Talk to a Tykling: Mark Southee, Technical Author

Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Mark Southee, Technical Author

Tyk has grown rapidly over the past few years, as we’ve brought our product to new markets and engaged with users around the world. That’s meant a lot of new Tyklings coming on board to support our expansion.

However, there are still plenty of people around who have been with us since the early days and who have seen the company and the product grow hand-in-hand.

Mark Southee, our Technical Author, is one such Tykling. As such, we took some time out to sit down and chat with Mark about everything from the perils of translation to what it’s like being the most outdoorsy person in the company. Here’s what he had to say.

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m Tyk’s only Technical Author. So basically my responsibility is mainly the user documentation or the products. It’s a role that’s busy and getting busier. I was employee number 17, I think, and now there’s God knows how many others – I lose count! There are more every day. The company has changed considerably since I started. We’re introducing new stuff all the time. So it’s a very busy role!

Tyk is developing its products all the time. Does that mean you have to keep revising documentation you’ve previously written?

Yes, it’s constant, it’s one of those moving targets really. We never say, “Oh great, we don’t have to touch the documentation for another few weeks.” I revise it pretty much every day. And there are still bits of documentation that were written before I got here that I haven’t really had time to touch yet!

What do the users use your documentation for? What does it give them?

It’s basically understanding what Tyk is, how to install it on the various platforms we support, how to configure their APIs within Tyk itself and all the analytics and the setup. There’s lots of high-tech documentation to help them through that process.

It’s almost like a reference book. It’s not the kind of thing that you read all the way through like a novel!

The installation and getting up to speed are important. Quite a lot of our clients are obviously quite savvy. They develop their own API because they know what they want out of the product. But if you use Microsoft Word and then change to Google Docs, you’ll notice differences in the way that they work. It’s no different than that. We have our own way of doing things. We have very developed Tyk methods. So it’s a question of helping people to understand how we do things.

Do you serve customers in multiple languages or is your documentation all in English?

The documentation is in English only. We have considered supporting different languages from the documentation and always ended up backing away from it. Based on my previous experience of documentation and translation, we would have to change our mindset. Because I’m updating things pretty much on the fly all the time, our translated documentation would be out of date virtually the second it’s been published! So we haven’t done that so far.

I’ve been involved in translation projects with documentation before. You need a professional translation company with native speakers. Obviously, we’re an organisation with people who speak many of the languages that we would like to support, but they’re already busy doing their own roles. The translation would be pretty much a fulltime job.

Please could you give us a potted history of your career to date? What brought you to Tyk?

I grew up in the North of England, halfway between Liverpool and Manchester. I studied business and finance bizarrely enough. I went to a college of higher education about an hour south of where I grew up.

When I left there, I came down to London and ended up working for one of the biggest accountancy firms at the time, setting up reporting packages for them. As part of that, I started to document everything, because I did it all from scratch. I had to do a lot of writing.

After that I ended up moving back up North, in the late ’90s, and got a job working for a software house, developing mobile telecoms platforms’ billing systems. Then I moved on to an internet security firm for seven odd years, before contracting for five years. I got a permanent job after the contract I worked for, which was five years.

Then I joined Tyk three years ago. I’ve always worked in environments with high tech software and a bit of hardware.

Do you work remotely from home, from coffee shops (or similar) or do you go into the office (lockdown aside)?

I now live in deepest, darkest North Wales, so I’m pretty remote. I go into the office occasionally, but I don’t really need to, to be honest. I work from home fulltime. The nearest coffee shop is about seven miles away, so I just have to walk down to the kitchen every so often!

What do you like about working at Tyk? What is it that has kept you there for the past three years?

I’ve just been thoroughly enjoying working for Tyk. I used to do a 120-mile commute to my previous job. I must admit I don’t miss that anymore! I never really appreciated how much it took out of me until I stopped doing it. Tyk’s been fantastic. Not only for my commute but it’s a very interesting job. It’s made my life a lot more pleasant.

I love that it’s such a fast-moving environment. There’s always a need to learn new things, which is good. I’ve enjoyed watching the company grow. My last fulltime job before this was in a very large corporate environment. That could be frustrating at times because there’s so much bureaucracy involved. Tyk is very deliberately not a bureaucratic organisation.

We have our teething problems. Like any organisation, we’re not perfect, but it’s been really interesting watching the company grow. Hopefully I’ve grown with it!

I like the fact that there are always new challenges and we all tend to support each other. We’re all aiming for the same thing, so there’s always someone willing to help you out, if you need help. That’s really important for remote workers.

How do Tyklings support one another, when you’re so geographically dispersed?

We have the usual tools like Zoom and Slack. Then we have what we call our ‘Tyk Café’ meetings, which are every Monday and Thursday. They started off as being sort of like stand-up meetings, but they’ve evolved. We chat about what we’ve been up to at the weekend, what we’re going to do next weekend (which obviously isn’t very much at the moment!), that sort of thing. We just chat and it sort of helps when we have a problem with what we’re working on and decide to reach out on Slack or Zoom. You can just ask on one of the channels and someone will always pop up and help.

So people aren’t really siloed in their own teams?

Oh no, definitely not. I suppose my role is quite unique in that I do cover quite a lot of teams, but everyone can work across the teams really easily. You won’t find yourself being brushed off with an attitude of, “Go and speak to somebody in that team.”

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?

I think is it because it’s such a fast-moving industry, things change all the time and there are new ways of doing things, so it’s sometimes difficult to keep up. For example, taking APIs, if you look back 10 years, how APIs were done it was totally different to now. And that’s why Tyk came into being really. I think the really good thing would be to have a crystal ball and see what’s coming next – to understand how our industry is going to evolve!

What tips would you give to a new starter when it comes to working in a remote-first organisation?

If you can, have a separate office space. I’m lucky: I’ve got a dedicated office in our house. It helps. I can shut the cats away, so I’m not going to be pestered all the time.

This may be a Tyk think, but there’s no presenteeism; nobody’s expecting you to be there all the time. We sort of have core hours, but people can work around those. If I wanted to go off for a couple of hours this afternoon, I’d be happy to do so. And I have done so in the past (though obviously we can’t right now, due to the lockdown). I can just say I’m popping out for a couple of hours and I’ll be back on later and do a couple of hours in the evening.

For instance, Easter’s coming up but with how things are it’s going to be no different to any other weekend. I’ve got so much on that it will probably be a working day for me on the Friday. It’s that flexibility. You don’t feel you have to be tied to your desk. I think when you work in an office-based environment, there’s definitely that presenteeism, but you can be at your desk and not do anything!

Is it fair to say that Tyk has created an environment that encourages productivity?

Yeah, we definitely get things done! The company is appreciative of everybody’s circumstances. I don’t have children, but there are lots of people with kids that the Tyk environment suits. We’ve all got different interests. Sometimes it’s nice just to take advantage of the weather, or maybe there’s something going on locally and you need to disappear for an hour or so. It’s accepted that stuff happens – it’s life!

Let’s get personal for a minute. Can you share details of a mistake that you made early on in your career and what you learned from it?

I took a job I really shouldn’t have taken because they were looking for somebody more qualified than me. This is going back to when I was working for an accountancy firm. A slightly smaller firm wanted to do the role that I was doing for one of the big six firms. But when I got there, it was fairly clear early on that they were looking for somebody who was an actual qualified accountant, which I most certainly wasn’t. Nor was I interested in being one! That caused issues in the end. I probably should have sussed it out before. I was quite keen to take a job where I thought I would get more responsibility, but in the end I didn’t.

What are the values that drive you and how do they fit with Tyk?

It’s a bit of a cliché but I like every day to be a school day; I like learning new things. I’m inquisitive. I want to learn more. I want to understand what goes on. Especially if you’re trying to document something. You can’t document something and not knowing how it works yourself. I’m a very keen learner, even now.

And I like to see an end product. Some of the projects I’ve worked on have been shuttered before they’ve even been released. And that’s very frustrating, when you’ve put a lot of time and effort into it and it never gets released.

Remember Google Glass? The firm I was working for did a lot of work with Google Glass and it worked really well in a corporate environment – in a data centre, basically. The way we had Google Glass working was great. I always thought that Google glass wasn’t a product for the general public; it was aimed at specific markets. But as soon as the media got hold of it, they turned into something completely different. I don’t even think Google wanted it! And so in the end, they lost the lost interest in it themselves.

Tyk isn’t like that. We learn, we do new stuff, but there’s always a big focus on there being an end product. We will experiment, but there’s always an end goal in sight. At some companies you get the feeling that things are done just because people can do them and want to fiddle about, but I like to see an end product.

What are your three favourite books and/or podcasts?

In terms of podcasts, James O’Brien interviews a lot of people. His podcast is very good. And a complete contrast to that – and it surprised me how interesting his podcast is – is the Peter Crouch podcast. As a football supporter, you sometimes have a very blinkered view of what players are like. He surprised me. He’s very articulate and also quite funny without it feeling forced. I’ve listened to some footballers speak and they could send you to sleep within two minutes.

With books, I feel fairly guilty that I don’t read as much as I used to. I used to be an avid reader, but I don’t seem to get time to read a lot anymore. I’ve always enjoyed comic writing, Terry Pratchett, and Tom Sharpe being particular favourites.

When you’re not working on technical documents for Tyk, what will we find you doing?

It’s funny, I was speaking to our COO James the other day and he said, “You’re the most outdoorsy person I know!” That’s probably quite true. I do like the outdoors. I do a lot of running, mountaineering, walking, sailing… That’s why I live where I live. Everything I like doing what I’m not at work is on the doorstep.

When you say mountaineering, are we talking hiking, climbing or…?

Mountaineering covers a multitude of sins! There’s a big difference between rock climbing and mountaineering. With mountaineering you’re mainly walking hiking. You have safety ropes and stuff like that, but you’re not physically scaling a steep slope of rock. You’re not climbing as such. I’ve never been that bothered about climbing, actually, but just wandering up and down huge hills is great!

Have you had the chance to go mountaineering anywhere else in the world?

In 2008 I climbed Mont Blanc with six other people – that’s pretty big! I do a lot of skiing as well, so I’ve been in the Alps numerous times. I’ve also done a lot of Scottish winters. Being up in the highlands can be as challenging as anywhere! You may not be going too high, so you don’t have the altitude to worry about, but the weather can be pretty fierce up there.

Is there a mountain you’re particularly keen to tackle?

A friend of mine went to Everest base camp a couple of years ago. That would certainly be interesting. You’re not going anywhere near the summit; I think Nepal has lots of issues with the amount of people who try and summit these days. Some people seem to treat it like a shopping expedition – it’s bizarre. But I wouldn’t mind doing the base camp.

I’d also like to do the via ferrata in Italy. During the war, the Italian army basically fixed ladders to mountains so they could escape from the Germans. That equipment lasted and people use it now to go climbing up some of the mountains. That would be a good experience.