Costas Tyfoxylos on being a Mission Critical Engineer and an aikido practitioner

Costas vierkant
Costas Tyfoxylos
Sep 21, 2023 · 5 min read
Costas a day in the life

For this edition, we sat down with Costas Tyfoxylos, a Mission Critical Engineer who wears many hats in his professional role and few belts while at work or leisure. He lives in Zwaagdijk-Oost with his wife and their son.

Working life

What do you do in your role as a Mission Critical Engineer?

I am technically part of the Cloud Accelerator Team, which is one of the teams within the company’s innovation hub, Lab271. Schuberg Philis encourages colleagues to master their own destiny, and I continue to wear a lot of hats within the company. These days, however, I am mostly internally focused, trying to improve and raise awareness around security and quality – specifically targeting the cloud and software practices – and training people in coding and designing software and architecting large systems.

Across all your different phases, what’s characteristic of a typical day?

Well, if there is one common thread, it’s Python. That entails coding reusable libraries and tools, doing code reviews and refactorings for customer teams, and training others in coding. This year, especially, most days have been quite consistent because from 8:30 to 4:30, I train both colleagues and customers on Python and software design. In addition, over the last few years, I’ve been very much focused on trying to make Schuberg Philis as quality-oriented and as boringly secure as possible. Last year, it was mostly about building security tooling. I was part of a team who made the energy labelers that report on our security posture for our cloud projects. We worked quite a lot on raising awareness to visualize our actual security, quality, and compliancy posture; we also activated the cloud-native security services, Security Hub on our AWS projects and Defender for Cloud on our Azure projects. I think that worked great because there’s a lot of really good work and improvements happening in those domains without me having to be personally involved anymore. And way before that phase, it was engineering, architecting, designing, and coding many hours a day for large-scale automation. During that time, we created a dual cloud platform for a big customer enabling their migration of over 250 applications to the cloud while deploying over 600 engineers in more than 80 isolated teams at the same time. As part of that project – which evolved to become our “enablement platform” – I designed and authored many open source libraries that are used to this day, including by companies other than Schuberg Philis. So there have been fundamentally different days throughout my tenure here, but that’s what keeps it fresh. Now that I’m finding my personal balance with the company, I really appreciate that not one day looks like all the others – variety is a good thing for me.

Company culture

What keeps you committed to Schuberg Philis?

There is a lot of space to grow, and it is definitely a fully engaging and holistic process. This job is not an eight-hour thing – you know, punch your time card in, punch your card out, and be done with the day. There are challenges in all kinds of dimensions, including very interesting personal challenges that help you grow if you utilize them appropriately. I also think that self-improvement is more important than visible improvement. If, for example, somebody is looking to climb a ladder of some kind, that is not what you get here. The company provides a lot of room for self-improvement, which results in a growth that will likely be holistic and more visible to yourself than to some other external entity. Most colleagues welcome new colleagues on our general Slack channel with the wish to “Enjoy the ride!” And a ride, it is.

Can you say more about a personal challenge you experienced?

Schuberg Philis protects work-life balance 100%, but it comes with a big caveat: the assumption that you have the maturity and the tools to understand your boundaries, communicate them appropriately, and ask for the right help. During my earlier days at the company, I severely overworked. But coming from a culture where that is the absolute average, the fact that I was overworking did not really sink in with my team, so I just persevered. I kept saying: “You know, I am very busy.” But being busy can mean a lot of very different things in a company where everybody is very busy. So I realized that the way I was communicating did not always bring the message across. I had been under the impression that when I say that I am very busy and need help, that should be enough, right? It’s not. As I went through other personal transformations, I realized that by communicating differently – such as by explaining how overworking affected aspects of my personal life – the discussion with my team changed completely. And ever since, I have felt a lot of respect and support, a lot of freedom to protect and heal myself.

How has it been to ask colleagues for help?

Although I was not taking as much of that personal space as I should have in the beginning, I realize, I did see it happening around me. When I do see people communicating that they’re in a hard place, everybody jumps to support them, give them space, and make a safe bubble where they can handle their own situation – which is beautiful. So, I think that Schuberg Philis is an extremely special company in taking care of their people. But you need to have 100% ownership of what being taken care of means for yourself. Up until that point, it may just be kind of implied within a Dutch cultural context. But it can mean completely different things for completely different cultures. And I’m not just saying it from my perspective as a Greek person. I see colleagues from other cultures dealing with their own cultural and communication complexities too. A lot of the international colleagues may be less inclined to stand up and speak out, saying what they think and need. We need, as a company, to create the structures to support them and invest more to ask people from those cultures what their experiences and thoughts are. I think we are improving on that front as the company grows and becomes even more multicultural.

Passion project

What do you like to do when not working?

I practice aikido, which is something that is very important to me and keeps me grounded. I’ve been practicing aikido for 20 years and I still feel that almost every practice is a whole new experience. In fact, even after almost six years at Schuberg Philis, I find that I have the same feeling about most of my days at work.

Does your aikido practice ever resemble how you work as an engineer?

In aikido, much like at Schuberg Philis there, there are no visible “grades.” You have the white belt and then at some point you get the black belt, but all the grades in between go without being awarded a different color belt, unlike in karate, for example. And that’s something I appreciate about Schuberg Philis: you are a mission critical engineer and there could be all kinds of levels within your career, but these are not labeled just for the sake of holding a title. Most of the technical people are mission critical engineers and that title is enough because your work speaks for itself. Also, in aikido, you work with your opponent, with both people improving by utilizing each other’s bodies to train, learn, and evolve; plus, you change partners throughout the practice continuously. This is mostly how things go within Schuberg Philis: you work intimately with colleagues who help you evolve and learn by sharing their skills and knowledge. Since we always work in team compositions, you get to work with many different people. And as more and more new colleagues join, you get to work with more types of people, better enabling us to broaden our experience and master our expertise.

Curious to know more about how more colleagues spend their days? See the whole series here.