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Balancing the Grind with Aimran Akhtar, Head of Product at Carbonix

Aimran Akhtar is the Head of Product at Carbonix, a start-up providing RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems) solutions to businesses and governments.

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1) To kick things off, could you tell us a little about your career background and current role?

My name’s Aimran and I am currently the Head of Product at a Sydney-based aerospace start-up. 

I’ve spent a huge bulk of my career working with tech start-ups — and I’ve enjoyed every bit. My background is in aerospace engineering, having graduated from the University of New South Wales, Australia.

Having spent the early stages ‘getting my hands dirty’ working on unmanned aerial systems (UAVs), specifically on powertrain analysis and flight testing, I quickly grew with the company to eventually lead the engineering team. 

The next couple years went by rather quickly, and with the successful completion of the design and development of two aircraft models, I transitioned to product management – growing organically to now shift my focus to product management and business development. 

As Head of Product, I bring technical know-how, hands-on experience of various development cycles and understanding of the overall product architecture to the solution management stream as the company progresses towards the commercialisation of its products.

In this capacity I have been focused on aligning the user stories, product backlogs and market requirements with high-level corporate strategies to manage the product portfolio and ensure successful commercial adoption.

2) What does a day in your life look like for you? Can you take us through a recent workday?

Anyone who has worked with/for start-ups can attest to the exciting and fast-paced nature of the work. I often joke that a ‘normal’ day would be to wake up and show up to work thinking you have got your day/week planned, only for it to be thrown out the window within the first two hours. Though I guess that is what makes the work exciting. 

A day in the life essentially sees me riding the wave – celebrating the wins (all wins are important, big or small) whilst working with the team to overcome the challenges. 

I would like to think of myself as an early riser, out of bed by 4.30am. Keeping fit and healthy is a key part to being able to bring your best self to work and so I like to start my mornings with a workout – either going for a run or clocking in my daily laps at the pool (not in winter though). 

Breakfast is when I typically do my readings, browse through socials and catch up with what is going on with the world. A shower and a cup of a skimmed latte later I am off to the office. 

The workday itself passes by rather quickly, with lunch often had on-the-go – either between meetings or over meetings. How the afternoons are spent probably depends on the day but I like to have them booked out as ‘focus time’, where I actually get work done. 

After a long day at the office, having a few good hours to wind down is important. This is when you can find me at the local climbing gym or catching up with friends over a few drinks (which can notoriously lead to kick ons, but I’m not complaining).

With the high demands of the job and the team looking up to you for answers and quick decision making for a solid 8-10 hours, it is nice to just decompress, chat and think about everything else but work afterwards. Would recommend it. 

That takes us to about dinner or just after (depending on the ‘nature’ of the catch ups earlier), answering a few quick emails and catching up on some reading — essentially gearing up mentally and prepping for the next workday. 

3) Does your current role allow for flexible or remote working? If so, how does that fit into your life and routine?

Yes. The key to a successful flexible working arrangement is trust, and this generally depends on the company one is working with. I have been fortunate enough to have amazing direct reports, with both my CTO and CEO putting their faith in me to deliver, regardless of where I am physically. This is how I like to manage and run my teams too. 

In today’s day and age, I think most people around the world have come to realize the benefits (and shortcomings) of a flexible/remote working culture. And we all must adapt.

Working remotely for me (or others in my team) generally encompasses ‘getting in the zone’ from home, where you are free of the usual distractions that come with working in the office. Ask anyone and they will probably confirm that they get more done at home (obviously a conducive home working environment helps) than at the office. 

How does that fit into my daily routine? Pretty much like a glove. The activities prior to and/or after work remain unchanged for the most part – except maybe skipping the morning shower (jokes). Instead of heading to the office after my morning cuppa, I just take the elevator back up to the apartment. 

4) What does work-life balance mean to you and how do you work to achieve that goal?

I see work-life balance as the ability to be at your best, both at work and out of it. Obviously easier said than done (and we all have been there – the evenings when you are simply too tired to do anything apart from hitting the sack after work, or conversely the mornings you dread getting out of bed after a hectic weekend). 

There are two aspects to this – balancing work and balancing life. Balancing work comes naturally when you find you enjoy what you do (I know, the cliché stands). Don’t get me wrong, I have seen the adverse effect, in which case you find the passion for the job causing you to be constantly ‘wired up’ and have a hard time disconnecting. Been there, done that. 

Hindsight is 20/20; and so I think it is just one of those things people have to discover and work out for themselves. I found that once I got a grip on balancing ‘work’ (bringing my best but learning to disconnect from time to time), the ‘life’ part came naturally. 

5) In the past 12 months, have you started or stopped any routines or habits to change your life?

Yes. Well at the peak of the pandemic I started taking up running (more as an excuse to leave the house). And I must say, it is life changing. Like I said, I now start my days with a morning jog to get things pumping – but really whether you do it first thing in the morning or late in the evening to decompress, the feel-good sensation you get afterwards is priceless. 

The runs also give me time to think. In a world where you are always constantly connected and wired up with your phones, smartwatches, laptops, etc (not that it is a bad thing), it is nice to have a couple of minutes to yourself and just your own thoughts. Airpods in, cue your favourite playlist and you are off! Puts everything into perspective.  

6) Do you have any favourite books, podcasts or newsletters that you’d like to recommend?

Type in ‘best podcasts on work-life balance and you are off to the races!” (jokes). I am more of a fan of books and audiobooks myself. Two that come to mind as all-time favourites are Legacy by James Kerr and Total Competition by Ross Brown. 

Legacy is an insight into the All Blacks of rugby whereas Total Competition depicts the highly competitive world of Formula 1 racing. Obviously both books may seem a tad ‘sportsy’ at a first glance (and that was my initial reaction too, back when these were recommended to me) – but in reality, the books do an amazing job at allowing the reader to learn and draw parallels between the management strategies and mindset of high performing teams in sports and that of the corporate world (or in my case the world of fast paced start-ups). 

10/10 would recommend.

7) Are there any products, gadgets or apps that you can’t live without?

In today’s world, obviously. Though a recent addition to the list of gadgets has been my smartwatch – and it has been amazing. For the longest time I have been the biggest advocate against having a device on your wrist that pings and gives you nudges additional to what you can easily access or tend to from your phone. Boy was I wrong. 

Having your daily schedule available with just a flick of the wrist has proven to be really helpful – not in terms of time management, but more like time awareness (yes, I just coined a term). Being aware of your schedule, more importantly what is coming up in the next hour or two has helped a lot. Oh, and the health monitoring apps that come with the device are pretty awesome. 

Work-life balance is a funny one. Most people work to live (i.e., to support their livelihood, their families or to chase their dreams) and contrary to popular belief, I don’t think anyone (not even a small portion of the world) really lives to work. Sure, being passionate about what you do for work makes it very hard to draw a line between work and other aspects of life (I have been guilty of that myself) but saying that someone’s sole purpose of living is to work – doesn’t stand. 

8) Do you have any last thoughts on work, life or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?

We all are passionate about different things in life and thus lead very different lives. The word ‘balance’ also doesn’t necessarily mean 50/50. The key to finding fair ‘balance’ is to first recognise and realize what is important to us (the people you get out of bed for in the mornings, and the ones who help you to sleep at night) so we can prioritise accordingly. The rest will fall in naturally.  

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About Author

Balance the Grind is a work-life balance publication on a mission to showcase healthy work-life balance through interesting stories from people all over the world, in different careers and lifestyles.