Thomas Ballin is the Co-Founder of Cytix, a SaaS platform revolutionising the way people approach security testing.
Let’s start with your background! Can you share with us your career journey and what you’re currently up to?
I dropped out of school at 17 and remember being told by my mum that I needed to either “Find something I want to do, or go work in McDonalds.” At the time I didn’t have many skills, but I was quite handy with a computer so, when I saw a job for Ethical Hacker advertised, I thought I’d try my luck and apply. Miraculously they let me interview and I found myself with my first job.
I spent the next few years learning how to hack into websites, and compromise infrastructure, but where I found my true passion was physically breaking into places. I found myself travelling everywhere, from Paris to Sydney, covertly surveilling buildings, picking locks on doors, and even convincing one security guard to give me a tour of a building I’d been hired to fake burglaries. It was exactly the sort of thrill I wanted from my early 20’s.
Eventually the novelty of hotel rooms and late-night stakeouts wore off and, around the time of the first national lockdown, I decided my next challenge needed to be turning my skills into something more sustainable. I took a management position in a boutique consultancy where I could learn the ins-and-outs of running a business. As I learned new skills like hunting for talent and mediating arguments, I climbed the ladder and quickly found myself running things with my counterpart, Ben.
Ben and I both had big visions for how we’d like to see security testing evolve and so, at the tail end of last year, we took a leap of faith and left the comfort of employment to launch our own startup called Cytix (https://cytix.io). We’re now four months into the business and loving the freedom it gives us to innovate and truly offer something unique.
We’d love to know what a typical day is like for you. Could you describe a recent workday?
Every day is different, but they all start the same way… I shuffle a list of tasks into “Must get done Today”, “Must get done eventually”, and “Should get done, but won’t” piles. I consider the lists more as guidelines than an absolute way to govern my day, but it does give me some idea of what lies ahead.
Once I know what sorts of tasks I need to get done, I try to leverage the Pareto principle to what I’ve got to do. “Which of these tasks are going to take 20% of the effort, and return 80% of the result?” Usually that means sending emails, signing documents, and anything else that requires minimal input and kicks off external processes, before moving onto taxing things like reviewing what my team have been working on, or writing things for myself.
If I take today as an example, I started by reviewing and inviting half a dozen candidates for interviews, set my content writers off on their next challenges, and booked some client calls… that freed up the rest of my morning to get on with some actual testing for some of the customers on our platform.
Somewhere mid-morning I reliably get some sort of a curveball from Ben, as he shares his passion about the next big idea that’s going to accelerate Cytix growth. By the afternoon I’m taking stock of what remains on my “Today” pile and deciding which I’m going to be least annoyed about not getting done that day.
I rarely have time to finish work. Most people say a routine is important, but I like to feel when I’ve “had enough” and to be quite strict with myself on respecting that. There are days that means 4pm, and there are days it means 9, but the last thing I do before I shut down for the evening is clear down the “Done” pile ready for tomorrow.
Can you define work-life balance for yourself and share with us your approach in maintaining it?
As I’ve kind of alluded to, I don’t subscribe to the idea that I hear a lot about a work-life balance being about routine and hard-and-fast boundaries between the two. I set myself core work hours between 10:30 and 15:30, and outside of that I work the hours I feel comfortable.
I’m always aware of what tasks need doing and what one’s I’ve accomplished. For me, that’s enough to drive me when I need it and to be able to put work down when I’ve done my fill.
Change is constant, and it’s essential for growth. Have you made any lifestyle changes in the past year to improve your work-life balance?
One change I’ve made to improve my work-life balance is exercise.
I signed up to run for a marathon this April with the view that, among the demands of running a startup, I might be in danger of breaking my rule about stopping when I need to… but if I had something else I had to do (like train) then it was easier to walk away from work and not feel guilty.
Before we wrap up, do you have any final words of wisdom or insights on work, life, or balance that you’d like to share with our readers?
Everyone’s experience is different and what works for one person will not work for everyone. The one thing that is universally true though is that once you understand the systems and approaches that work for you, you’ll find it changes your world for the better.
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