that the vibe around the product is very cool as well, like the mascot is a small green alien blob. It’s different and fun. We’re very good at what we do. We’re making waves in the industry and we’re always progressing up the Forrester and Gartner quadrants, but at the same time we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We enjoy what we do. It’s something I hadn’t felt for a long time but hadn’t realised it. It’s refreshingly hard but super rewarding.

Also, there are so many different people at Tyk who have different attitudes, mindsets and ways of communicating. There are many people at Tyk whose first language isn’t English. I speak Spanish quite well but I wouldn’t want to use it as my primary working language. I’d be terrified. These guys, they just get on with it; it’s amazing.

What would your tips be for somebody joining Tyk who hadn’t worked in a remote-first organisation before?

This is something I could definitely do better at and that’s knowing that it’s ok when things take a bit longer to get solved or answered. You need to practise a bit of patience around that sort of stuff because of the different time zones. When you join Tyk you’re fresh and want to make an impact. And when you’re fully remote and you don’t get a quick answer you do sometimes feel like you don’t know where to go. But, if you have patience, you can trust that the answer will come and people want to help. It’s been said a few times since I’ve joined Tyk – it’s API management, it’s not life or death. Just relaxing into that would be my biggest advice.

Is there a mistake you made earlier on in your career that you’ve learnt from?

So many! I think one of the biggest learning curves for me was when I was in design. I think there’s a certain trait that a lot of designers have where they’ll design something and because they designed it they become very attached to it and believe that it’s the final solution. But very quickly you can show it to a couple of people and it can be ripped apart.

I had an experience early on at IBM when I was really sure of a design we’d come up with. There was some feedback that I should change it but I didn’t because I was confident about it. However, when it went out we had loads of feedback from customers saying it didn’t work. It really humbled me. I realised that just because I thought I was right, and I was confident, it didn’t mean I was, and that was a real teeth-cutting moment. Since then, I’ve learnt not to be so precious about things. It’s an easier life when you’re not trying to be right all the time.

What are the values that drive you?

I do like to get stuff done. If we’ve got something that we’ve said we’re going to do then I like it to get it done properly and to the right level. I think that’s a product owner trait. I’m like this in life outside of Tyk too. At the moment, my fiancée and I are buying a house – I’ve got a spreadsheet; even that’s going to be delivered on time!

I know we’re a start-up and we’re having fun but we are a serious business and as much as I’ve been a purist in the past and wanted it always to be about the end product, it also has to be about making money as that’s what keeps us going. The main driver for me is making sure that what I do is as successful as possible. I try and light a fire under everybody else to do the same thing. But at the end of the day I’m on the hook for it, so I have to! I’m driven to make cool things with cool people.

What are your top three books/podcasts?

There’s a brilliant book called Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. It’s a true story about a guy who escapes from prison in Australia and flees to India and it’s about how he has a life in the criminal underworld. That’s a phenomenal book. I also love the Lord of the Rings books – I never get tired of them.

And I really enjoy the Fake Doctors, Real Friends podcast. It’s made by two guys from the TV show Scrubs. They talk about everything and anything and relate it to episodes of the TV show. It’s silly but it’s good.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?

I was going to say I go to the gym five days a week (which I do), but do I actually enjoy that?! One thing I’ve been working on recently is a new poetry book with my friend Paige. That’s due out on Amazon around Christmas time this year, which is exciting.

Outside of that, I enjoy sitting on the PlayStation or playing cards and having a beer. Just normal lad stuff. I couldn’t be without my PS5!

What’s the best ever PlayStation game?

Probably the original Metal Gear Solid, because I think that changed gaming when I was a kid. I’d never seen anything like it. But if they brought something like that out now, it would probably be run of the mill.  I think I played it until the disc wore out!