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My Journey into the “Distributed Computing” World

AKA Distributed Web, Blockchain, Distributed Ledger Technology, Cryptoassets, Cryptonetworks, and Cryptoeconomics

Tian-Yuan Zhao
Nov 19, 2017 · 10 min read

My journey into this space has been an exponential one akin to the exponential journey this whole technology has had:

It all began with the following:

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I met Vitalik Buterin at the invite-only Thiel Summit back in 2015 which allowed me to become a part of the Thiel Foundation (named after Peter Thiel — cofounder of Paypal) and 1517 Fund (which grew out of the Thiel Foundation) communities.

With Paypal Cofounder — Peter Thiel — they even gave out hardcopies of “Zero to One” to all attendees and we all got them autographed! Woohoo!

This lit a fire from within me with regards to this whole technological industry when I attended the 2015 Thiel Summit in Las Vegas where the founder of the then 21.com (Balaji Srinivasan) and the now Earn.com (that got acquired by Coinbase) gave the keynote talk. I was also able to attend the next and final conference of this conference series in San Francisco of the same year. This was an amazing community to be invited into that’s to be sure. To be accepted amongst these young but highly innovative, forward-thinking, ambitious, yet humble and hungry individuals who truly had the hustle and grit to get shit done was absolutely a privilege for me.

Growing up in the small hamlet of a provincial capital known as Winnipeg, Canada, I never would have thought I would be able to walk amongst the likes of Vitalik and many like him at the age that I was and despite my less-than-progressive upbringing. It was all due to my own ability to essentially seize the day (#carpediem). I always cared about going above and beyond the call of duty, being a part of something bigger than I, and stepping out of my comfort zone — mostly because well my comfort zone was ever-expanding and never small to begin with.

Now, because of being a part of this awesome community, I had the opportunity of befriending William Mougayar and ended up designing the logo of his VC firm (Virtual Capital Ventures). World-renowned blockchain investor and author of the Business Blockchain, William’s a thought-leader and pioneer in the Canadian blockchain/cryptoasset scene.

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I was then able to obtain a part-time graphics/visual/web design gig with this Toronto-based blockchain startup called Cryptiv — an investment and technology company in the blockchain industry which provides custodial and wallet services for institutional investors. Cryptiv’s enterprise wallet system is designed to secure and trade cryptoassets like Bitcoin and Ether. We are currently leveraging our systems to trade and manage our private fund.

Some time later, I attended several meetups, a few hackathons, and was able to make friends with another thought/industry-leader and blockchain entrepreneur called Alan Wunsche. Throughout this time, I was able to meet the founders of Nuco and a whole slew of other thought/industry-leaders such as a couple founders from Consensys, Anne Connelly, and Iliana Oris Valiente. I later on was able to contribute to Tokenfunder in terms of their front-end. It was also around this time that I had the chance to work on the design and front-end dev of a proposed redesign of the Blockchain Canada website.

Subsequently, it’s been an absolute whirlwind (and slightly a blur), but a major event propelled me further into the space meeting and befriending with a significant portion of Toronto’s blockchain/cryptocurrency ecosystem. It was the Blockgeek’s inaugural blockchain hackathon.

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It was there that I had the opportunity to join the Arkilio team. I was their sole designer and ended up making friends with the founders of Chainsafe Systems.

It was because of Chainsafe Systems, that I was able to travel with them to Ottawa for a blockchain meetup that followed a major conference between Canada’s political elites and its blockchain/cryptoasset ecosystem. And, it was because of them that I was able to build synergies amongst several within Toronto’s Blockchain/Cryptoasset Ecosystem.

The following article was the first of my writings within the blockchain space that was only possible due to my bumping into the founders of Impak Finance at that Ottawa meetup. I was able to attend IdeaCity 2017 as a journalist in order to cover Impak Finance’s impact.

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Fast forward a bit, I scored a part-time gig as a content writer for Coinsquare. I’m now friends with everyone in the following list of companies that belong to Canada’s Blockchain Ecosystem, including the Palo Alto — based startup factory that specializes in building blockchain solutions called Privacy Shell in recent history for which I was their product designer:

This is one of the 3 major reasons as to why I love this space, of which this first reason is because of the wonderful community of humble, hard-working, and impact-driven individuals.

The 2nd reason is because of the fact that blockchain is the signal within the noise of every exponential technology out there that has resonated with me the most. This is because it’s the one exponential technology that’s missing from a triune puzzle of what I call the “Computing Trinity” which you can learn all about in the article below. I’m someone that always considers the interconnectedness of everything.

And last but not least, the biggest reason is blockchain’s intersection with the world/realm of social innovation/impact for which you can read all about here as well:

I recently participated in a program called the Digital Product School for which I worked in a team to design and build out a fintech solution called Belt. Belt is all about enabling seamless micro-investments into investor-backed portfolios of crypto-assets. Think of it like Acorns but for crypto-assets. To learn more about what we did, please read the following:

To learn more about my thoughts on the blockchain space, please feel free to read more below as well as check out my journey into product design if you wish:

Update as of Fall 2018

Present Work

  1. MLG Blockchain — lead designer at this marketing agency
  2. BUXA — a working group all about researching and writing about Blockchain User Experience and Accessibility standards
  3. Ample Labs — a social venture that I’m voluntarily contributing to as the product manager of the HomeID product (a digital identity solution for the homeless people of Toronto)
  4. Raise — a social venture that I’m voluntarily contributing to as the product designer of their security token platform.
  5. She(256) — participating voluntarily as a mentor as part of their mentorship program.

Talks & Mentorship/Consulting/Advising.

  1. PodCamp 2018 — I spoke about blockchain and circular design/economy
  2. Rotaract Club of Toronto — I’ll be giving a virtual meeting all about blockchain and cryptocurrency
  3. University of Toronto Business Association — I’ll be giving a talk in front of undergraduates about blockchain and cryptocurrency and how I got into it.
  4. ETHUofT — I’ll be a speaker for their inaugural hackathon
  5. MyCryptoHippo — I’ll be a speaker for one of their speaker-series events
  6. The Royal Jungle — I’ll be the moderator for a panel of blockchain experts
  7. Blockchain & Bitcoin 2018 — I’m an invited speaker
  8. CryptoChicks Hackathon & Conference — I recently mentored the EnviroChix team to winning the Business Track of this inaugural hackathon/conference which focuses on diversity & inclusion for women and non-binary individuals within the blockchain space.
  9. HomeTO — I’m currently participating in the Blockchain for Social Impact Competition with this social enterprise that my friend, CG Chen is working on. We’re tackling the Democracy track and essentially attempting to replicate the success of Fummi but for Toronto and beyond.
  10. … and more to come!

Update as of Winter 2019 — Summer 2019

Present Work

  1. Royal Bank of Canada — Design Researcher/Strategist
  2. Kleros Fellowship — Part-Time Pro-Bono Design Researcher
  3. Raise — a social venture that I’m voluntarily contributing to as the product designer of their security token platform.
  4. BUXA — a working group all about researching and writing about Blockchain User Experience and Accessibility standard.
  5. She(256) — participating voluntarily as a mentor as part of their mentorship program.

Here’s an article series I’m writing, all about product design/management and distributed computing:

Update as of Summer 2019 — Fall 2019

I’ve been applying/interviewing for full-time work, ideally to work as a (digital) product designer with a promising blockchain company ever since May 2019. In the meanwhile, as a means to pay for my livelihood as well as to satiate my passion for blockchain, I’m doing some part-time contract work.

  1. Pointchain — Digital Product Designer, part-time contractor. I’m designing a suite of regtech-based blockchain tools with Pointchain.
  2. MetaMesh Group — Digital Product Designer, part-time contractor. I’m designing for various clients of MetaMesh, starting with a prediction marketplace called the Sustainability Exchange.
  3. Gifter — Web Designer, part-time contractor

Update as of Fall 2019 — Summer 2020

Worked for the industry-leading ConsenSys on the following project:

Update as of Summer 2020 — Winter 2020

I’m currently working part-time for a top Web3-driven digital agency Keyko:

Why Blockchain?

It all boils down to the following philosophical reasons as to why I love this industry and am in it:

  1. It’s the next evolutionary step of the internet and digital communications — being someone who attended the same high school and university that famed thought-leader Marshall MacLuhan attended I believe that blockchain is a part of that new “medium” which will power the “global village” of our collective tomorrow.
  2. It will enable the next evolutionary step of capitalism as it will allow us to escape the cycles of booms & bust that we constantly see in the business world as well as reduce the disparity of rich-and-poor.
  3. It’s also because of the people in the industry, the friends I’ve made, and the love I have for this global community of changemakers. This came about due to the timing of it all as well, as I was fortunate enough to have gotten into this industry before all this recent hype. I was an early-adopter of this technology before I needed to see the “money” in it. I’m normally someone who can see the intrinsic values of things without having to see a superficial value in order to feel validated about whatever thing I’m looking at.

Ultimately — Distributed Computing is wholly aligned with my values because I see Web 3 AKA The Semantic Web as not only the ethical development of the internet but at a base level will create more efficiencies due to the consistencies that it will bring to the World Wide Web or the Information Highway. Instead of ivory towers of data that the Web 2 world stands for, Web 3 will enable the existence of data cooperatives and data marketplaces, thus creating a more equitable internet as a whole.

Renaissance Personhood

This is where I talk about anything and everything that…

Tian-Yuan Zhao

Written by

Toronto-based Digital Product Designer Who puts the “passion” in “compassion” I’m currently doing human factors work within the blockchain & fintech worlds.

Renaissance Personhood

This is where I talk about anything and everything that falls within the realms of design-thinking, exponential-thinking, and systems-thinking.

Tian-Yuan Zhao

Written by

Toronto-based Digital Product Designer Who puts the “passion” in “compassion” I’m currently doing human factors work within the blockchain & fintech worlds.

Renaissance Personhood

This is where I talk about anything and everything that falls within the realms of design-thinking, exponential-thinking, and systems-thinking.

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