Talk to a Tykling: Elaine Hollenbeck, Scrum Master

Talk to a Tykling – getting to know Elaine Hollenbeck, Scrum Master

Tyk is making a name for itself through its evolving range of innovative, reliable API and service management solutions. Behind the great products, there’s a global team of talented Tyklings – but who are they and how did they flock to Tyk?

The Talk to a Tykling series answers those questions and more, with our warts and all interviews that get to know the people behind the products.

This week, we’re shining a spotlight on Elaine Hollenbeck, Tyk’s Scrum Master, who shares her insights into the value of kindness, the flaws in frameworks and the joy of being nosey. And who has nothing whatsoever to do with rugby.

What do you do at Tyk?

I’m Tyk’s Scrum Master, which is a fairly new role within the company; I’ve been doing it since last summer, having first joined Tyk as a Project Manager. It’s got nothing to do with rugby – I can’t play rugby! As Scrum Master I work across Tyk’s three development squads. I’m a point of coordination for our product owners and product leadership team, working with them to create high-performing teams. A key part of my role is to remove obstacles from the squads – to stop distractions coming in from the side. It’s all about people and processes.

We work in a very agile way, in two-weekly sprints, corralling releases that go out to our Tyk users. My role is about trying to keep that as smooth as possible, so I work a lot with our squads – my time is taken up with a lot of stand-up meetings, planning meetings and retrospectives, where we look back in order to see how we can improve our processes. That’s part of the joy of agile working.

My role is really exciting. I love taking on new things and there’s been so much to do that the role still feels very new. Every day is definitely a school day!

Where are you based, lockdown aside?

I’m at home at the moment, juggling working, home-schooling and everything else. When the world is normal, I like to spend a day in a coffee shop or a hotel space. It’s purely a self-indulgence because I love people-watching. I find it quite inspiring. Remote working is great but sometimes it’s good to just sit and watch people interactive for a while.

I was going to the office in London once a month, pre-pandemic. I can’t wait to get back to that! I’m based up in Northamptonshire, so even the commute down was part of the enjoyment for me. It’s an easy commute – an hour and a quarter door-to-door – so it’s great for face-to-face meetings. Zoom is great, but sometimes it’s nice to have that in-person contact. 

Are there any parts of your role that are harder because you can’t meet people face-to-face?

Within Tyk, it’s been absolutely fine. I’ve worked at other places that just weren’t geared up for remote working and didn’t really want to be. But Tyk has everything in place and it really does work well. We have a global presence; I work with colleagues from all over the world. Connecting over Zoom works really well for us.

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

I still live in the town where I was born and went to school. My career started in travel and I worked in that industry for 16 years. I was really fortunate to do it in the heyday of the travel sector. It was wonderful – and pre-kids, so I was lucky enough to travel to all manner of places.

I spent quite a lot of time in Cork, in Ireland, because we were transitioning our call centre over to there. I was so fortunate to go on so many educational visits to different countries. It was a huge deal for me because I’m petrified of flying – I never lost the fear, I’m still absolutely petrified of it. So there were quite a few nerve-calming pre-flight drinks involved! I was leading an educational to Miami at one point and I knew I had to be at the top of my game, so I got hypnotised before the flight to help calm my nerves. It didn’t cure me, but it definitely did take the edge off!

I feel really lucky to have been able to travel the world and do so many exciting things. I was working in sales while travelling initially, then moved into a B2B/B2C role. I was eventually made redundant from that role when the company really scaled back. It was a timeshare company and there were over 1,000 staff in the office when I was there; I think there’s about 50 people left there now.

My redundancy fell at a good time, as I had two young children, so I took some time out and did a few part-time roles. But that just wasn’t me. I couldn’t sink my teeth into the roles. I love being in the thick of things!

So I moved into IT, working for a really large IT department within Travis Perkins, in the construction sector. I was a project manager there, in an IT department with over 700 people. I worked on infrastructure projects and digital transformation. It was great, I learnt so much and worked with a great team. It came to an end when my team was disbanded due to budget cuts.

Next came a very short, unhappy stint in local government. I really didn’t enjoy my time there so was desperately seeking something else when I stumbled across Tyk. Tyk really saved the day – I went from a job that was completely mis-sold to me and where I was really unhappy to Tyk, where everything just felt too good to be true. But 18 months on, it’s still completely what I was sold! Tyk’s great – it just fits with everything.

Where was the best place you visited during your travel sector years?

Miami. An airline took us and wined and dined us for ten days. We flew first class and the whole trip was just incredible.

My favourite place in the world though is Ireland. I have family there and the western coast is definitely my go-to place. It grounds me when I go there. In normal circumstances, I try to go at least once a year.

And what’s the worst place you had to visit?

I didn’t have a worst place. Although I thought I was going to have one. I had to lead an educational for colleagues from Spain and Ireland on a canal boat in the UK and I really thought it was going to be horrendous. It was actually terrific. It was for three days in April and the weather was so beautiful we got sunburned!

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

I think it’s a pain point that applies to many companies, across all industries. It’s the idea that one size fits all. So the company finds a framework and that has to fit everyone.

Tyk is really good at understanding that that’s not the case, which has been a huge breath of fresh air for me. When we’ve been rolling out agile working, for example, it’s about getting the best out of people and maintaining quality, not adhering strictly to a framework but making it more hybrid. The three squads that I work across all work differently but the end product in each case is high quality work.

I’d love to see that replicated across larger businesses. Many corporations have this idea that teams should all work in the same way. But the one common thing about people is that they’re all different, so you can’t fit them all into the same box.

When I think back to other roles and envisage applying the Tyk thinking there, I can see that things could have been so much better. There wouldn’t have been the need for budget cuts because the product at the end of it would have been so much better.

What do you like about working for Tyk?

Mainly that I’m treated like an adult. I can see the value in what I do every day and that motivates me. Working in larger companies or those with a huge top-down structure leads to things getting diluted. You can work for a month on something and then just wonder where it’s gone. That doesn’t happen in Tyk. Every day you can see the value of what you’re doing.

And you have a voice. I’ve enjoyed previous roles but I’ve never quite felt that I have the voice that I do within Tyk.

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

It’s trial and error really. Find something that works for you. I think if you’re new to remote working, there’s a real feeling of having to be present all the time. And that’s just not the case.

Personally, what works for me is to shut the laptop down halfway through the day and get away from it. I go for a walk and process what I’ve been doing. I can then come back with better ideas or maybe a better way of doing things.

When the pandemic hit last year, I saw so many pieces of advice on LinkedIn about how you have to get up at the usual time or get dressed to work remotely… But if that doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it. It’s about what you produce. You’ll know at the end of the week if you’ve done a good job and achieved everything you needed to. If not, try something new the next week!

I have friends who have switched over to remote working due to the pandemic and their companies are tracking their online time. It’s ridiculous. You could log on and then sit reading a book. That’s not going to get the best out of people, in my view. There’s no need for it. It quite quickly becomes clear if somebody isn’t doing their job.

Treating people like an adult has other implications too. When I’ve worked in 9-5 roles before, where you strictly have to be at your desk for those hours, then when I’m on leave, I’m on leave. Because they hadn’t taken account of my needs, I didn’t feel inclined to give back. But now, at Tyk, if I’m off for a week and a I have a release going out, I’ll check in because I care about it – all because of the way I’ve been allowed to do my work.

What is a mistake that you made early on in your career and what did you learn from it?

There’s probably a lot of mistakes I could share! The biggest mistake for me is replying on an emotion. The problem with written communication is that it can be misconstrued. It’s so easy to jump on and fire an email or message back that makes things become bigger than they really are.

Now, if I’m in that emotionally charged place, that’s where I’ll go for a walk and let the issue breathe for a little while. Because I’ve learned from the past. I’ve had a snotty email and fired back in the heat of the moment and then really regretted doing it. It doesn’t resolve the matter; it just draws it out and makes it more contentious.

I think this was more something that I had to watch for in my younger days – where you make a point just for the sake of making a point, not to make the situation better.

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

I like to treat people the way that I would like to be treated. And I hope that, in doing that, it incorporates a range of other values – things like trust and kindness. I think you can push that outward.

I’m very conscious that you don’t always know what’s going on behind someone else’s screen, in that person’s life. So it’s important not to go in like a bull in a china shop.

If there’s a new starter at Tyk, for example, I think about how I feel when I start at a new company and how I want to be treated. I remember that there’s no point firing a ton of information at people that they likely won’t understand at that point. Instead, it’s about treating them how I would want to be treated in the same situation. I try to do the same in my personal life, as well as my professional life.

It fits well within Tyk. There’s a lot of kindness and that comes from the top. I think that’s where a lot of companies are missing out. We don’t know what goes on behind someone’s screen or when they go home.

What are your favourite books and/or podcasts?

Podcasts are fairly new to me. My daughter loves to tell me that I’m not as cool as I like to think. In my new role at Tyk, a colleague pointed me towards a very short and sharp Scrum Master Toolbox podcast. It has daily episodes that really help with my learning. It’s about 7-10 minutes at a time, which is so easy to listen to.

I tend to use audiobooks when I walk as well, because I don’t have time to pick up a book. I’ve just started listening to Becoming by Michelle Obama. I’ve only just started it, but I think it’s going to be really good. Her life and where she came from and where she got to is so intriguing.

I love an autobiography – I guess I’m nosey! I like to people watch and learn about people and how they got to where they are.

I do also enjoy a trashy read – something that can just take me away from normality, particularly over the past couple of years. I really love books by Marian Keyes. She’s an Irish writer and she writes some really funny books that you can really identify with. There are lots of bits that are ‘me moments’ in them.

What’s the best autobiography you’ve read? And why?

I’m really into comedy and Michael McIntyre’s autobiography really made me laugh. If a book makes me laugh, that ticks a box for me.

I also read one in 2019 – which now seems like a lifetime ago! – called The Language of Kindness. It was written by a nurse about her long career in care. It was a quiet but thoughtful true-life account, which made me laugh and cry and was really thought-provoking.

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

Even pre-pandemic, time was a commodity because I have two children, so my time is generally spent dropping off at a dance class or a drama class or football practice. And my weekends are generally spent standing at the side of a football pitch or watching a drama or dance performance.

I’m also a school governor, which is a role that I’m incredibly proud of and really enjoy doing. I’ve done that for about seven years now. The reason behind it was that my children’s school at the time was going into special measures. I really didn’t want to be one of those parents who just stood on the playground and moaned about it – I wanted to get stuck in and help. It’s been such a successful journey and it’s such a good school now, a highly desired school. It takes up a lot of time but it’s a really good role.

If I do have any free time after all of that, I like to go and see a comedian or a theatre production, or just spend time with friends and family. Right now, I’d love to go to a pub for dinner – or for a carvery on a Sunday. Who would have thought this time last year that that would become the dream?

What’s the thing you’re most looking forward to doing post-pandemic?

Just meeting up with friends and not having to worry about if I’m too close to them!