Who is Vitalik Buterin?

Vitalik Buterin is a Russian-Canadian programmer and writer who is best known for co-founding Ethereum.

Buterin’s journey in the world of cryptocurrency began in the Bitcoin community, but it is his conceptualization of Ethereum ETH +0.21% as a "world computer" for decentralized applications (dapps) that he is best known for.

His analogy comparing Bitcoin to a simple calculator and Ethereum to a smartphone encapsulates his vision for a more versatile and powerful blockchain system with expanded capabilities, and Ethereum’s launch represents a seminal moment in the history of the cryptocurrency and blockchain spheres. 

Buterin’s early life and education

Buterin was born near Moscow in Kolomna, Russia, and relocated to Canada with his parents when he was six.

From a young age Buterin exhibited exceptional abilities in mathematics and programming, and was placed in advanced classes. He then attended the Abelard school, a private school in Toronto.

Buterin’s start with crypto

Buterin was reportedly introduced to Bitcoin in his late teens by his father Dmitry, who is himself a computer scientist. Buterin's curiosity led him to deep dive into the technology, eventually earning Bitcoin by writing articles, and then cofounding Bitcoin Magazine in 2012. His exploration of the economic, technological, and political facets of cryptocurrency culminated in the realization that the blockchain could be used for broader applications. This revelation was the beginnings of the creation of Ethereum, which has since become a foundational platform for countless dapps and smart contracts, reshaping the landscape of digital transactions and decentralized governance.

Buterin’s fascination with Bitcoin and the potential of the blockchain continued as he was enrolled in the University of Waterloo in computer science. It was during this time that Buterin wrote Ethereum’s 2013 whitepaper, which laid the foundation for Ethereum by detailing a blockchain with a built-in, fully-fledged Turing-complete programming language. This innovation enabled developers to encode a diverse range of operations, thereby expanding the blockchain's utility beyond what was previously imaginable. The whitepaper resonated with the crypto community, and by January 2014, a core team, including Buterin, had formed to advance the project. Their efforts were funded through an initial coin offering (ICO) of ether, Ethereum's native currency, which raised over $18 million.

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Buterin’s academic journey took a significant turn when he received a Thiel Fellowship in 2014. This fellowship, providing $100,000 over two years, encouraged young innovators to leave formal education and pursue their projects. Consequently, Buterin dropped out of university to focus on his burgeoning interest in blockchain technology.

With the successful launch of the Ethereum blockchain in July 2015, Buterin's brainchild became a reality, offering a permissionless ecosystem that fosters innovation and development across various sectors.

Buterin’s impact on cryptocurrency

Buterin’s impact on cryptocurrency cannot be overstated. With the launch, development, and widespread adoption of Ethereum, Buterin has had profound effects on the crypto ecosystem that followed and essentially opened up the floodgates for developers to build all sorts of dapps on-chain, such as finance and gaming, significantly expanding blockchain's use cases. Ethereum also laid the foundation for the decentralized finance (DeFi) movement, revolutionizing financial services by offering decentralized lending, borrowing, and trading platforms.  

Additionally, Ethereum enabled the creation of tokens through its ERC-20 standard, leading to the proliferation of Initial Coin Offerings as a new fundraising mechanism. The platform's support for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) revolutionized digital ownership and monetization in art, music, and gaming. Further, by enabling new governance models through decentralized autonomous organizations (DAOs), Ethereum has catalyzed the growth of the broader blockchain ecosystem and continues to shape the future of decentralized digital innovation.

Ethereum’s success has not, however, been without challenges. A prominent and ongoing issue facing the Ethereum platform has in a way been caused by its success: the sheer volume of transactions carried out on Ethereum has led to congestion and, at times, a dramatic rise in transaction fees. This spurred on the development of alternative blockchains which carry similar functionality as Ethereum, such as the support of dapps, but with faster transaction times and lower fees, such as Solana, BNB Smart Chain and Avalanche — as well as Layer 2 networks built on Ethereum.

Beyond Ethereum

Beyond his work on Ethereum, Buterin has significantly influenced the broader blockchain industry through his thought leadership and extensive research. He has authored numerous papers and blog posts on topics ranging from cryptography and consensus algorithms to scalability and decentralized governance. His insights and innovative ideas have contributed to the academic and practical understanding of blockchain technology, inspiring developers, researchers, and enthusiasts worldwide.

Recognized as one of the most influential figures in the cryptocurrency and blockchain industry, Buterin has received several accolades, including being listed in Forbes' 30 Under 30 in 2018 and recognized by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2021. Additionally, he is known for his philanthropic efforts, having donated substantial amounts to COVID-19 relief, artificial intelligence safety, and cryptocurrency-related projects

Buterin also actively supports emerging projects and ecosystems within the blockchain space. By providing guidance, mentorship, and funding to new ventures, he helps cultivate a diverse and dynamic blockchain landscape. 


Disclaimer: This article was produced with the assistance of OpenAI’s ChatGPT 3.5/4 and reviewed and edited by our editorial team.

© 2023 The Block. All Rights Reserved. This article is provided for informational purposes only. It is not offered or intended to be used as legal, tax, investment, financial, or other advice.

About Author

Jordan Leech is a Berlin-based Editorial Intern at The Block. He has worked for several years as a broadcast journalist, camera operator, and producer before aiming to get established working in the crypto industry. Jordan holds a degree in Philosophy and Political Science from the University of Guelph and is an avid photographer and traveller in his free time.