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Vitalik Buterin, A Young Man Changing The World

August 30, 2022

11 min

Vitalik Buterin, A Young Man Changing The World

Who is Vitalik Buterin? The boy who at the age of 19 invented Ethereum, the blockchain that laid the bases of DeFi and Web3. His ideas are so influential that almost every Crypto Hero, sooner or later, collaborated with Vitalik or created an Ethereum Killer. We find out how Ethereum was born, who else is an Ethereum founder and the events that led Vitalik Buterin to want to transition to Ethereum 2.0.

The first rule of the Pauper’s Pub: talk about Bitcoin

Toronto, November 2012: at the Pauper’s Pub, Anthony di Iorio organised a ‘Bitcoin meetup‘ to discuss cryptocurrencies. Anthony is a Canadian real estate entrepreneur but chose to sell his rental properties to buy Bitcoin, concerned about the health of the financial system. Therefore, he wanted to share his enthusiasm for the crypto economy with other meetup members who were interested in learning more.

Among the few participants was a first-year student at the University of Waterloo, a pale boy as shy as he was passionate about cryptocurrency: Vitalik Buterin. The year before, in fact, he had founded Bitcoin Magazine with his Romanian friend Mihai Alisie and was just looking for an opportunity to exchange ideas with the fledgling community.

A few months later, Vitalik left his studies in computer science to travel and experience the realities that Satoshi Nakamoto‘s invention had created. Part of his trip led him to a ‘Bitcoin conference’ in Amsterdam, where he met Amir Chetrit: an Israeli involved in the start-up Colored Coins, a project to transform real-world assets into tokens based on Bitcoin’s blockchain.

A year after the first meeting in Toronto, Anthony di Iorio gathered many more people, awaiting Vitalik’s return. By the time he finally arrived, Buterin had conceived a new idea: Ethereum, a blockchain built to decentralise every aspect of finance and economics.

Projects of the Ethereum Founders

How Ethereum was born and the separation of the founders

Vitalik proposed building Ethereum with a programming language tailored to the purpose of global decentralisation. Indeed, Bitcoin had made it possible to send money in a  peer-to-peer model, without the intermediation of banks or government control. However, it had a code that left no room for developing complex decentralised software. The idea of smart contracts thus made the decentralisation of all kinds of applications and services possible, giving birth to DeFi, Decentralised Finance, and Web 3.0.

Anthony di Iorio, inspired by the young Vitalik’s idea, shared it with Charles Hoskinson, the mathematician who was so fascinated by ‘digital gold’ that he participated in the dissemination of the Bitcoin Education Project. Hoskinson appreciated the Ethereum whitepaper written by Vitalik in 2013.

A year after Pauper’s Pub, Vitalik was ready to become the founder of Ethereum, together with the experts involved along the way: Anthony di Iorio, Mihai Alisie, Amir Chetrit and Charles Hoskinson, the latter chosen as CEO. In January 2014, Vitalik and the others gathered in Miami, on the occasion of the ‘North American Bitcoin Conference‘: during the event, the excitement was palpable and the flat rented by the five founders was a bustle of crypto-enthusiasts; three of them joined the project permanently.

Among the trio was Gavin Wood, the programmer who translated the Ethereum whitepaper into C++ code strings. He wrote the technical specifications in the Yellow Paper, and he suggested the programming language Vitalik was looking for: Solidity, currently the basis of Ethereum smart contracts. However, he was not the only one to join (and then leave): Joseph Lubin, another entrepreneur interested in cryptocurrencies, was involved by Anthony through the Bitcoin Alliance of Canada, the evolution of the small Toronto group. Jeffrey Wilcke also appears among the legendary 8 founders, and is known as the developer who implemented Ethereum in the Google Go language after working on Mastercoin, the first ICO.

The founders soon split into two factions: those who supported the ‘for-profit’ nature of the Ethereum Foundation and those who, like Vitalik, were decided in favour of ‘not-for-profit‘. The vote favoured Buterin’s position: thus, the two backers of the project, di Iorio and Lubin, left Ethereum, along with Hoskinson, the more vocal pro-profit, and Amir Chetrit, who instead feared breaking security laws. However, Joseph Lubin later founded ConsenSys, a software infrastructure to build applications on the Ethereum blockchain and bring Web 3 to life.

This discussion, which took place in Zug (Switzerland) in June 2014, saw the first of many separations from Vitalik. Indeed, already in 2015, Alisie left the Ethereum Foundation to devote himself to Akasha, a social infrastructure for Ethereum. Jeffrey Wilcke left in 2016, following the hack of The DAO project that led to the hard fork of Ethereum classic, while Gavin Wood left to focus on Polkadot, calling Ethereum’s governance a ‘technocracy’.

Vitalik Buterin, with his idea alone, had to take charge of the fate of Ethereum. However, he turned difficulties into opportunities, such as a lack of funds into a legendary ICO. Before we go any further, however, we should take a step back to learn about the origins of the myth: who is Vitalik Buterin?

Vitalik Buterin: projects

Who Vitalik Buterin is: from Ethereum ICO to Elon Musk

Vitalik Buterin was born in the small Russian town of Kolomna on 31 January 1994, but as early as 1999 his family moved to Toronto. From an early age, Vitalik showed mathematical and programming skills: at the age of seven, he wrote a complex system called ‘Encyclopedia of Bunnies‘, a universe populated by rabbits and governed by stringent formulas.

His exceptional aptitude for calculation was noticed as early as the third year of primary school, when he was placed in a class for gifted children. Adding up triple-digit numbers, purely in his head, he secured a place at the private high school The Abelard School. He first heard about Bitcoin from his father, a computer scientist, when he was 17 years old. However, the event that probably convinced him to design in blockchain was another: for three years (2007/10) Vitalik played World of Warcraft assiduously, until the publisher decided to remove an important component of his favourite character. Unconsolable following this, he discovered the reality of centralised services: an exclusive power, which Vitalik decided to distribute.

We jump back in time, after he abandoned his studies and gave up his position as assistant professor to cryptographer and cypherpunk Ian Goldberg. It is July 2014 and Vitalik finds himself without funding for the Ethereum project: backers have abandoned him, leaving him in debt for legal advice and team travel. How can he raise capital? Instead of selling debt or equity, Ethereum thought of selling a product: the blockchain’s native cryptocurrency,  Ether (ETH). The sale took the form of an Initial Coin Offering (ICO): ETH buyers gained access to future services that the Ethereum blockchain would provide.

This distribution practice was so successful that it became a standard for coin and token launches: 2017 saw an impressive ICO boom with decisive consequences for the entire crypto market. We devoted an entire article to the story of the Ethereum ICO.

Vitalik Buterin, over the years, has become an icon in the crypto world, so much so that he received an honorary degree from the Faculty of Economics at the University of Basel for his crucial contribution to the promotion of decentralisation and ‘outstanding achievements in the field of cryptocurrencies, smart contracts and institution design‘.

Vitalik’s authority is most evident from his Twitter account, through which he participates in discussions of all kinds. In fact, he has also spoken out on the Twitter-Elon Musk takeover case. Vitalik is not against Elon’s takeover per se, but rather opposes the enthusiasm generated by the social media takeover. This is not the case with Jack Dorsey (former Twitter CEO) and Elon Musk, but Vitalik fears a scenario in which ethically compromised organisations or governments take control of social media.

Returning to the blockchain universe, Vitalik Buterin also clashed with Justin Sun, CEO of Tron: the latter allegedly did not give credit to IPFS after copying its code and implementing it in BitTorrent, another decentralised peer-to-peer storage system.

Vitalik Buterin, however, is also open to supporting functional ideas: through the Ethereum Foundation, he funded Hayden Adams to design the Uniswap DEX, which he even named after him.

Finally, in 2021, after receiving half of the existing Shiba Inu, Vitalik decided to burn 90% of the SHIB (almost 410 trillion tokens) to get rid of the associated power. The remaining 10% he donated to charity: 50 trillion of the ‘Dogecoin Killer’ token was sent to the ‘India COVID-19 relief’ fund organised by Polygon founder Sandeep Nailwal. Did Ryoshi, the founder of Shiba Inu, see this coming?

The story of Ethereum as conceived by Vitalik is still being written: Ethereum 2.0 is the next chapter.

Ethereum 2.0: when and how?

Innovation is the key to Vitalik’s project: although his former colleagues see Cardano and Polkadot as the ‘Ethereum Killers‘, Buterin has already thought of a better version of his blockchain, Ethereum 2.0.

The Ethereum 2.0 update, in a nutshell, envisages a switch from Proof of Work (PoW) to Proof of Stake (PoS), a momentous change in the consensus mechanism for creating blocks. We have already compared PoW and PoS, but essentially the model based on mining (PoW) is wasteful in terms of electricity and has a considerable environmental impact. With Ethereum 2.0 being transformed into a staking (PoS) consensus mechanism, it will be made more ‘green’ and scalable, based on the possession of cryptocurrencies ‘frozen’ in staking..

The event, which is decisive for the future of all ERC-20 cryptocurrencies, has been called ‘Ethereum merge‘. This is because it unites the two Ethereum blockchains that, from April 2022, work in parallel: the original Ethereum Mainnet PoW (ETH1) and the new Beacon Chain PoS (ETH2).

This passage is one of many in the history of Vitalik Buterin, but certainly not the last: how will he change the world, again?