Emerging Technology Consultant at Large Consulting Firm Author of Billy Bitcoin: A Technical Explanation of Bitcoin for Everybody
Tell us a little about your story and background, as well as what you work on now.
I’ve always been passionate about how things work. Growing up, whether it was a microchip in a computer or a massive steel bridge, I would want to know every detail. I earned bachelor’s and graduate degrees at the University of Michigan in materials science & engineering. After graduation I wanted to apply my technical background in a business context, and I joined the emerging technology group at a large consulting firm. We research emerging tech and industry trends, helping businesses solve problems and envision the “art of the possible” with these technologies. Some of them are relatively easy to explain on a high level — virtual reality, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence — but blockchain concepts are a lot more intangible and can leave people with more questions than answers. I’ve become passionate about understanding the “how.” When you understand how it works, then you can help businesses understand the “why.”
When did you first hear of cryptocurrency and what were your first initial thoughts?
I went to a Bitcoin meetup in Ann Arbor in early 2013. (The invite suggested donating Bitcoin, then worth $18, to pay for pizza.) I started posting online a bit about Bitcoin, asking friends for their opinions, but I wasn’t getting much interest. In 2014 I took a trip to Iceland and learned about the mining facilities there. Seeing firsthand the resources being put into the space gave me the push to jump in head first. Initially my interest was mostly curiosity — what was this thing? I’d always been a tech-forward guy, and it felt right. Plus I wanted to prove to my friends, who may have thought I was crazy, that I was onto something.
What sparked your interest in blockchain and motivated you to create a blog?
Blockchain is exciting because it brings together so many different domains: computer science, economics, cryptography, peer-to-peer networks, law, ethics, and more. It’s fascinating how a combination of technologies and research have come together to create this new revolution.
For years after I first got involved, I read article after article but I still did not really get how it all works. What is this “game” that miners are competing to solve? Who is a miner? What is a private key? How is Bitcoin so secure if it’s been hacked so many times? Most importantly, as an emerging technology consultant, I did not know how blockchain worked. How could I help the increasing number of businesses who were asking about blockchain if I did not know how it worked myself? That gave me the idea for a resource
to bridge the gap between the overly technical, which is usually inaccessible to most readers, and the over-simplified analogies and cliches that don’t leave readers with much understanding. Most people have been told that “blockchain is a distributed ledger,” but they haven’t been taught what that means. I wanted to start with Bitcoin, as it was the first application of blockchain, and I went with a design of a kind of “dry-erase board” with handwritten drawings. A dry-erase board is where I feel most creative — bouncing ideas off of colleagues and friends with everyone contributing, ideating, figuring out how things work, and solving problems. Most importantly, I wanted a comprehensive and technical piece, which left nothing out but could be understood by everyone, regardless of their background.
Can you tell us about enterprise interest in blockchain?
It has been so interesting to watch the price of Bitcoin and the subsequent enterprise interest grow at the same time. Just about every company is now asking questions about blockchain. Many are asking for educational workshops, and with some, we have begun building proof-of-concepts and prototypes. It is important that these companies think about their business problems and see what blockchain can help solve, and are not simply “doing blockchain” to do blockchain.
In your blog, you mention that simplified concepts of blockchain technology are being applied to bank transactions and supply chains. What other process/systems could benefit from adopting blockchain technology and what would the expected impact be?
From our clients, we are seeing a lot of interest in digitizing assets and tracking these assets using blockchain. By giving a cryptographic identity to physical objects, they can be tracked across parties and borders, and their location data, authenticity, and more can be ensured with greater confidence. Additionally, blockchain provides huge opportunities to enhance privacy. The idea is that a blockchain could use cryptography to validate data without giving away the data itself. Perhaps this means validating you are 21 years old at a venue without having to give out your full identity, or using digital signatures instead of a giving out your social security number. A huge area of opportunity will also be in interoperability, or how various blockchains interact with each other. Interoperability will be essential to connect different platforms and protocols and to enable businesses with private data on permissioned blockchains to also eventually interact with and enjoy the benefits of public blockchains. Ultimately, blockchain will bring us new application and business models that we can’t even think of today.
What is your advice for those hoping to participate in the cryptocurrency space but don’t know where to start? Billy Bitcoin!
But seriously, I suggest you just go into the space with an open mind and ready to learn. Each and every day you will learn more, and will then learn how much more you don’t know. Don’t let what you do not know intimidate you. Start by googling what you are most interested in and then let it take you down many different rabbit holes. Meet as many people as you can. Grab coffees, lunches, or drinks with people in the space. Your network will grow faster than you think!
What resources do you use now to keep updated?
For business news in general, I read the Wall Street Journal
and The Morning Brew
daily business email newsletter. For blockchain news, I read many of the usual suspects like Coindesk. But to me the most important thing has been creating communities and meeting people, whether it be a Telegram chat room with people I did not initially know or stepping out of my comfort zone and going to an in-person meet up. My main source of content is actually shared articles from my network. And of course, the Bit Daily, which I just started reading a couple of weeks ago — short and sweet, but also informative updates in the blockchain space.