Behind the Screen: Meet Senior Technical Manager Ollie Young

Skyral People Team

Career Journey

Q: Tell me a bit about your career to date?

So, I started off as a systems administrator in 2006 at a company called Hewlett Packard. I worked in the managed hosting division, where I was responsible for our clients’ production Unix & Linux systems. That role was mainly geared toward large banks and large enterprises.

From that, I transitioned into infrastructure engineering, and I started working for an investment bank. Working in banking was fast-paced, especially as I was working with trading systems, but I was really looking to work somewhere where I could have a bit more of a clear impact. So, I took a role with the Ministry of Justice, where I focused on cloud engineering in the DevOps space.

I found real enjoyment in cloud engineering when I was working in government, especially because I could write more code, so I chose to pursue this when I moved over to Improbable Worlds, and then at Skyral following the spin-out from Improbable.

Q: It seems like your breadth and depth of experience could really fit anywhere; why did you choose to follow Skyral after the spin-out?

I think mainly having the opportunity to be a part of starting a new business was really powerful for me. We were able to start from scratch in terms of software delivery, which is a highly unique situation to be in.

It was also really cool to be a part of a business that had a startup feel in terms of its culture, yet still had a strong level of investor backing and clear growth potential, with the added plus of having a decade of experience delivering. It was like building something from scratch that had so much momentum, but with a safety net that helped build confidence across teams.

Q: Take me through your average day as a Skyral Engineer?

Well, I’m a team leader, and I’ve just been promoted to Senior Technical Manager. My role is a hybrid role, which is why I have a slightly different title than just Engineering Manager. I’m a Technical Manager because I’m still quite hands on.

So, an average day starts with a stand up like any engineering squad would have. My team is so easy to manage and they’re all very much self-starters; they need very little coaching from me, which is really nice. Once we’ve set the direction of what needs doing, I’ll move into having lots of technical discussions, typically in 1:1s. Sometimes these 1:1s also involve a bit of checking-in and people management.

I’ll also often have meetings with other people across the business, mainly with the other Skyral Core teams, but also with teams who support our other product lines so that we can ensure Core is always integrated properly. These meetings are about defining technical strategy and technical vision. This is a really collaborative part of my job and often brings together different teams to work on whiteboard system design, for example. Finally, I spend some of the day doing code reviews, and also writing a little bit of code myself. Lately, I’ve also been writing documentation, as that’s a really big drive across the business right now.

Q: What’s the best part about working at Skyral?

The people!

I really value the fact that you can be in a senior position, and you’re still challenged, even from a much more junior team. You’re learning every day. I also like how much Skyral respects flexible working, while maintaining the idea that our work is about delivering outcomes. You know, we’re not about measuring how long you are sitting at your desk. It’s something I really don’t take for granted because even today, a lot of companies still have that view of productivity as presenteeism. That’s just not Skyral. But, you know, there are a lot of companies out there that don’t take that view yet.

That being said, the expectations are clear, and that’s something I like too. No one is prescriptive about how things get done, or where they get done (we have an amazing remote working policy!), but getting to the outcome is always the priority. I find that to be incredibly empowering.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge of working at Skyral?

Probably the growing pains that are natural to face following the spin out, but that’s one of the things that makes it interesting. We’re in a stage of defining processes, documentation and also technical direction we can refine and define from scratch, which is hard and takes time, but the hard work pays off.

For example, we have to completely redesign our continuous integration (CI) system to get us to the point where everyone is using Github actions. Every engineering team had to be involved to migrate pipelines and that also meant getting everyone on the same page and being aligned. Then add a time pressure to that and avoid any impacts to ongoing delivery…that’s a huge technical challenge. But over time, we’ve got a baseline and it has only gotten smoother and smoother now that it’s bedded in.

While all teams have had to do something like that, it’s a reflection of how awesome the opportunity is. Remember, since the very first day we officially became Skyral we were able to write software. And sell it. That makes the challenges worth it.

Q: What makes Skyral unique?

The fact that we’re able to win work in the Defence industry that Primes can typically only win. I think part of this has to do with the fact we really try to tackle the challenges, like the CI systems integration example I mentioned before, head on. Few businesses are able to do that and claim it.

Q: How would you describe ‘Life @ Skyral’?

It definitely stimulates your mind and keeps you on your toes. It’s technically interesting. And we have really bright people trying to solve different problems across a breadth of technical disciplines.

In three words? Energising, thought-provoking, dynamic.

…I guess that’s four.

Core & Content

Q: Can you explain what Core & Content is in the simplest terms?

We build reusable software components that enable leaders and decision makers to make better choices. Content generally refers to models and simulation. This is where human behaviours and environmental variables get put into a context where people can test scenarios and see outcomes of a decision they want to make.

Q: What makes Core & Content so cutting-edge?

Obviously our technology is cutting-edge because modelling and simulation is cutting-edge. Yes, we’re leveraging the best of OpenSource ecosystems and Cloud ready technology, but actually, I think where we’re setting a new bar is the sheer number of different technical disciplines coming together to make the capabilities work. We’ve got platform engineers, scientists, model engineers, security engineers, test engineers, front/back end developers, all interacting and collaborating. Then, when we apply customer learnings to different contexts, reusing & combining that knowledge, code and tools, models, runtime to foundational infrastructure tooling…I could go on…what we’re doing is increasing the velocity and power of insight for customers again and again. And we’re blisteringly quick. That’s what’s really transformative.

Q: Tell me about the Core & Content team? (Size, experience, job roles and responsibilities)

The Core & Content team is actually a division, split into 3 teams. The teams aren’t siloed, they get mixed together and everyone works closely and works on different capabilities.

There’s the Core RE team, which is split into two subteams. The Simulation Execution team which focuses mainly on developing our high performance runtime & APIs, which is currently capable of simulating millions of entities on a single machine! And we also have the Simulation Services team, who handle orchestration of simulations at small or large scales and our simulation insight capabilities.

Then there is the Core EE team, Engineering Enablement. My team! We are our synthetic solution operations experts. We look after the base cloud infrastructure, monitoring, security, authorisation, database and pubsub systems that make up Skyral synthetic environments. Additionally, we handle our Synthetic Solution Development Life Cycle tooling, all aimed at keeping developers moving quickly and delivering secure code: (CI/CD, Build management, security scanning, development infrastructure).

Last but certainly not least, we’ve got Core MD: Modelling and Development, which is split into further subteams. These folks work on model engineering and applied science, aka the ‘content’ in “Core & Content,”producing powerful models that power our synthetic solutions.They also work on our knowledge management capability (including tools to curate, process and visualise data), our geographic information system and additionally front end tools and frameworks such as our application development kit. We’ve also got the test practice, who provide consultancy on all aspects of system testing.

Current Projects

Q: What are you working on right now?

The coolest thing I’m working on right now has come off the back of our Memorandum of Understanding to explore supporting the deployment of modelling and simulation in Bali, and across Indonesia, to help with major infrastructure and development projects.

The other big project my team is working on is building out our authorisation stack. This is a deeply technical project based in foundational platform engineering to enable our more sensitive customers to control who does what within the software. There are some very interesting technical challenges here because we have to integrate every single component. It’s going to be a long-term, ongoing effort using OpenFGA and integrating that with all services running on Kubernetes. It’s a super rewarding project though, because we’re also building out and maturing our secure cloud hosting infrastructure, enabling us to securely host systems used by our customers around the world.

Hot Take

Q: What technologies/engineering breakthroughs are coming to the fore right now that have you really excited?

AI. Obviously AI. It’s everywhere, and thenext 5 years will be transformational.

There are definitely other people in the company that probably are much more knowledgeable and have more in-depth takes on it than me, such as my model engineering and applied scientist colleagues.

But for me, it’s really interesting to think about just how transformational it will be. I think a lot of people have a sort of doomsday view about it and have made it a polarising topic. I don’t agree with that. I prefer to question or explore how AI is going to augment our jobs, not destroy the world or make us unemployed. Rather than fear it, I think we need to mould it to fit our world and use it to solve problems. Regulate it, make it safe, and use it to help us answer life’s biggest questions.

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