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Gavin Wood, the personality behind Polkadot

February 21, 2022

7 min

Gavin Wood, the personality behind Polkadot

Polkadot is the brainchild of Gavin Wood, an extremely important figure in the whole cryptocurrency scene, being one of the co-founders and former CTO of Ethereum.

Gavin Wood’s background

Gavin Wood was born in April 1980 in Lancaster, a small town in England. He attended the selective Lancaster Royal Grammar School and eventually graduated in 2002 with a degree in computer engineering from the University of York, specialising in software writing and programming. Wood continued his education in a very specific field, earning a doctorate in music visualisation for human computer interfaces in 2005.

His passion for programming, especially in the open-source sector, started very early and it is rumoured that he started programming as a child.

At the beginning of his career, he worked as a researcher at Microsoft, which he left to later found Ethereum in 2013 together with Vitalik Buterin, Charles Hoskinson, Anthony Di Iorio and Joseph Lubin. He left Ethereum in 2016 to focus on other projects that could have fulfilled the promises he felt Ethereum could no longer guarantee. In this regard, he criticised its governance, even calling it “a technocracy” based on coordination between key figures.

Gavin Wood was essential to the development of the Solidity language, on which the smart contracts of Ethereum and other blockchains are based.

More recently, he founded the company Parity Technologies (ex-Ethcore) and then the Web3 foundation that gave birth to the Polkadot ecosystem.

gavin wood career

Polkadot’s launch

Disappointment with the governance of Ethereum gave rise to the idea that characterised the birth of Polkadot: the desire to basically create a “chain of chains, a blockchain of blockchains and above all a protocol of protocols”.

Basically, the idea was to go deeper, from a technological point of view, than anything that had previously been done with Bitcoin and Ethereum, and then to “package” the result and make it available to everyone as the basic element for any blockchain.

One of the main problems that Polkadot wants to solve is that of the speed of innovation. It is often the case that when you want to create a new blockchain, you have to build numerous elements from scratch, ranging from a governance platform, to a tokenomics model, to a security system. All this, while having to worry about remaining innovative and interoperable.

Polkadot addresses all of these points, allowing you to speed up the entire launch process while connecting to what already exists, the other blockchains.

The issue of security, which is fundamental to any blockchain technology, is of primary importance to Polkadot. Consider how many resources are needed to secure Bitcoin or Ethereum and multiply that by the number of blockchains that exist today, each with different algorithms. What if instead they were all concentrated and united towards a common security goal

This is exactly what Polkadot wants, through parachains, e.g. to connect and aggregate different blockchains with unique characteristics and facilitate information sharing based on a single security system.

Gavin Wood’s eclecticism

As we get to know Gavin Wood better, it is not surprising that interoperability is the aim of his blockchain. His multi-potential personality and multidisciplinary interests, in fact, perfectly mirror the structure of Polkadot.

Apart from the technical background, as you can guess from the biography, not many people are aware of Gavin Wood’s many and varied passions and interests:

  • Music – first and foremost he loves music, so much so that he has studied music composition and visualisation, which is the electronic generation of images from music that allows listeners to actually “see” what they are listening to. Programming software, according to Wood, is similar to musical composition in that both are based on creativity and the need to solve a problem;
  • Game theory – played a major role in the birth and development of cryptocurrencies, has always been a fascinating topic for Wood, and based on this he proposed a new voting system for the British Supreme Court (which was not adopted). Game theory, in fact, also underpins the governance structure of DAOs;
  • Philosophy – Wood’s many interests include philosophy. In particular, he reads many books written by authors such as Socrates and his existentialist philosophy, whose main points he shares, such as self-realisation and taking full responsibility for one’s choices or actions. Thinkers such as Karl Popper or the physicist Richard Feynman influenced his thinking and stimulated the desire to search for the “truth”, which would be found by always questioning established theories and the commonly accepted narrative.
  • Sociology – human nature and social interactions are another subject that Wood appreciates, specifically analysing social and economic issues with their consequences such as globalisation or the human being’s innate way (very poor in his opinion) of selecting people to trust. As far as more controversial and divisive social issues are concerned, he used to write on his blog “Insights into a modern world”, which is now closed.

All these interests are framed by a contempt for authority and blind obedience, which alienate people from themselves and from the knowledge of the truth.

Gavin Wood against maximalism

Wood’s search for truth and his intention to think beyond the schemes of society led him to criticise the maximalists.

The term maximalist was used publicly for the first time in reference to cryptocurrencies by Vitalik Buterin and has a mainly negative meaning. Maximalists in politics are those who take extremist positions and are not willing to compromise. This term is often used in reference to Bitcoin, considered by its most ardent supporters to be the only cryptocurrency worthy of the name.

Wood strongly disagrees: in his opinion, there are better solutions, but they end up being confined to specific areas or needs. There is no blockchain that solves every single problem and satisfies all aspects of DeFi.

Polkadot’s very ambitious goal is to solve this problem and to act on top of it, i.e. to put each blockchain in contact with the others, to share information but without giving up its own particularities and unique functions.