Getting to Know Topl: Alex Bruns, Blockchain Engineer

Paige Nicolaou
Sep 26, 2018 · 6 min read

I’m Alex Bruns. I’m a Blockchain Engineer at Topl and a sophomore at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, majoring in Product Design and Computer Science. I was born just outside Boston Massachusetts in a small town called Pepperell but can hardly call myself a Bostonian. I’ve lived 5 different places over the course of my life and hope to grow that number in the future.

Getting Started at Topl

So how’d I get to Topl? Come the end of my first semester at college, I decided I wanted a jump on my post-college career. I thought that getting a ‘real’ job would be the best way to do that, so when I applied to Topl and got an interview, I felt lucky.

I promptly crashed and burned — it was bad. I messed up git commands, tried to convince Chris that I knew Scala (although I clearly did not), and just generally did not do well. When the interview was over, I walked into my kitchen where my sister and father were waiting. I told them about it, and the consensus was something along the lines of ‘you learn from your failures and you’ll do better next time’. I really wanted this job, though; I knew Topl would be a dream come true for me. I’d get to work in an industry that has the potential to revolutionize the world, with a team that has more PhDs than I can name, and all to help people that have systematically been excluded from the world’s economy. So, I decided to throw a Hail Mary.

I knew that I had to do something stupidly overt that would somehow convince the team I was worth a chance. So, I added myself to the Topl website’s team page. The source code was (and still is for all our new applicants) all on GitHub. I made a pull request adding my picture to the team page. It was only a few 100 lines of code, and yes, it was stupid, but it showed I was, at the very least, able to use GitHub, write basic Javascript, and I think most importantly, willing to do what it took to succeed at Topl.

A week later, Chris asked me if I’d gotten the idea out of a book. He also offered me the internship.

Alex (right) with his family.

My Role at Topl

As mentioned previously, I’m a Blockchain Engineer at Topl. Put simply, I write the code. Whether its a protocol level change in Scala, a smart contract in Javascript, an ICO contract in Solidity, or a new Heimdallr manager in Python, I’m your man. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m only responsible for a fraction of Topl’s codebase. I’d be nothing without the rest of Topl’s technical team: Yamir, Nick, Matt, Jim, and Chris.

Why I Love My Job

One of my favorite things about what I do is the amount of responsibility I’m given. For instance, I was recently given Heimdallr, our sidechaining project. Like the whole thing! It’s overwhelming, but the ability to both architect and build full products is something that allows for an amazing level of personal investment. Ask any one of my friends or family — I’m incredibly proud of the work I get to do at Topl.

Alex, at Capital Factory in Austin during a Hackathon.

One of the things I often get asked is, “how does it feel to work in a non-creative field?”. Many people view software developers as a resource consumed by companies to make software products; the perception is that the people writing the code don’t matter. Some developers may be faster, smarter, or better at commenting than others, but in much the same way that someone might view metal, of which there are many different kinds with different melting points and strengths, the characteristics of these developers are just dimensions of the same faceless and replaceable resource.

Firstly, I don’t subscribe to this thread of reasoning. Secondly, my job at Topl isn’t limited to just writing code. Sure, if I asked 1,000 developers to write a Python program that prints out “Hello World” that would be one thing. But that’s not software development. That’s programming.

I like that I am trusted with these responsibilities, the challenges they present, and the team I have at my back to help me tackle them.

Software development is the marriage of architecture and programming. I’m creative because, before I declare a single variable, I have to imagine something new. I have to think about what our blockchian Bifrost, or our sidechain Heimdallr , or our blockchain client Freya need to be able to do, and I have to come up with a completely novel idea that allows me to provide users with that functionality. I like that I am trusted with these responsibilities, the challenges they present, and the team I have at my back to help me tackle them.

Why I Believe in Topl

Another common question I get is, “aren’t you worried about job security working for a startup?”. This one’s easy: nope. Sure, statistically startups are incredibly risky companies to work for, but I’m not looking at the macro-economics of startups. I’m looking at Topl.

Topl is going to be successful for three reasons: we’ve found a problem, we’ve found a solution to that problem, and we’re implementing this solution. In my opinion, these are the three fundamental reasons that cause startups fail. Some have a solution in search of a problem, some — even worse — have a problem that they can’t solve, and, of course, there are those that have a great problem and solution but are either too cash strapped or bad at hiring to pull together a team capable of executing.

Topl’s found a multi trillion dollar problem, systemic risk in frontier markets, we’ve designed a technical solution, and we’re executing as I type this.

Topl’s found a multi trillion dollar problem, systemic risk in frontier markets, we’ve designed a technical solution, the Topl blockchain, and we’re executing as I type this. Obviously, no one can tell the future, but as a developer, I’m very confident in Topl’s future.

Our Greatest Strength: Our Team

My favorite thing about Topl is how meritocratic it is. Ideas are evaluated based on an even playing field and promotions, raises, and projects are dolled out based on performance rather than time at the company, or any other arbitrary metrics.

Alex (left), Nick (center), and Yamir (right) working together this summer at Capital Factory in Austin.

As an intern, I remember having countless technical conversations with Chris, the CEO of Topl, and not only feeling comfortable enough to disagree with him out loud, but also sometimes convincing him why his initial instinct was wrong. It’s rare to find a single person willing to disregard social status when evaluating an idea. Topl’s found an entire team of these people, and that’s possibly our single largest strength.

To get connected with our team, and stay up to date on the latest Topl news, join us on Telegram, Twitter, and Instagram.

If you want to learn more about our our blockchain go to our GitHub.


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