The Connections between Gaming, Finance and Cybersecurity: Interview with Italian National Gaming Champion and Bl4ckswan Founder Thomas Castagna
RR: Can you provide some background about your upbringing?
Building things was the defining aspect of my upbringing. During my early childhood, I loved building castles of cards and playing Legos, and then growing up, I started to build armies and decks in strategy games. In my late teenage years, after studying as a quantity surveyor and as the time came to decide on a career, I asked myself, what motivated me?
The answer was using math to build things. And then I asked myself, how can I translate building things and gaming into a job? And so I went into economics and business management and my thesis was on building simulators for decision-making.
RR: I see that you’re a top competitive player in games like “Magic: The Gathering” and “Warhammer.” What do you like most about gaming?
I started to play games to have fun and craft strategies. Then I found out about a lot of players and I found their attitude about tournaments to be very appealing, and they became a role model for me. I can remember my first Warhammer tournament, where a teammate won and now he is a military officer in the army.
Tournaments for me were a place to learn everything I could from the best players. After training hard, I was happy to be a part of the team that won the 2002 Warhammer national championship and it was an honor to score the highest individual performance of the team.
When it was time to focus on university and work, I had to reduce my playing time. But in 2010, I started to think, why not try to learn more about the competitive field of Magic even while working? In that year, I trained and was lucky to climb up to top 1% in the country.
Basically these games involve a lot of probability and analysis of what we control and what is luck. I learned as a player that to win consistently, we have to make the right moves, even if the right move can lead to a loss from bad luck. This is what I like the most about gaming and it is similar to the philosophy of stoicism.
RR: Have you found any connection between these hobbies and your work?
If you play Warhammer or Magic, math and probability can help a lot, and similarly when you do business, math and probability can help a lot. In fact, I cannot find a clear difference between my hobbies and my work. They both require rationality and temperament to make the right move. Examples of people that I admire at the intersection of gaming and business can be Vanessa Selbst, a top poker player working for Bridgewater Associates, and Warren Buffett, a top investor playing Bridge.
RR: What advice would you give to yourself after you graduated from university in Italy?
My advice is to think crystal clear and to not waste time. Asking what makes us happy can be the first thing after graduation. For students I see a crossroad: choosing a life where work can be your primary hobby or choosing a life where work can be a complement. This crossroad can help us understand how much time we want to commit to work. On top of that I remember a piece of advice from Jack Ma about finding a good boss, not necessarily a good company. Looking backward I could not agree more with him.
RR: What has been the biggest challenge of your career?
Reducing ego. The main challenge for the majority of us can be about managing our ego, and gaining the capability day after day to be at least aware of two things: first, that we can be wrong. Second, that we can be surrounded by wonderful people we can learn from. Because of this, I believe that ego and rationality are two sides of a coin: if ego grows, rationality shrinks, and vice versa.
RR: Why did you choose to start your career in business and finance?
Business or finance seemed like the best industry for building simulators or other analytical models for decision-making. I was very curious to see how people make decisions in business, after seeing for years how people make decisions in gaming. It was about testing my idea that I chose the right job connected with the hobbies I loved during my childhood and teenage years.
RR: Why did you switch into cybersecurity? What made you want to found Bl4ckswan?
Cybersecurity appears to me as a market that will inevitably grow. That’s the reason why I switched into it. I was an outsider in the cybersecurity industry and I never founded a company before. These two factors seemed to present a tough challenge and I saw this as a way to improve myself as a human being.
RR: What has been your favorite project at Bl4ckswan?
We did a project to translate data from technologies and processes into something more understandable for executives that do not have as much exposure to the cybersecurity field. As shared, cybersecurity was something new for me, so it was probably simpler for me to see things from the perspective of an executive outside of cybersecurity.
RR: What’s your favorite part of your job at Bl4ckswan?
My favorite part was probably the first year because building a company and cybersecurity were both new things. When you start something, you feel that thrill, that sensation, in your body. I hope to maintain that sensation for the rest of my path because I think it is one of the best feelings of life. Maintaining everyday the mindset of an absolute beginner is a great habit to cultivate, in my opinion.
RR: How is your company different from other cybersecurity firms?
Ideally, the distinctive factor of Bl4ckswan would be our mixed focus on cybersecurity and compliance. In reality, I think there are other companies that do the same as Bl4ckswan, but entering early in a market segment can be helpful. When we entered the market in the 2010s, we were probably early movers in our segment and that helped our firm to grow.
RR: What moral dilemmas have you encountered while working in the cybersecurity industry, if any?
I would say radical transparency, and transparency in general, is an important moral topic. I see radical transparency as stating things as they are very frankly, and as we understand them. I believe in radical transparency as the right way to communicate things, in any aspect of life.
But you can find people that have a different view about transparency, so in some environments, having radical transparency can be more challenging than in others. It is challenging because we have an inner feeling to speak our mind, but also social norms that restrain our speech. I think radical transparency helps produce clarity, but I can understand how different environments in your personal or workplace communities or even at the societal level will lead to different types of transparency.
RR: What’s the next big thing for cybersecurity in light of the coronavirus pandemic? What risks lie ahead?
We can have “big things” in the short term and in the long term. In the short term, due to the coronavirus pandemic, people have spent a lot more time working at home. This has led to much higher need for safer environments at home when people are constantly on their devices.
And in the long term, I think that digital and regulation can provide a strong tailwind for decades. If we invert this last statement, how can we imagine a world with less internet and less laws regulating the internet? If we cannot imagine a world like that, then cybersecurity can thrive for decades ahead.
Written by Michael Ding & Edited by Alexander Fleiss