Ross grew up across southern Africa. He studied a B.Com in Philosophy, Politics and Economics at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he then completed an M.Phil in Public Policy. He was awarded his Ph.D. in Economics, also at UCT, in 2019. His thesis explained institutional divergence between Nigeria and Angola, Africa's two biggest oil producers. The research explored oil for infrastructure deals in each country. It also explains why dos Santos was able to stay in power for 38 years while no Nigerian autocrat was able to last that long. It closes off by examining the parallels between the 2017 Angolan and Zimbabwean coups.
From 2010 to 2011, Ross lectured in political economy at UCT. The following year he worked as a parliamentary researcher. In mid-2013, he became a senior researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, where he worked until 2019. His initial work examined labour relations in the mining space in the aftermath of Marikana. He worked on a range of mining and wildlife governance projects thereafter and published a number of academic papers and research reports. On 1 May 2020 he became a director of research and programmes at Good Governance Africa and is a senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg's Institute for the Future of Knowledge.