Talk to a Tykling: Rahmat Abdull Latif, Customer Success Engineer

Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Rahmat Abdull Latif, Customer Success Engineer

It’s fitting that a diverse team of people from all over the world should be working together to evolve an API management platform that connects the world. Tyk’s remote-first ethos allows the company to hire top talent from absolutely anywhere.

This Talk to a Tykling series is taking a tour of the world, interviewing the people who make the Tyk magic happen. Most recently, we sat down for a virtual catch up with Rahmat Abdull Latif, a Customer Success Engineer currently working from Singapore. We chatted about his life at Tyk, his career to date and his extracurricular combat sport activities.

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m a Customer Success Engineer. My job is to enhance the customer experience and improve product adoption.

My main goal is making sure that every customer maximises the value of every penny they spend on Tyk. It’s not about increasing their spend, it’s about ensuring they get absolutely everything they’re paying for.

For example, if they’re not making use of a specific feature in Tyk, it’s good to let them know. To say, “you already have this option, you’re already paying for it, so why not try it out?”

Day-to-day, my job involves lots of email queries – lots of communication with existing clients. There’s plenty of problem-solving and firefighting! Sometimes I’m handling crises and absorbing emotion from customers who may not be happy with certain features.

That customer service is one half of my role – ensuring customers are kept happy. The other half is planning out what we want to do, down the line, to make things better for customers.

Customer Success Engineers are drivers for technical innovation – that can mean anything outside of day-to-day work. It’s all about improving things within Tyk – things like documentation and putting together resources to help people get up and running faster.

My job is to make every part of the customer experience better.

It sounds like a massive role – you must be really busy!

One thing for Customer Success Engineers is that you start out with an existing client base, and the number of people you help keeps getting bigger. It’s different for people handling only new business. For us, it will always get busier!

Is there a whole team of you spread across the world, working in different time zones?

Yes, there are a lot of us spread across the world now, and we fall under the umbrella of Customer Operations. This encompasses Customer Success Engineers, Support Engineers, Customer Experience, etc.

The aim is to form a big technical practice that focuses 100% on increasing customer enablement and product adoption. With how fast we are scaling, I foresee there being more and more of us joining the company.

Where in the world are you based?

I’m based in Singapore. When I started there was only one salesperson and one Consulting Engineer here. Today we have a full team here in Singapore – I didn’t expect that!

At Tyk, you’re allowed to work wherever you like, from coffee shops to beaches. Pandemic aside, what is your favourite place to work?

My favourite place to work is Bali, Indonesia. The language is a factor – I speak Bahasa Indonesia. It’s also close to my family. And I like to be near to the beach – my family and I tend to go every other weekend. But for now, I’m working at the gym in the mornings to make both commuting and training easier.

Do you travel much as part of your role?

Without Covid, I would be travelling for 25-30% of the time – at least every month or two. It’s good to see customers face-to-face.

I’m 100% for remote working, but there are definitely times where it’s best to meet in person.

Where do most like to travel to?

For work, it’ll be Thailand. I spent a huge part of my early 20s working in Thailand, so it holds a special place in my heart. I’ve not travelled outside the South East Asia region for Tyk. Yet!

Let’s look at the tech sector more broadly. If you had a magic wand, what is something you’d love to fix in the sector? Pick a problem!

That’s a tough question! I’d love to see more transparency. For example, sometimes a customer might say they’re interested in your product when really they’ve already decided on another vendor. They’re just using you as a comparison.

That’s absolutely fine, of course, it would just be good to know! I worked for a while in sales but went back to consulting, as it feels like a more transparent, deeper connection with the customer.

Can you give me a quick history of your life and how you landed at Tyk?

I’m always quite proud of this story!

I left school quite early, at about 16 or 17. I did lots of odd jobs – waiting tables, stuff like that. I then went on to do my mandatory military service, for about two years.

That was when I was 18, so when I came out of military service, I was 20. I wanted to see the world and didn’t want to do anything that involved “fitting into a box.”

I ended up cleaning windows on high-rise buildings. I was hanging on ropes, cleaning windows and earning quite good money. I cleaned widows for about a year – big high-rises including the tallest building in Singapore. I was 80 floors up!

I’d heard that it was a good way to start working offshore. After a while, I got a big break to work in Thailand. I was working offshore on the Gulf of Thailand for two years. I’d do a month on an oil rig, come back to Singapore for a month, and do that back and forth.

I was young at the time, about 23. Although I missed out on some things, like celebrating birthdays, I was happy. I was single, living the bachelor life, meeting new people.

But after a while, something happened that was like God’s way of telling me I needed to get something more secure. In 2015, the oil market crashed. Many of the oil rigs were decommissioned and I lost my job.

I was a freelancer; I didn’t want to work full time – to be in a box. I worked for myself. But then oil prices dropped and I didn’t have any work.

I sat down with a friend and decided, “I really do need to think about this whole education thing – this rebellious time is coming to an end.”

Around that time, I met my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife. That’s when you start to think about responsibilities! I was 25 and decided to do a part-time diploma.

I did marine and offshore engineering – nothing to do with tech! I got a job as an assistant engineer. In the day I was at work and at night I was in school. I did that for about two and a half years.

A year into that diploma, I was getting straight As and was proud of that. I knew how hard I was working for it. But everyone kept talking about tech – about coding and this and that. My wife suggested I went to a workshop held by General Assembly. It was a free, one-day workshop, with a guy saying “are you looking to change your career? Do you want something better?” It spoke to me, but I took a look at General Assembly and realised the fees were too high.

So I found an alternative place to learn web development. It cost about $2,000, but the government at the time subsidised the whole thing, as they were keen to push people into those careers. I was juggling two part-time schools and one full-time job. It was hectic!

But in that web development course, out of 30 people, only me and two other guys graduated. In the time span when I finished that eight-month course, my diploma ended as well.

With those two new qualifications, I began looking for a job. The first I landed was with a start-up. They offered me a junior position. I did that job for about a year, but I realised that I was lacking hands-on development work. I spoke to my boss and said I felt that I needed to get out there to build my hands-on experience.

I switched jobs and became a software developer for six months. I just wanted to go right through an end-to-end project. I needed that experience.

I completed that six-month project, but it was bad! I was sat in a room with no windows. They called us “code monkeys” – we just sat there every day and typed code. But I had to do it – I had to understand the whole thing.

After those six months, I discovered Tyk. Although my previous employer asked if I wanted to come back, I researched Tyk and the API gateway world. I felt that Tyk was in the disruption space. I wanted to be somewhere where I could give a helping hand to a company that was growing.

When I chose Tyk, I didn’t know about the unlimited holiday. I didn’t know it was 100% remote. I was purely attracted to the idea of joining something I could help to build. Then I learned about all the other amazing benefits. I decided “that’s it, I want to stay here, I’m not going anywhere!”

I tell all my friends that the whole journey led me here and that the reward was finding this place. I’ve worked hard to get here. It’s a nice company with nice people, everything is great – you can enjoy yourself at Tyk.

And that’s the entire story!

What is it you love most about working at Tyk?

I love the number of smart people working within the company. In other companies, you don’t see the dynamics so clearly. Perhaps because of Slack, you can see all the communication going on between the regions, and you see the number of truly brilliant people there are across our organisation.

It’s hard to describe just how easy it is to ask a question and have so many people offering to jump on a call, give you support. Even if it’s the stupidest question, people will always help.

On my third week of work, I had to stand at a booth for a conference. Martin, our CEO and Founder, was there. I was so nervous, feeling I didn’t know much about the product yet. But he kept telling me that there are no stupid questions, to just ask whatever I needed to. It trickles down from there. Everyone has that mentality, and it has really helped me grow. There are brilliant people at Tyk, all open to sharing anything and everything.

What tips would you give to somebody who was new to working for a remote-first company?

Always plan each day out properly. That requires three things:

First, you have to become really comfortable with taking ownership of what you’re working on. When you take ownership, you build trust with your teammates, which is the second thing. Finally, you need to be proactive.

Once you have those three things, you’re in a position to properly plan out your time and flex your workload.

For example, say you have to book a vaccination – you can just open the calendar and work out when would be convenient. You have full flexibility, but it works both ways. You have to be accountable. If you say you will finish something on a certain date, you make sure you do.

It’s great to have flexibility, but you mustn’t abuse it. It’s about honesty and about taking ownership of everything you do.

Looking at your career before Tyk, please could you share details of something fundamental you learned from that work?

During my time working offshore, I’d be there on site, all the time. If I needed to check something, I’d have to literally climb up a ladder and check it – it could be very far up!

You couldn’t take shortcuts in this. First off, it’s about safety. We worked very high up with lots of heavy machinery. It’s dangerous. And it was a hassle. It was very physical work, and if you took a shortcut that led to a block in the timeline, you’d literally have to do everything again. So it’s about planning every detail, and THEN executing. As the saying goes – measure twice, cut once.

That same mentality now translates to doing work on my laptop. I properly plan out a task and then start working on it, instead of going in blindly.

Say an email comes in, you skim through, work out which parts you can deal with straight away, and which you need to set other people working on. Before I had to physically climb – now I’m just typing, so I shouldn’t be taking shortcuts. So I’m very used to planning properly before doing things.

What are the values that drive you?

Honesty is definitely one of them. If something is bugging you, you should share and speak out.

The second is the importance of mentorship – being able to help each other out. When I joined Tyk, I was a junior, and everybody helped me out. I really see the value of passing along that great culture of teaching. I’m sure the newer hires would vouch that I always schedule catchups and check people are doing OK.

So, yes, honesty and the value of mentorship. With those two things in the picture, you coach your teammates well, relationships are good, everyone is honest and the whole team becomes more close-knit. It makes it very easy to cope if, for example, one team member has to deal with an emergency. It’s a question of camaraderie.

What are your three favourite books or podcasts?

The first would definitely be The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R Covey.

The second is called Discipline Equals Freedom, by Jocko Willink. He’s a well-known motivational speaker, a special forces guy. He wrote the book to guide you towards being a more disciplined, more accountable person. He covers things like the importance of physical wellbeing, of prioritising tasks, things like that. That book really spoke to me.

My third is George Orwell’s 1984. It’s one of the books I read right before I finished school. It was a strong influence on me, and I don’t think I’d be in the same place today without it. It pushed me in a certain direction.

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

I do combat sports. I wrestle and do Brazilian Jujitsu competitively. I’m sponsored by Neuefit in Singapore. I represent them for competitions and was the white belt champion of the Singapore Open for under 64kg, the light featherweight category.

I’m excited to compete again since getting my blue belt recently!

So you’re not a person to pick a fight with?!

Well, perhaps not, but it’s more of a sport thing! At first, I didn’t want to do it competitively. But I started doing competitions four or five months after I started. After that, I started putting in two sessions of training each day. I always train every day during lunch, with a great bunch of people. Then I train again either right after work, or really early in the morning – lifting weights or going for a run.

If there’s a competition coming up, I’ll do two sessions of jujitsu in the day. I’ve being doing that since around the time I started at Tyk.

Do you have to be careful with your diet? Or can you eat cake all day because you do so much physical activity?

I’ve been following intermittent fasting for a very long time. I do a 14-hour fast; I’ve been doing that for over five years. I usually have my last meal at about 8 pm, and then I take in zero calories until the next day at about 10 am. I try to do my jujitsu training during the fast, as much as I can.

Other than that, my wife and I only really eat junk food on Friday nights. We look forward to Friday nights a lot!