Talk to a Tykling – getting to know James Lucktaylor, Go Developer
Our Talk to a Tykling interview series is all about getting to know the people behind the product at Tyk. Plenty of people know about our fantastic API management gateway, which is helping businesses around the globe. But most of them never get to talk to our team of unsung heroes, who are beavering away behind the scenes.
We’re talking about Tyklings like James Lucktaylor. James spends his days “translating engineer talk to regular human talk” while working as one of Tyk’s Go Developers. We caught up with him on everything from remote working habits to which Christopher Nolan movie is the best (TL:DR it’s The Dark Knight!).
What do you do at Tyk?
I’m a Go Developer. Go is the primary language that we use at Tyk. At the moment I’m working on the backend of the new platform that we’re about to release. We’re in the last week of testing now, with our first round of real-life users next week. So it’s kind of intense!
Where are you usually based, outside of the COVID-19 lockdown?
Normally, I’m based at home, with trips into the office once or twice a week. I started with Tyk about eight or nine months ago, so I had a few months of going into the office a couple of times a week before the lockdown began.
I’m a bit of an early bird, so I get up and work for a bit, then leave about 9.30 or 10.00 am if I’m heading into the office, to intentionally miss the morning rush. Just because I can. Tyk’s pretty dynamic – the whole setup is flexible and asynchronous.
Have you worked remotely before?
I worked remotely in my last job. I was a consulting engineer for a large firm and had a mix of remote and on-site engagements. Some clients were international, so it was usually a case of flying over and working face-to-face for the first week or two of the project, then finishing the rest remotely.
Will you be travelling at all as part of your work at Tyk?
I’m not client-facing, so I’m unlikely to travel much as part of this role. We do undertake user feedback activities, which can be client-facing, but doesn’t have a travel element. Tyk’s Consulting Engineers tend to meet with clients. I’m behind the scenes!
Having said which, the feedback that we do receive from users is really helpful. We ask about any pain points and how we can improve.
Speaking of pain points, is there a particular pain point in the tech sector that you would like to solve?
Getting started with a project can always be a bit daunting. Getting your foot in the door. At Tyk, we have an open source product – the core of the company is our API gateway and as it’s open source anyone can look at the code and contribute to it. However, the on ramp for getting started with that can be tricky, as there’s no turnkey way in for developers. You have to sink into the code and look around for a bit, playing with it and breaking it!
As an example, I wanted to add a little feature to the gateway a couple of weeks ago. It took me way too long to get the gateway running locally on my machine. In the same way you have UX – user experience – we use the acronym DX for the developer experience. I would love to improve the DX on our open source projects.
It’s not something specific to Tyk – this is the case for all kinds of open source projects. There are projects with hundreds of thousands of contributors and they all have different funnels with demos, walkthroughs, documentation and so forth, to help developers get up and running. There are patterns that become apparent across several different big projects, but no simple solution that’s like a quick copy, paste and get to work!
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to Tyk?
I’m originally from Melbourne, Australia. I’m planning on moving back there next year, actually. An international move can be daunting enough normally but doing it during the pandemic would be way too much to take on. Plus we have the new Tyk platform launching soon!
I come from a few minutes away from the Yarra Valley region, on the eastern side of Melbourne – wine people usually know the name!
My first job in tech was working for a software company that made an enterprise resource planning solution for the clothing industry. It was the kind of system where the client could do everything within the one system. They could buy raw materials like fabrics, design the clothes, manage the manufacturing and production, do wholesaling, warehouse management, store retail, finances – everything! I worked there for about eight years, initially doing helpdesk support and then moving to the dev team to work on QA, automation and some DevOps work.
After that I moved to London and got a job with a revenue management consulting firm, where I spent two years looking after their cloud estate.
Then it was on to two years at a cloud consulting firm, where I worked on four or five major engagements with clients. It was interesting seeing companies of differing shapes and sizes from across the world tackling the same kinds of problems but in different ways. It’s another situation where you can see those broad patterns emerging across a range of pain points and solutions.
How did you first find out about the role at Tyk?
Before I took the consulting role, I was curious about it as I’d never done consulting before. After six months in it, I figured out that consulting wasn’t for me! So I began very casually looking at other tech companies and roles, over the course of 12-18 months. I looked at which companies worked with open source products and which used Go, as that was the language I wanted to work with. I had a whole checklist of criteria. Things like whether or not the company was remote-first.
I spoke with 27 different companies over the course of my search. Tyk gradually made its way to the top of my list, so I emailed Martin, the CEO, and asked about Go Developer vacancies. We started the interview process and that was that!
What do you like about working at Tyk?
The flexibility that the remote-first, asynchronous approach provides is really cool. My wife and I initially planned to move away from London and live in the Czech Republic, which is where she’s from (we’ve rewritten this plan a whole load of times since then!). We were toying with the idea of going there for anything from a month or two to a couple of years, then going to Melbourne afterwards.
This formed part of the conversation I was having with Tyk when I was going through the recruitment process. I asked if it was ok for me to move countries while working for them. They were more than happy with the idea, as they already had staff in 25 different countries, covering every continent except Antarctica! It meant I didn’t have to worry about which country I lived in while working for Tyk. That was such a load off my mind. We could move wherever, and it would be ok!
What are your tips for someone new to get the best out of working in a remote-first organisation?
You need to figure out what works for you when you work from home. The idea of getting up and grabbing your laptop while sitting on the couch in your pyjamas might sound great but it both works and it doesn’t!
Some people talk about getting dressed up for working from home – suit, tie, the lot. Change of clothes, change of mind. I used to live with someone who did that – he would get dressed up for work, sit at the bench in the kitchen, then get changed into more casual clothes after work. That’s not something that works for me, but you have to find what works for you personally when you work remotely.
Having a proper sense of place is important. Our flat is tiny but I still have my desk area. It may take up half the lounge, but it’s my place of work! I spend 80-90% of my work time here, so it’s important.
Another habit that I have, which I read is actually quite common with home workers, is that if I’m working at the kitchen table, I’ll sit on one side, while if I’m eating, I’ll sit on the other side. It’s making a psychological distinction.
Can you share an example of a mistake that you made early on in your career and what you learned from it?
I learned you should always have a sandbox or a testbed or a dry run – something you can mess around with and blow up and it won’t matter. Use this to train on before you start working with the live infrastructure!
A couple of jobs ago, I was doing some optimisation and cleaning up some old resources that we weren’t using any more. I was happily archiving and deleting things with some shell scripts and came very close to deleting someone’s live server. Thankfully I had a dry run flag switched on, which meant that I didn’t actually do so. Switching that flag on is just two extra characters when you’re typing away at a terminal, but those two characters can make a lot of difference!
What are the values that drive you? What’s important to you?
My work ethic is something that was very heavily influenced by my father. He set me an example of always striving to innovate and improve – to keep that self-improvement loop going. So that’s important to me.
I think it’s also important never to be afraid to try. I encourage people to be bold and to have a go. This is particularly so with code, where you can always roll back pretty easily. If you try and fail, you’ve still learned something, so that’s better than not trying at all.
What are your three favourite books and/or podcasts?
The first one is a double header of books about baseball: Moneyball by Michael Lewis and The MVP Machine by Ben Lindbergh. There’s a Brad Pitt movie about Moneyball – it’s a great book. It centres on the notion of data-driven decision making, in this case when applied to baseball. It’s about using stats and numbers to build a better team with a lower salary cap. The result (spoiler alert) is that the team almost wins the season, despite having about a tenth of the budget of any other team. That notion of using metrics and data to drive decisions is really interesting.
The MVP Machine is about the self-improvement loop. It’s about players measuring each aspect of their performance, for example using slow motion cameras to look at the angle of their swing or their pitch, or the degree of power achieved by the rotation of their wrist. They take all these tiny little data points and use them to analyse and then improve their own performance. It’s fascinating. I enjoy watching baseball, but the stats and data that feeds into it are also a big part of the attraction.
In terms of podcasts, one that I listen to is The Anatomy of Next, which is about futurism and tomorrow’s problems. It dives into potential solutions, so the first season was about humanity expanding into space and onto Mars, for example. Those kinds of topics really tickle the nerd in me!
My third choice is The Go Programming Language. There’s an old book for the C programming language that was written by some of the same authors way back when. Texts like that have principles that still apply despite how much the language has changed and evolved over the last ten years. The language design still has the same fundamentals and approach, so the book is timeless. It has exercises that expose you to different functionality and different bits of the language – it gives you a really good guided tour, showing you which tools you have available to solve real-world problems.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working, lockdown aside?
I’m a video game nerd and a bit of a movie buff. I miss going to the cinema! Though I did manage to see Nolan’s newest release Tenet just last week. There were maybe two dozen other people in the cinema; lockdown has made some things so weird.
In terms of video games, I play all sorts. I flit from game to game and will happily play five different games a day. It all depends what I’m in the mood for. Right now, I’m playing a narrative-driven game about space exploration, with a time loop dynamic, which is really cool. I also like big, open world epic RPGs – the kind you could play for hundreds of hours. At other times I’ll play quick shooter games where it takes just a couple of minutes to do a level. I flit around with music too – sometimes jazz, sometimes pop, sometimes metal…
What is your favourite movie of all time?
Probably a Christopher Nolan movie. I know some people don’t like him, but I do. I think if I had to pick one it would be The Dark Knight. Or maybe Interstellar.