Vitalik Buterin is a cryptocurrency visionary. So much so that the creator of Ethereum (ETH), the second biggest cryptocurrency on the market, was recently selected as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2021.
Buterin wrote the whitepaper for Ethereum in 2013 when he was just 19 years old. He saw a way to use the blockchain technology that Bitcoin (BTC) is built on and take it to another level using smart contracts.
Smart contracts are tiny pieces of self-executing code that live on the blockchain. They elevate it from being a sophisticated ledger of transactions to a programmable network. The Ethereum network now hosts thousands of decentralized applications (dApps) and other cryptocurrencies. Several Ethereum alternatives have sprung up, but Ethereum remains the dominant force.
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Vitalik Buterin’s background
Would you believe the now famous 27-year-old billionaire did not finish university? The Russian-Canadian quit his computer science studies at the University of Waterloo in 2014 to dedicate his time to building Ethereum. He’d just been awarded a $100,000 Thiel Fellowship, which — in addition to funding — offers guidance and resources to talented young people to help them pursue their ideas.
Born in Kolomna, Russia (about 100km away from Moscow), Buterin moved to Toronto, Canada shortly before his sixth birthday. In Canada, his skills in math and programming meant he quickly found his way to a school for gifted children.
Once Buterin had embraced Bitcoin, he began writing for a Bitcoin blog so he could earn some of the leading crypto. Soon after, he co-founded Bitcoin Magazine with Mihai Alisie who went on to join him in co-founding Ethereum.
Buterin writes on his about.me page that a World of Warcraft trauma in 2010 was one of the drivers behind his dedication to all things decentralized. He said one day Blizzard, the game developers, removed the damage component from his warlock’s spell. “I cried myself to sleep, and on that day I realized what horrors centralized services can bring,” said Buterin. Decentralization — cutting out the middleman — has been an important part of Ethereum’s development.
Buterin’s whitepaper attracted interest from several quarters. Indeed, Ethereum had eight co-founders — which was, according to The Block, a decision Buterin later came to regret. Several went on to create their own crypto projects, such as Gavin Wood and Polkadot (DOT), as well as Charles Hoskinson and Cardano (ADA). Of the original founders, only Buterin continues to be involved in Ethereum.
Buterin is a member of the executive board of the Ethereum Foundation, an organization that governs Ethereum’s development, controls the treasury, and works to involve the community.
Ethereum today is the backbone for a host of cryptocurrency projects. According to State of the dApps, it has almost 3,000 dApps on its platform — about 75% of the total. It’s also a popular platform for the ever-popular non-fungible tokens (NFTs). NFTs are a type of digital collectible that use smart contracts to record copyright and ownership information.
However, the Ethereum network has been a victim of its own success. It struggles with heavy congestion and high gas (transaction) fees. Which is why Buterin has been spending a lot of his time on Eth2 — a safer, faster, more scalable version of Ethereum. Eth2 will also leave the much-criticized energy-guzzling proof-of-work mining model behind.
Even without Eth2, Ethereum’s price has grown over 420% this year alone. And it is up over 245,000%% since it first launched.
Buterin in his own words
The best way to understand anyone is by listening to what they have to say. Here’s our pick of useful or interesting Buterin quotes.
2016: “When I came up with Ethereum, my first first thought was, okay this thing is too good to be true and I’m going to have five professional cryptographers raining down on me and telling me how stupid I am for not seeing a bunch of very obvious flaws,” he said in an interview with Wired.com. “Two weeks later I was extremely surprised that none of that happened. As it turned out, the core Ethereum idea was good, fundamentally, completely, sound.”
2017: Buterin’s advice on Twitter is still true today, “Reminder: cryptocurrencies are still a new and hyper-volatile asset class, and could drop to near-zero at any time. Don’t put in more money than you can afford to lose. If you’re trying to figure out where to store your life savings, traditional assets are still your safest bet.”
2021: In reply to a question about the hardest lesson he’d learned through Ethereum, he tweeted, “People are harder to tightly coordinate in small groups than I expected. You can’t just get everyone to sit around in a circle, see each other’s inherent goodness and get along, especially when huge incentive conflicts are at play.”
If learning about Buterin has made you want to invest in Ethereum, you can buy it from most top cryptocurrency apps and exchanges. But even an established crypto like Ethereum can be a volatile and risky investment. Make sure to do your own research and follow Buterin’s advice: Only spend money that you can afford to lose.