Talk to a Tykling: Rogier Beeftink, UX Manager

Talk to a Tykling – Getting to know Rogier Beeftink, UX Manager

At Tyk, we’re proud of our remote-by-default working environment and our diverse international team. Both our customers and our staff are spread across the world, working on and with our market-leading API management platform.

Through this series of interviews with our Tyklings, we’re finding out more about the people behind the product. Most recently, we had a Zoom chat with UX Manager Rogier Beeftink. We talked about life working for Tyk, his career to date and some of his external interests and hobbies.

What do you do at Tyk?

My role is UX Manager; I lead the UX team.

UX stands for user experience. Lots of people in the industry seem to understand what that means now, but I do still have to explain it to my parents once in a while!

UX is all about the design of the product. Quite often people immediately think of the visual aspect – graphic design and such. But UX is a more evidence-based and human-centred approach to how software works.

It’s a loop of research and design. Our goal is to understand what our users need, struggle with or want to do. Then based on that, combining objectivity and creativity, we come up with experiences or solutions that meet those needs.

Ideally, it’s an approach that considers all levels of the experience. It’s not just about the graphical interface, but also about “how do I use Tyk as a tool, in combination with other tools and systems I need for my job?” So, it’s trying to design for an optimal experience, based on research.

What does the research involve? Who do you work with and what activities do you undertake?

It’s a bit of a mixed bag, based on what we’re trying to solve. There’s some qualitative research. This is about speaking with people – sometimes our customers, sometimes people who aren’t (yet!) our customers. It’s not limited to people who already work with the Tyk tools. We work to understand what their jobs look like… what it is they do.

Sometimes, when we don’t have access to those actual users, we speak to the customer-facing staff within Tyk. Obviously, there are quite a few roles where the people speak with customers on a daily basis, so those people know a lot as well.

The other side of it is more quantitative. We look at analytics for our products thinking, “Ok, what do our users actually do? Where do they get stuck, drop off or click in frustration?” Things like that can be a trigger to go and speak to people and ask what they were actually trying to do.

It’s not just about the product. It’s also about asking: “What it your organisation trying to solve here? Does our product fulfil that need or are we missing something?”

It sounds like a lot of work!

Well, that’s why we’ve got a team! It’s a relatively young team, and it’s grown quite a bit lately – like all of Tyk.

There are various roles in the team. We have UX designers, who try to come up with the solutions and work with the engineers to build them. There’s quite a lot of drawing involved – sketches of what flows should look like.

We also have a dedicated user researcher on the team, who helps with building up understanding and validation. We have a UI designer who works with others to craft solutions to the level of fidelity where it can be developed by our engineers. And we also have a Developer Experience Architect, who looks at problems and solutions from a much more technical perspective – our users are ultimately all technical people!

Where do you most like to work from?

The beach would be good!

I used to live in London with my family – for around 13 years. But five months ago, we moved to Berlin. It was very exciting, especially considering the pandemic, and moving with a family is always quite an undertaking…

It was nice in terms of how easy it was from the Tyk side. With previous jobs, the concept of moving to another country would have been unthinkable – you’d have to stop working there or something. But here I spoke to the people team and they simply accepted it: “Ok, you’re moving to Germany, that’s cool, just let us know your new address!”

I usually work from home. I like working from home because it gives me the flexibility to work in different places. We have a room dedicated to work, which is a luxury, but right now I’m sitting in the living room because nobody else is at home and it’s nice to have a change.

I used to go to cafés occasionally, to change it up a bit. I do less of that now because the nature of my role means I’m on calls for a lot of each day. It’s easier to handle that in a quiet environment. I don’t want to annoy the people in the café around me by talking all the time!

So, yeah, most of my work is at home. Now I have a family, there’s much less ad-hoc moving around. We used to do that a lot. When we were in London, we spent half a year in Stockholm, plus stayed in Italy and Spain for a bit. The concept of being able to work from anywhere is still quite exciting.

It sounds like you’ve travelled extensively. Do you speak any languages other than English?

Well, I’m Dutch, so my native language is Dutch – which isn’t very useful in the context of travelling because few people speak it.

One advantage of that is that you get to learn other languages from a young age in The Netherlands. The market is too small to have any dubbing or anything, so you get movies and TV shows in German or English and have to rely on subtitles.

Living in Germany, my German is alright – also my wife is German, so I’ve been exposed to German quite a bit.

When we first moved to London, coming from Italy, we found it harder to meet people. In Italy it was really welcoming. You’d meet somebody and they’d invite you for lunch at their grandma’s house!

In London, we felt it was a little less welcoming, so my wife and I decided to attend a language class. We didn’t go to an English class as we felt there would be less to learn – we already got along OK with English. So, we went to Swedish language classes. It was random, but we met a bunch of people in the same sort of mindset of just learning a language. Some of the people in that class from ten years ago are still some of our best friends. It was a really great way of meeting people – and we can still speak some Swedish.

Thinking about the UX industry as a whole, can you think of a problem you’d really love to fix? What irritates you?

As there’s an element of creativity to UX design, it’s sometimes seen as something that’s opinion-based… “Oh, well, it looks nice.”

This has changed a lot already – I guess it’s not necessarily something I need to fix, as it’s certainly moving in the right direction now. This is the case at Tyk, where UX is definitely something that’s more scientific and evidence-based.

But there are plenty of organisations where that’s not the case. UX is seen as a sort of “add on.” They say, “let’s just build stuff, we can get a UX person in to put some colour on it or something.” That’s been quite frustrating in some roles, in the past.

It is changing across the industry, but there’s still some room for improvement. Companies could take it more seriously and consider the elements of psychology and user behaviours. Then they can make sure their software works based on those insights.

Can you give me a two-minute personal history, from birth to Tyk?

I was born in The Netherlands – in Nijmegen, not far from the German border. I didn’t live there for long – we moved to another place in The Netherlands, a small town called Den Bosch town.

I studied at a technical university in Eindhoven, a place more people are familiar with. That’s where I got into design – product design, physical things. I thought it was quite cool, but also rather constrained in terms of things like production processes and costs.

During that time, I realised that if you design something for digital, you can build code once and it can be used by millions of people. There’s no worry about how many units you need to produce to make it worth it.

So, I moved a bit more into digital, then did something that changed everything: I heard about a thing called Erasmus and realised I could study abroad.

I moved to Italy – initially to Milan for half a year. This may upset people but it’s perhaps one of the less pretty cities in Italy! But design-wise, Milan is where it’s all happening. I had a really good time and decided I’d stick around.

I did my master’s there, in service design. After graduating, the crisis hit, so it wasn’t a good time to look for a job. But I got lucky, I guess: I found something in London at the BBC, as an interaction designer.

The BBC is great as an institution and was a perfect place for a young designer. It’s all about doing things properly, considering all possible different users – taking into account things like disabilities and different levels of digital confidence.

After that, I moved into the agency world. That was more about working for different clients and understanding the dynamics of that. I took that forward in the following ten years as a consultant, joining different organisations – sometimes for a few months, sometimes for a couple of years.

I enjoyed the freedom and moved more and more into projects within product companies. I moved away a bit from being the consultant that works at a distance, who doesn’t get so much understanding of the users and the product.

Tyk was a natural progression from that – getting to work with a product with fewer levels of noise and things in-between. I get to understand the users and see the progression of a product over a longer term.

Tyk feels like the perfect place, and I enjoy the international parts – both the diversity of the team and the diversity of the users.

Will travel be a part of your role?

Yes. One of the designers on the team is about to go and do that. When the opportunity is there, I’d love to.

We’ve made it work very well, doing user research remotely and via video call. But actually sitting with somebody – not only seeing what’s on their screen, but also things like whether they have a notepad on their desk with notes about the software – that kind of thing can be very revealing about the way people work.

How did you come across the role at Tyk?

It’s quite a boring story! I was looking around – not particularly actively, but the role came up, it looked good and I applied. I think I saw it on LinkedIn.

What do you like about working at Tyk?

The international aspect – it’s truly multicultural. I really like that. Even though my own team is relatively UK-centric, with most living in London, we only have one British person on the team. The rest are from Sweden, Italy, Singapore, Croatia, Israel… It’s a real mix, which I find amazing.

I also think it makes for better design solutions. We naturally consider more perspectives around what a design could look like and we have a broader understanding of our users.

We sometimes joke about it. An important element of designing an interface is the copy (or micro copy) that goes into it. It’s amusing that none of us are native English speakers. But it teaches us that there are important guiding principles around how to write things like instructions for users. It can help you to write plain English if you don’t know the “fancy words” that you could use instead.

There are plenty of other good things about Tyk. The people are a special kind of people. We look for those who fit into a trust-based model. As a manager, that’s pretty special – it’s not about controlling but more about empowering and making sure that people can do their jobs in the best way. And that’s their best way – not a way that I prescribe. I find that pretty cool.

Have you managed teams in that way before?

A little bit, but not as extreme as this. I’ve been in remote roles before, but in organisations less set up for it. Either they had a hybrid model or evolved towards remote working.

I think, because Tyk has been remote-first from the outset, it’s been really thought through. That’s needed to make the remote setup work.

I don’t think, as a manager, you can have that controlling role in this environment – for example, seeing every design that’s been done. We are a central UX team – we have our planning meetings, share our designs, and make sure that everything’s consistent. But almost all of our designers are also embedded in product squads. They also have their own work teams that they interact with on a daily basis. A lot of the quality control, pace setting etc. is happening directly with the teams.

I find it amazing that I can let go of some of that stuff, and just let the team do their best in that context.

What would your tips be for somebody who hasn’t worked in a remote-first company before?

Well, as a manager, it’s definitely about empowering and supporting, rather than controlling. That comes with trust. I think you can learn it, but it helps to have some of that from the outset. I guess with a new team and new people, there is an element of establishing it.

On a personal level, a lot of it is about managing your calendar. Not just the work but the bits in-between – taking breaks, and the work alongside the meetings. I’ve learned quite a lot from other people at Tyk – things like blocking out time in your calendar for “deep work.” If you leave everything open, there’s a chance people may ask you to a meeting.

Sometimes you need much longer than an hour to get yourself into the zone – so blocking out such time is good. I’ve also seen people putting in time marked simply as “decompress” after a series of meetings. Consciously doing that is really important.

I also have my own ‘shadow calendar’ alongside the public one. When I put in blocks of work, I like to specify what I’m going to do. It’s easy to get lost doing many little things and then finishing nothing. Time is precious.

It’s also important to speak to a lot of people. The ‘water cooler conversation’ is an element of that, but it’s also around the setup we have with designers and engineers. They work in squads, so there is a risk of their work becoming isolated or siloed, because they’re working on a specific part of the product.

In my role, it’s about ensuring small learnings and findings get to the individual teams so that they’re known across the organisation. That means talking to engineers, to researchers. It involves a lot of talking – perhaps more than when you’re co-located.

Does Tyk do anything organisationally to facilitate that cross-team talking?

There are things going on. With the growth we’re experiencing right now, there’s an initiative to consciously make things better as we get bigger. Everything we’re already doing works fine with fewer people and fewer squads. But with scaling, there’s more to consider.

With the UX team, for example, we do a UX critique every other week. We show work in progress that’s between 25% and 75% done – not too complete but also not too vague. We just open it up for anyone. We present the context, what the problem is and talk through it. The idea is that we get useful feedback, but it’s also a good way to make people aware of what we’re actually up to.

Things like that happen, and they also get recorded and documented. That means if people are away, they’re able to go back and catch up. That’s another important element of remote working: documenting and sharing so you don’t lose stuff.

Thinking back to your earlier career, would be willing to share a mistake that you made and what it taught you?

In my earlier career, up to five or six years ago, I’d been working under the agency model. Design agencies have their clients and try to solve problems for the users and customers of those clients. As the designer you get onto a project, you get a briefing, and you’re tasked to solve a particular problem. I enjoyed it – you get to meet lots of interesting people and to have a variety of work. But I think I only realised later how much of a change I needed.

After a while, the model felt a bit broken. Essentially, as a designer, you’re selling your time in that model. The whole concept of billable hours is quite strange as a designer. You’re also expected to reuse approaches and solutions because you’re not selling outcomes, you’re selling time. If you can do your work quicker – from the perspective of the agency – then all the better. It almost works against doing the right thing.

Once I got into these in-house roles, where you’re part of the organisation, you’re working on things for a longer period and for one set of users. The main thing is that you’re no longer measured or judged on how much work you deliver in a space of time. Instead, you’re judged on outcomes and the impact that you make. That was a “wow” moment. I kind of wished I’d done it sooner. It makes more sense.

What are the values that drive you?

Trust is probably the main thing for me. I’m quite an optimistic person and assume people will do the right thing.

I don’t know if it’s one of Tyk’s official values, but I like the whole thing around always assuming best intent. It goes a long way for our management style and the way we all work together. We’ve also realised that it helps a lot with remote communication.

What are your favourite books or podcasts?

I’ll start at the most recent: I’ve reverted to reading a lot of what my wife might refer to as “crap!”

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been reading a lot of fiction – thrillers, spy books, comedy stuff. I think it’s in reaction to the fact that in September, I finished three years of studying. I had to read SO much serious stuff. I did a master’s in technology management – learning about how tech companies should be run. I’ve read a huge amount about finance and operations, though I don’t think I have a specific book to highlight there.

When you get further in your career, it’s less about learning about the craft of your specific job and more about how it fits into the business as a whole. I found it really useful.

So, while over the years I’ve read many design books, I’ve done that much less recently. But I’ve been really enjoying books around company operations. Subjects like how, if you improve the experience of employees, that translates to better customer experiences, better outputs and so on. I’ve been doing a lot of reading on that during studying, so I’ve stopped for a bit!

One book I still find fascinating outside of studying is called Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It’s not about drawing comics, it’s about the storytelling behind it. When you design, you design the moments of an interaction: “On this page, people will click this button, then be taken to a new page” and so on. It’s the sequence of a story.

Understanding Comics is all about which moments you have to design for and the moments in between – a person’s mental model of filling in the gaps. It’s a great book and so relevant to what we do. The whole thing about comics is filling in the bits in-between and making it your own story. I find that fascinating.

My guilty pleasure is football-related podcasts – not just on football itself, but on the stories and characters around it.

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

I really enjoy cooking. I think it’s partly related to living in lots of different places and picking things up along the way.

Similarly, I enjoy just going out for dinner. But I love cooking itself, just as an activity and a way of trying new things. But it’s not always received well when you have young children, even if it’s really good!

I enjoy hanging out with the children too – building Lego. Not following the manuals but just freestyling and building random stuff.

And I do enjoy reading – a lot lately.

Obviously travelling too. And even more so than travelling, I’ve always really enjoyed moving to another country – going to live there for a bit. I love the first few weeks, figuring out small differences around things like going to the supermarket – whether you weigh the vegetables yourself or not!

When you’re travelling and just staying in a hotel, you don’t get to do those banal, simple things. But they’re fascinating. In Italy, for example, it was hard to cross the street at first, until I learned that even at a crossing, the cars won’t stop until you actually step into the road!

Out of all the places you’ve travelled to and lived in, which is your favourite?

I’ve always said I’ll return to Italy when I no longer have to work. Working there can be quite difficult at times, but life outside of work was fantastic.

Other than that, I’d probably pick a place like Mallorca – for a combination of food, language and nature. And it helps that we’ve been there a lot and figured out the nice bits.

Which place is on your bucket list?

South America. I’ve not been there yet.