Talk to a Tykling: Sophie Riches, UX Architect

Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Sophie Riches

Tyk doesn’t just help businesses to operate efficiently and achieve their goals, it also provides a superb user experience (UX). But that kind of product finessing doesn’t happen automatically – it takes a team of talented specialists working to ensure that each Tyk user benefits from a great experience.

That’s why, in our most recent Talk to a Tykling interview, we sat down with Sophie Riches, Tyk’s UX Architect, to discover more about what goes on behind the scenes of a fantastic user experience.

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m a UX Architect within the product leadership team. My role covers various things. On one side, I work with the product leadership team to drive and define the corporate roadmap and product strategy with a UX focus. It’s about making sure that everything that we do as a company and a product gives the best user experience and best value that it possibly can.

The other side of my role is leading the company’s UX capability. It’s about delivering consistency and coherence in all of the UX that goes on within and between each of the different product areas and user touchpoints.

Do you have to localize the work that you do for the different regions that Tyk serves?

The product is the same for everyone, though we do have it translated into a couple of other languages for specific countries. We definitely want to focus more on understanding the different cultural aspects of our user groups at some point in the future – defining personas, user groups and scenarios that incorporate cultural elements.

Where are you usually based, outside of the COVID-19 lockdown?

I work from home/cafés most of the time. I’m based down on the south coast in the UK, a couple of hours from the Tyk office, so I tend to go in once a week or once every two weeks to meet up with people and enjoy some social interaction.

I can see the sea from my home office and I’m based in a town that’s full of little, independent coffee shops, so I like to check out their range of coffees and cakes while I’m working.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and what led you to Tyk?

I’ve always been in UX. Even from a young age, I was always the person that people seemed to turn to when they were having an issue with their computers. I’m not sure how it came about – I just seemed to pick things up quickly and know what to do.

When I was about 14, a family friend who owned a computer shop gave me a load of parts and let me build my own computer, which was fun.

I did IT and psychology at A Level and loved both, so deciding which to do at university was a real struggle. I opted for computer science, then very quickly realised that I did not have the brain (or patience) for programming! Towards the end of my degree, I did a human computer interaction course and that was when I discovered that UX existed as a career. I realised it was the perfect interaction of psychology and technology to suit my interests, which was fortunate.

Towards the end of my degree my tutor introduced me to a local research startup who were looking for a junior programmer. I chatted with them and was really honest that programming was not a route I wanted to go down, as I wanted to be a UX designer. Luckily, they invited me to go and do that with them! I got to teach myself on the job, which was great, but I knew I wanted some more UX specific training.

I was offered a graduate position at IBM – I was their first design hire in the UK. I got to spend three months at their design headquarters in Texas, which was an amazing learning experience. After a few years in the corporate world, I realised that startups are a lot more fun (and challenging!), so I’ve stuck with those ever since! My focus has always been on developer-orientated products as I really enjoy the technical side, so I’ve always been in the B2B/enterprise developer UX world.

When I came to Tyk, it was the natural next step in my career. I had moved out of London, so the remote nature of the role fitted perfectly with where I was at in my life, and the work Tyk are doing really resonated with me.

Is there a particular pain point in the UX industry that you would like to fix?

It’s slowly happening, but there’s still a massive mindset shift needed in relation to developer and enterprise tools, as a lot of companies believe that UX doesn’t really matter. There’s an outdated view that they’re just practical, business tools that fulfil a certain function, so the UX just isn’t important.

It’s a mindset that I’ve been battling against for my entire career, so I would love to be able to change it. Thankfully the work that I’m doing at Tyk is part of helping to move things in the right direction.

Has that mindset changed at all during the time you’ve been working in the UX sector?

Yes, it’s definitely starting to change. Big companies like IBM and Google growing their own design teams and buying in design agencies has been a big shift and that’s good to see. It is slowly getting there, but there are loads and loads of legacy software issues in large corporations, so it’s really difficult to get companies themselves to shift and modernise!

What do you like about working at Tyk?

The opportunities that you have and the difference that you can make are fantastic. We’re still quite a small company, so it’s possible to do quite a big job and jump into lots of different things. You never get bored just working on one thing.

I also love the flexibility and the culture – it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in any job. It’s amazing!

What is it that Tyk does differently to create that culture?

I think it stems from the founders and their attitude to the way that people should work and live, and the way that the two should come together. They believe that people shouldn’t just live to work.

There’s also the fact that it’s such an open culture – the founders and the board are just there, all the time. They’re not some kind of magical entity that’s hidden away like they are in many companies. That makes a big difference.

What are your tips for someone new to get the best out of working in a remote-first organisation?

The main thing that took me a while to adjust is to not feel bad about times that you’re not working, when you wouldn’t be working anyway if you were in an office. It’s about setting those boundaries of work time versus relaxation time – but also about being flexible with that. You don’t have to work 9-5.

Personally, I tend to have a lot of meetings during the morning, then take a few hours off in the afternoon to enjoy some leisure time and do what I need to do during the day. Then I’ll come back and work for a few hours later into the evening, because that’s the time of day at which I’m most creative.

Can you share an example of a mistake that you made early on in your career and what you learned from it?

One of the main things earlier in my career, especially being a UX person in the technical space, was not asking enough questions. Not really understanding fully how things worked slowed the design process down.

I just felt bad about constantly asking questions. Now I’ve learned not to worry about that – I ask questions all the time. It probably really bugs people, but it’s definitely the best way to design a proper user experience for a product that you don’t use yourself but need to understand fully. So asking questions is something that I’ve learned to do over the years.

What are the values that drive you personally? What’s important to you?

Honesty, respect and kindness are three values that I hope I live up to. I’m also fairly optimistic as a person – I always try to see the good side of things, and of people, so optimism definitely plays a part in how I like to conduct myself.

Do your values fit with Tyk particularly, when compared with other companies that you’ve worked for?

Yes, definitely. Some other companies just want you to turn up and get the job done. At Tyk, it’s really ingrained in the culture that things should be done in line with the company values. That only works if you uphold those values yourself as well.

What are your three favourite books and/or podcasts?

My favourite book that I read recently was The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo, VP of Product Design at Facebook. I found every page to be so insightful – I’m going to read it again very soon!

We have a book club at Tyk and I’m enjoying the book that we’re reading at the moment. It’s called The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F***. I’ve got a couple of chapters left to go and we’re meeting on Monday to discuss it. It gives a totally different perspective to a lot of the productivity books out there.

Podcast-wise, I enjoy crime and psychology, so Serial is my favourite podcast. It’s a documentary that’s spread across three series (or possibly more now), which follows the crime and justice system in America – investigative and curious psychological stuff.

How does the book club work?

It’s been in place for about six months. We read The Jungle first. It was difficult to arrange catchups about it at first, so we switched to asynchronous catchups on Slack, started by the person who proposed the book. They would write some questions and we would respond. Obviously at the moment, with the lockdown, a lot of people have more time on their hands, so we’ve started the meetings up again.

Has the lockdown changed your role at all?

Things have been quite a bit busier for me recently, although that’s partly because I’m hiring right now. Mentally, the role has become a bit more challenging. Because I can’t just pop out to a coffee shop and work there, or go out in the evenings to decompress, it’s a bit more draining emotionally. I’m definitely working a lot more due to not having anything else to do, which isn’t necessarily the best as I don’t really get a break!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working, lockdown aside?

I have two dogs, which I love walking along the seafront. I really enjoy cooking too – mainly savoury stuff. For about a year now, I’ve been mainly plant-based, which has given me the chance to be more creative in my cooking. I started doing it for ethical reasons, but then started learning more about the health implications of eating a plant-based diet, so it’s probably more for health reasons now – it’s a double whammy!