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Balancing the Grind with Graham Glass, Founder & CEO at CYPHER LEARNING

Graham Glass is the founder & CEO at CYPHER LEARNING, a company providing learning platforms for schools, businesses, organisations, and entrepreneurs around the world.

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

At my core, I am both an innovator and educator. I went to the University of Texas in Dallas for my graduate work and started teaching computer science. I had a great time doing that, but I also wanted to keep moving forward.

So, after a couple of years, I started up a training company, teaching computer science to US companies – programming languages, analysis, and design. In 2000, I started my first software company. 

I am a hands-on software guy. And I have built some cool products in web services, infrastructure, and distributed computing. Yes, I’m going to toot my own horn here and say I have quite a few patents in that area. 

In 2006, shortly after selling the last company, I founded CYPHER LEARNING, which is an intersection of education and high tech. CYPHER LEARNING has a cloud-hosted learning platform with versions tailored for businesses, schools, and entrepreneurs.

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

I’m a big proponent of getting a good amount of sleep, but with two young boys it can be a challenge. I’m up at 9 am and it’s breakfast first, usually pancakes, juice and a banana. I always finish by having a cup of coffee with my wife. That’s our ‘us’ time. 

I have a home office, so that’s where you will usually find me until lunchtime – catching up on emails, working with the various teams to make sure everyone is on the same page. After lunch, I do some hands-on work, getting involved in some of the architecture and some of the product design. Writing codes, sketching designs, working with the engineers. I love that I still get to do some software computing. 

Right around the same time every afternoon, Branson, our 4-year-old, comes into my office with a jigsaw puzzle or some activity and that means taking a break and focusing on what’s really important: spending time with him.

Family is important. Most nights you will find me with my son doing the bedtime routine – shower, climbing into pyjamas, cuddles and bedtime stories. Come 8 in the evening I normally enjoy an old English bedtime drink called Bovrite.

Then it’s time for some more engineering work and emails before I head to bed. I often read one or two chapters of a book – that always clears my mind and helps me sleep better. 

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

Almost everyone at CYPHER LEARNING is remote. It’s a fully distributed company and it was engineered to be that way from Day 1, which was over 15 years ago.

I’ve worked out of my home office remotely for 10 years straight. So, it’s like an old hat for me, there’s nothing new at all. That said, I do miss some facets of the office environment. 

In a different lifetime, it would be nice to have a little California office with 10,15 people. But our company is divided into little groups across places such as Australia, Mexico, Romania, Dallas, Texas, and California. So that’s not very practical. I live in a place called Ross now and there aren’t many office spaces there anyway.

Personally, I like remote working because it gives me freedom and allows me to spend time with my kids when I want to. That remote arrangement doesn’t work for everyone though.

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

That’s always a challenging one. Especially if you’re a fast-growing company and you’ve got a lot of ambition, you can always find a way to fill every waking minute of your day with something work-related.  

Work-life balance to me, at the very least, means taking care of my health, taking time to read or play some sport, playing with my kids, and spending time with my wife. I really do wish I had more time for my hobbies.

One of my resolutions is to find time each day to work on a hobby – I love to write music and sing. I’ve got to figure out how I’m going to squeeze my hobbies in there. Otherwise, the creative part of me is not going to be satisfied.

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

When the pandemic started, I had to give up StretchLab, which is a weekly assisted stretching routine that worked wonders for me. I had to stop group workouts at Orange Theory too. 

During this time, I have started reading a lot more again. I’m a really big fan of reading before bedtime. I find that thoroughly enjoyable. I don’t like working and then immediately going to bed, it’s hard to let the brain relax. Reading a couple of chapters of a good book helps my sleep hygiene.

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

Yes. I love the Foundation series, the sci-fi book series by Isaac Asimov – the stories and narratives are so rich. And I’m really enjoying the adaptation on Apple TV. I’m also a huge fan of the TV series Dexter, currently watching season 9. There is something about the code that Dexter lives by that keeps drawing audiences in. I highly recommend it. 

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

My coffee maker. I have a cup of coffee in the morning and a cup of coffee in the afternoon. So, I would be lost without a coffee maker. Obviously, I use my phone a lot but as far as apps go? Not really. I’m not that big into the various kinds of smartphone apps.

8) If you could read an interview about work-life balance by anyone, who would that be? 

I would love to read a book by Einstein about work-life balance. My impression is that he didn’t have a good work-life balance at all. It seemed like it was 98% physics and 2% personal life. So, I’d be very interested to see what his opinion was on that. 

That said, I do think Richard Branson has the most incredible work-life balance and, you know, I aspire to be as balanced as he is. Elon Musk is incredible. But (like Einstein) I don’t get the impression he has great work-life balance either. Then again, I think most of what he does, he doesn’t really consider work anyway because he’s so passionate about all of it. 

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

Hm, that’s a tricky one. When I look back over the years, I would love to have done more music, made more room to do things related to my hobbies.

Maybe that would have been more satisfying. Turn back time and give me redo in that part of my life! Yet that’s hindsight, isn’t it? At the time, I thought I was doing the right thing. But I wouldn’t trade anything in the universe for my family – my wife and my sons.

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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.