‘I went around the world, explored many crypto projects, and finally realised that they were all too concerned about specific applications and not being sufficiently general - hence the birth of Ethereum, which has been taking up my life ever since.’ – Vitalik Buterin
Born in Russia in 1994, he emigrated to Toronto in Canada in 2000 with his parents Dmitry Buterin, a computer scientist, and Natalia Ameline. Subsequent to quitting his hobby of playing the hugely popular online multiplayer role-playing game, World of Warcraft, after realising ‘what horrors centralised services can bring’, the 17-year old schoolboy started to search for a new purpose in life in 2011.
Vitalik Buterin’s CV
- 2012: graduated from The Aberlard School, a Toronto-based private school
— Grade 11: placed in top Honour Roll category for the Canadian Computing Competition, Junior division
— Grade 12: won bronze at the International Mathematical Olympiad in Italy
- 2012 – 2013: studied and dropped out of Computer Science at the University of Waterloo
- July 2012 – August 2012: internship as a developer at NextThought LLC, programming python server side code for technology-assisted education software
- 2011 – 2014: co-founded Bitcoin Magazine with Mihai Alisie
- November 2013 – present: founded Ethereum with other developers
‘At first, I was sceptical, and did not understand how it could possibly have value without physical backing. But slowly I became more and more interested.’ – Vitalik Buterin
This led to his discovery of bitcoin, which gradually introduced him to cryptocurrencies and the blockchain technology underpinning it. After launching a blog named Bitcoin Weekly in 2011, he soon teamed up with Mihai Alisie to create the first publication devoted exclusively to the original cryptocurrency, Bitcoin Magazine, publishing the first issue in May 2012.
Alisie, who graduated with a licentiate degree in Cybernetics, Economy Informatics and Statistics in 2010, was the editor-in-chief of the publication until late 2013, when he, and others, assisted Buterin in founding the Ethereum project. Buterin continued to contribute articles until leaving in 2014.
Buterin soon found himself working over 30 hours a week on crypto projects and decided to drop out of university in 2013, only a year after joining. He then started to travel the world and study what the existing blockchain technology and applications had to offer.
Visiting Israel in October 2013, Buterin ended up spending time with a team developing one of the first ‘crypto 2.0’ projects, Mastercoin, which aimed to take blockchain technology beyond digital currency.
While Mastercoin now lives on as Omni, following a rebrand in early 2015, the project was ground breaking at inception. Its creator, a software engineer by the name of J.R. Willett, published ‘The Second Bitcoin Whitepaper’ in January 2012 outlining his idea to use the existing bitcoin network for what are now known as smart contracts – which would go on to form a major part of Buterin’s Ethereum project. Willett was also the inventor of initial coin offerings (ICOs).
Buterin was quick to identify ways to improve Mastercoin. He put forward proposals to the team to make their protocol more generalised and to support more types of contracts without adding an equally large and complex set of features. Although Buterin says the Mastercoin team were impressed, they ‘were not interested in dropping everything they were doing’ to pursue his idea.
What are smart contracts?
Smart contracts are lines of code written into the blockchain to serve as the terms and agreements between a buyer and seller. They ensure anonymous parties can enter a transaction with one another without the need for a central authority or legal intermediary. In short, they make transactions traceable, transparent and irreversible.
Find out more about how to spread bet and trade CFDs on cryptocurrencies.
The Ethereum white paper
‘I was acutely aware that many of the major problems still plaguing the bitcoin ecosystem, including fraudulent services, unreliable exchanges, and an often surprising lack of security, were not caused by bitcoin’s unique property of decentralisation; rather, these issues are a result of the fact that there was still great centralisation left, in places where it could potentially quite easily be removed.’ – Vitalik Buterin
Increasingly convinced his proposal put forward to the Mastercoin team was the way forward, Buterin, on a cold day in San Francisco in November 2013, began writing the white paper for Ethereum, envisioning a new open-source protocol for creating decentralised applications.
This would turn the project from one man’s idea into a collaborative project, involving several other individuals who were all integral to Ethereum’s success.
The Ethereum yellow paper
‘This was the time when the Ethereum protocol was entirely my own creation. From here on, however, new participants started to join the fold. By far the most prominent was Gavin Wood.’ – Vitalik Buterin
Having started his career in computer programming and software engineering when Buterin was still a child, Wood brought experience to complement Buterin’s youthful creativity. Wood reached out to Buterin a month after the Ethereum white paper had been released. By early 2014 he published the Ethereum yellow paper – described as the ‘technical bible’ - detailing the Ethereum Virtual Machine that would go on to sit at the heart of the entire concept by executing all of the smart contracts on the network.