So you’re no stranger to the iov42 team, but for our partners and clients to get acquainted with you, could you please share a bit about yourself and your professional background?
So there’s a Venn diagram out there that is meant to explain what kind of nerd you are. And based on that Venn diagram, I classify myself in the geek category.
But for a large portion of my childhood, I struggled heavily at school because I was dyslexic. That struggle meant that I had to learn a pretty solid work ethic, because when you aren’t able to absorb information quickly and apply it, then you have to learn tricks to be able to keep up with your peers.
However, I was really lucky. I had a teacher who was dyslexic herself and she taught me loads of tricks to cope with and overcome dyslexia. This marked a transition for me, because with her help, I ceased to be the kid in class who was always struggling.
By secondary school, I was really excelling in class and a lot of that came down to work ethic. For example, I would often read materials ahead of time so that I could walk into class prepared. It may have seemed to the others that I was grasping the subject matter easily, but that is absolutely not true! I had to work a little bit harder before I stepped into the room.
When I went off to university, I decided to study computer science and artificial intelligence. It was quite a revelatory experience, because I realized then that all that kind of stuff—things like information theory—really clicks for me.
After doing some post graduate work, I went into the finance industry. In order to make this sometimes dull sector truly interesting for me, I looked for the really hard problems. These mostly came down to what we call “scaling problems” in computer science. For instance, “how can we process more stuff, quicker?” Throughout my career, I have solved lots of these sorts of fun problems for companies by designing and building various things, including a Non-Repudiation Database for the UK tax authority.
So following this journey through the finance industry, how did you find your way to iov42?
In 2018, a friend of a friend joined iov42 as an advisor. He brought me and a few others on to help iov42 solve some really hard problems. The thinking behind iov42’s business model was completely different from anything I’d heard of in the distributed computing space; there was this ambition behind it and it was quite enticing.
But on top of that, the people that I met at iov42 all seemed like really creative and smart people that I wanted to work with. At the time, the company was so young and you could sense there was a good work culture where everyone seemed happy, productive, and motivated to solve big problems. So the opportunity to be a part of this culture and to continue to shape it is what ultimately drew me in.
Could you elaborate a little on these “hard problems” iov42 was trying to solve?
Well we wanted to build a blockchain and blockchain is a thing that’s built linearly, one block to another block, to another block, and so on. iov42 wanted to scale blockchain really quickly, but the primary way to scale things in computing terms is to do work in parallel. When you look at that, you realize these two things are incompatible, so the question becomes, “if I do generate blocks in parallel, how do I weave them together in such a way that [the blockchain] scales?”
It turns out you can do that, and that’s what iov42 has invented, but this has not been a trivial task. Many others have tried to approach it in lots of different ways and, quite excitingly, we were able to come up with a pretty novel solution.
What are you most excited about tackling / accomplishing with iov42?
Everything iov42 has built and that we are now trying to bring to market has really been a stepping stone to what I would consider the really interesting stuff.
I’m really interested in ways that we, as a society, can solve coordination problems amongst human beings with technology. For example, how can we build a trusted decentralized mechanism that gives people a way to trust the veracity of a news source in a fake news world? How can we stop the spread of mistruths that are undermining our democracies? Questions like these are the biggest challenges of our time.
And I believe the technology we’ve developed at iov42 could enable socio-technical solutions to some of these bigger problems.
How would you describe what our technology does to someone unfamiliar with iov42?
iov42 has built a technology that enables people at a very high level to describe identities and asset types, to confer trust to these descriptions with claims endorsed by third parties, to prove and transfer ownership of digitally-represented value, and to define governance models for their use cases, all within one integrated platform. Essentially, our platform gives people Lego-like building blocks to create solutions that not only achieve their specific goals, but also excel in technical performance. And all of this is done in a cryptographically secure way through the power of cryptography.
But it isn’t easy to truly leverage blockchain technology in a way that enables the development of effective yet accessible solutions.
On one end, you have to bring together different, decades-old cryptographic concepts in a logical way that makes them usable by developers—this is the interface, the API end.
And the other end, if you can develop this API, you need to build the technology in such a way that you can scale it. When I first came to the blockchain space, the biggest challenge I kept hearing was “blockchains are slow and things take a long time to do. How can we make it fast? How can we make it scale?”
Uniting these two ends is what iov42 has managed to accomplish. It works, and it’s a powerful technology.
The flipside to all of that of course, is that iov42 is not like other blockchain technologies. I can’t just run a node on my home computer; running a [iov42] node requires a data center, because our platform is designed to scale like the internet. Achieving this scalability has required a completely different deployment paradigm from what the blockchain space is used to.
Blockchain is what we use to make our platform secure and verifiable, but that’s not actually the power of what we do; that is one small aspect. What we’ve really done is abstract identities, asset types, claims and endorsements, and all the other protocol layer features of our platform—that’s the real power of what we’ve done.
Our technology has the potential to provide mechanisms by which people can completely change how they interact with each other, and, ideally, for the better.
Who are some of your idols and/or mentors?
I look up to several people, mostly in the tech space. The thing that all of these people have in common is that they are all dreamers. Some of these idols include: Bill Gates, who I admire because of what he’s done later in his career to attempt to make the world a better place; Elon Musk, who is a controversial character in a lot of ways, but part of what he’s fundamentally trying to do is make civilization better; the current CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, as well as their current CTO, Kevin Scott; and Jaron Lanier, who is considered the founding father of virtual reality. I also really look up to Glen Weyl and Yanis Varoufakis, who are both really inspirational and forward-thinking economists. Finally, one of my more influential mentors would be Michael Ganser, who is a former CEO of iov42. He’s someone that showed me that you don’t have to be corrupt or underhanded to be successful in a business setting.
And what do you do when you’re not leading iov42’s technology strategy?
When I’m not spending time with my beagle, Manny, I do like to socialize from time to time, but I’m introverted by nature. I’m also usually quite sporty and I particularly enjoy running.
I also read and watch a lot of sci-fi. I find that sci-fi helps me dream about the way things could be. This really helps me as a technology leader, because if you’re going to do something in technology that’s meaningful, I believe you have to shoot really high and imagine every single possibility, no matter how crazy it might seem.
And on top of all of this, I still find time to write code. I have a bunch of side projects on the go at any given time—most of them don’t go anywhere, but it’s mostly for me to experiment and mess around and have fun, really.
This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
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