Student life of Vitalik Buterin

Perhaps it was the search for a new passion in life that brought Vitalik to the world of cryptocurrencies. He first heard about Bitcoin from his father, who himself created a software startup in 2013. He didn’t start doing it right away. Moreover, he initially thought that the cryptocurrency would inevitably fail because it had no intrinsic value. However, later he heard about it several more times and began to show interest. As he himself said, if you hear about something twice, it would be nice to spend a little time and find out more.

Even then, Vitalik considered everything related to state regulation or corporate control to be simply evil. Naturally, he became interested in the decentralized and uncontrolled nature of Bitcoin. Despite the fact that his policy regarding good and evil has changed significantly since then, Vitalik is still guided by the belief that the powers that be have too much power in their hands.

Buterin ended up spending time on various Bitcoin-related forums, exploring the network. In the beginning, it was the purely crypto-currency element of the network that attracted his attention, but as he became more and more involved in the community, he began to realize the virtually unlimited potential of the technology behind Bitcoin.

He wanted to formally join this new experimental economy by getting some tokens, but he had neither the computing power to mine them nor the money to buy bitcoins. So he looked for bitcoin-paid jobs on various forums and eventually started writing blog articles that earned him about five bitcoins per article.

Through his forum work and articles, Vitalik sought to gain more understanding and experience with Bitcoin, as well as gain some insight into the community. At the same time, he studied all the various economic, technological and political aspects of cryptocurrencies. His articles caught the attention of Mihai Alisi, a Romanian bitcoin enthusiast, which led to their active correspondence and eventually, in late 2011, to the co-founder of Bitcoin Magazine. Buterin took a position as the magazine’s chief writer while also taking on another part-time job as a research assistant for cryptographer Ian Goldberg. Moreover, Vitalik simultaneously took five advanced training courses at the University of Waterloo.

In May 2013, he traveled to San Jose, California to attend a Bitcoin conference as a spokesperson for Bitcoin magazine. It was the first time that Buterin witnessed the community that has sprung up around cryptocurrencies alive and well, which convinced him that this project was indeed worth it. Later that year, Vitalik dropped out of university and spent some of his bitcoin savings to travel the world and meet people who were trying to empower the Bitcoin network and turn it into a bigger, more powerful version of itself.

During his travels, he has seen many different bitcoin-related projects, from small shops in New Hampshire and restaurants in Berlin accepting bitcoin, to bitcoin ATMs and various small communities around the world. However, they were all still mainly focused on how to improve and promote the function of Bitcoin as money.

In October 2013, he visited Israel where he met the people behind projects called Covert Coins and Master Coin. These projects explored the possibility of using the blockchain for various other applications, such as issuing tokens on top of bitcoin, allowing users to use financial contracts, and so on. Even though they were still using the underlying bitcoin chain, they were assigning new properties to bitcoin transactions.

After looking at the protocols these projects were using, Vitalik realized that it was possible to massively generalize what protocols do by replacing all of their functionality with a Turing-complete programming language. In computer science, a Turing-complete programming language is something that allows a computer to solve any particular problem, given the right algorithm and the right amount of time and memory. Initially, he pitched his idea to already existing projects, but everyone told him that while it was an interesting idea, it was not yet the time for such grandiose undertakings. So he decided to do it himself.