Software Developers Journey Podcast

#221 Sergey Gorbunov wanted to tackle hard problems


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Sergey Gorbunov 0:00
The first thing that came to my mind is it from this Professor Charlie Rockoff. Yeah, his advice was don't get old. So that was a good one.

Tim Bourguignon 0:08
That's that's that's a subject for research in itself. Hello, and welcome to developer's journey to podcast, bringing you the making up stories of successful software developers. To help you on your upcoming journey. I'm your host team building your own this episode 221, I receive Sergey baboon off. Sergey is the co founder and CEO of Axel R. He received a PhD from MIT where he was a Microsoft PhD fellow. His dissertation was on designing cryptographic tools for the cloud. And he has since continued his work on in the cryptographic space, by co authoring many cryptographic protocols, standards and systems, as well as teaching as an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Sergei, welcome to Deaf training,

Sergey Gorbunov 0:59
some great to be here.

Tim Bourguignon 1:00
But before we come to your story, I want to thank the terrific listeners who support the show every month, you are keeping the dev journey lights up, if you would like to join this fine crew, and help me spend more time on finding phenomenal guests, then editing audio tracks, please go to our website, Dev journey dot info and click on the Support me on Patreon button. Even the smallest contributions are giant steps toward a sustainable dev journey. journey. Thank you. And now back to today's guest. So as you know, the show exists to help listeners understand what your story look like. And imagine how to shape their own story. So, as is usual on the on the show, let's go back to your beginnings. Where would you place the start of your dev journey?

Sergey Gorbunov 1:52
Yeah, great question. First thing that I can, you know, probably think of not necessarily as a developer, you know, full journey, but my my first interaction and, you know, just like engagement with computers, and being fascinated by the technology is that when I was a kid, you know, my dad kind of got a computer at home. Right? And, you know, first things you do is just gaming for the most part, right. And my dad been, you know, networking IT guy himself, he really tried to, you know, minimize the time with a game. And he put like, all kinds of passwords on it, you know, Windows was password protected. And no bias was password protected, and things like that. And I really didn't like those things. So I think my first memory of interactions is like trying to bypass all of those things. So I don't know, for those of you that don't know, but you know, in the early days, like, first thing, you turn on a computer's password on the bios, right. And then, you know, it's actually pretty easy to reset it right, like old motherboard had, you know, a switch, you can flip or just take out the battery, the battery, right, and then the motherboard actually resets it, and then you can continue booting. And then so that was the first step. Okay, pass that. And then you come to Windows, right Windows as a password. And then, you know, at some point, you realize that in the early versions, you could actually like Google lists of like administrative passwords that all work. All the versions didn't take too long to crack those things. But I think yeah, and then and then, you know, you kind of have to keep it hidden and keep it secret for a while from your desk. So that's the first memories you know, and from there, I think yeah, kind of a very, you know, a few clubs I think that the middle school kind of high school, a little bit of coding some some programming competitions here and there. And then yeah, kind of one from there.

Tim Bourguignon 3:37
Wow. Your stock reminds me Oh, mine, my dad say I wanted to quote the to game as well as to play as well and say, Oh, you want to you want to play you know, you do not get to your console. It was the first Nintendo back then I say you're getting a Mac was one of the early Mac's, you can play with that. Probably go figure it out. And by doing so, that was smart. I'd actually been doing so I really discovered how to use a computer, how to install things, how to find things, there was no online back then. So finding other people with MAC's that you couldn't couldn't load any anything else. And really, by without knowing it, I discovered the whole thing and it was hooked.

Sergey Gorbunov 4:15
Yeah. I mean, I wish I had some of that flexibility. I think my dad was like more strict. You know, it was like, always had to kind of keep an eye on like, you know, what I was doing until he actually, you know, went to a different city that he had to work for for a couple years. So he was kind of on and off computing. And then you know, the computer was like, left to me for the most part. And so like I took it apart like broken I think a fried motherboard a couple of times. But I think this word you know, actually like some imagination actually starts kicking in when you don't have any of this supervision and can go wild.

Tim Bourguignon 4:47
Yeah, that's true. And it must be a pain to have had kids like us I have no idea how many times I formatted the whole thing. And I hope my my dad never complained, but I hope he didn't have any any data. out there, that was a that was valuable, because I trashed the whole thing every week. Also, I wonder if kids nowadays still do this. I mean, when you have an iPad and you can not really do anything, right? Then those screws haven't even opened. That's true. That's true, even logically, or on the hardware sense, you just cannot really screw with it. They're missing something. I'm old. Anyway.

Sergey Gorbunov 5:27
So I recently saw somewhere a game I didn't follow up and like, didn't figure it out. But it was like building like a Linux kernel. In a game for kids. It sounds really attractive. I saw the title, but I didn't actually go and figure out what it is. But I think like, now, it's all like software, this trying to mimic some of this probably early experiences that you know, some people have.

Tim Bourguignon 5:45
Yeah, that's, that's probably a good proxy, just to get a feel of it. Anyhow, I'll see when my kids reached this age, what do we do with them? Do you fall into those clubs? Just because you're interested? Or did you have already in mind the idea or hate that that could become something for later? How do you approach this in high school?

Sergey Gorbunov 6:07
Ya know, pretty ad hoc, I would say, right, like, I didn't have, you know, specifically strategy. I like I think, kind of naturally, you know, competitions and challenges, right? I was, I was not like a great student actually in like, in middle school, and things like that, you know, in high school, either. But I'd like challenge it. And I like competing. Right? So, you know, it was a part of like some math competitions. And like, the way we were structured and organized was actually quite interesting, right? Where we had, we were taught by like some, some actually like faculties from local universities, and then we had to compete, you know, between schools, right. So in order, I remember, like, some early challenges were, like you given sets of problems, and then you're, you know, trying to solve them, and then go in front of the board actually present to everybody and then the other team has to, you know, find faults in your solution. You know, and then you can have a publicly have this debate where you defend in your solution, the other team is actually kind of trying to take you down. So I really liked those. I hated the whole, like, learning kind of a process for years. So I was just kind of dropped out after the actual kind of channel competitions came out. Yeah, and then programming, there was like, some interesting competitions. We live in a small town, so it wasn't like there's too much kind of a, of this thing that was going on. But what was going on was quite interesting. And then yeah, I think like, my dad had, like, you know, background in electronics and networking. So I think he, like helped to create some of the early connections with the city that we will live in with. And so we naturally just had a lot of, you know, hardware equipment at home and things like that. So you can, you know, play and replace them frighten

Tim Bourguignon 7:44
you on the street. At which point did you decide, okay, this is going to be a longer thing that might become something for for my professional life as well, not just hobby.

Sergey Gorbunov 7:56
Yeah, so we, so I was born in Russia, right. And then my family emigrated to Canada, when I was almost 16. And yeah, at that point, you know, kind of, I would say, like, the pressure kicked in, for, you know, your family moves to a different country, and like, you know, they're like, Okay, you know, you have to find the university, right. And the whole system was like, very different than it was, you know, in Russia, and that kind of a puts you on the clock, in some sense, were you like, in last year of high school, right, then then, like, everything is different, the system was different, you know, you still figured out like language and everything else. And then, like, you have to apply to university, the system is very different. So you have to think it seems like, you know, kids in like, in America and Canada, like, no, some of those things, when they're like six or seven, like they have to take like these courses from next five years to get to this university. And when you kind of have just dropped them, you know, you kind of have to figure it out on the spot. So that's where I had to, you know, think there's a lot of early questions. Well, what is the difference between computer science and computer engineering at the University, like, never had to think about those questions, and you're not going to be choosing, you know, programs to apply to and go to and then yeah, I sort of chose you know, computer science and then kind of as I went through it, I realized that I should like Like, a lot of you know, security aspects of things right. So can I do in a little bit of also kind of competition like challenges on the side, like, you know, capture the flag competitions will participate in so yeah, that was like super fascinating to me. So I definitely try to take more courses around security, like forensics, cryptography, love networking, as well. So that that yeah, was incredibly fascinating to me. So yeah, and I think from there, it just got to pick them.

Tim Bourguignon 9:36
Okay, you mentioned in passing previously that you're not that great of students in high school. And then it flipped and then you were passionate about thing and everything's win win win. Well,

Sergey Gorbunov 9:48
yeah, good questions. Yeah. So I was not a great student until I think I came to Canada right where you know a okay thanks for easier be. You actually don't have to do all kinds of crazy course. Since right like to go to university, like you can actually focus and okay, you pick some courses that are good at sexual interest in you do well in Russia was like very different where we'll have like 18 courses and like you had to Yeah, almost like every semester you have 18 courses. It was insane, right? And so you have to go to all of them are bad at all of them. And I, you know, I just didn't like many of them for sure. So, yeah, and again, like when we move to candidates, or puts you on the clock a little bit, right, and like, you know, there's a bit of a pressure, but then when I got to university, I think what I actually really liked is because that introduced sort of, you know, at least in me a little bit of a competitive aspect as well, right? Where I don't, okay, there's a course I actually like what I'm doing. And I had this desire, yeah, I have like, Great marks. And, you know, whenever there was team projects, I was telling to my team, like, Okay, we have to, like, you know, beat everybody, like, we have to come on top of this. So I don't know, for some reason, some most of my competitive nature kind of kicked in at the university, and then just kind of fell in, you know, naturally with a lot of the coursework that were there.

Tim Bourguignon 11:01
Okay, I see, I see. It's amazing how having something that really, really resonates with you changes the whole game, it was it was not similar, but in a way was it for me as well, I really struggled with high school the whole time, because I didn't see the point. And, and as soon as it started engineering studies, and really see, hey, we're doing this because of that, and we're doing this for this, and we're doing this, suddenly, whoa, interest went through the roof. And suddenly, I was interested in learning more and more and more and more. So for me, it was really this applying thing for you the competitive aspect. And as long as you don't have this, well, blah, it's a struggle. And as soon as this enters the picture, whoa, that's, that's really cool.

Sergey Gorbunov 11:40
Yeah, and I guess on that, right, like, I think one thing to throw there is like, actually, given more freedom and flexibility, right, until the kids and I think, you know, again, like, you know, first days when like, my dad wasn't like supervising me, I think, like I started to play more same thing when we came to Canada, right? Like, he just didn't have time. And so like, kind of a freedom and imagination to kind of try different things, right, like to figure out what you like, what you don't like, you know, I think is sort of quite important. And yeah, I think to me, that's what at the end of the day, you know, serve worked.

Tim Bourguignon 12:09
Very cool. Very cool. So let's go back to your studies. So you were in college, and studying computer science with forensic with security was cryptographic, etc. When did you say okay, now, I'm not ready for the industry. Now. I want to continue exploring this and start the master's program in a Ph. D. program.

Sergey Gorbunov 12:25
Yeah, trying to remember right now, I mean, I think, yeah, so I did a couple of internships, right, throughout my undergrad, you know, I think like, the first one was like, a, an IT Helpdesk or something. And the second one, I went to IBM to do, you know, some kind of database work, then I did a couple of research internships. And I think we're closer to the end of my undergrad. I mean, a, I think I got like, a little bit sick, right. Like, just like, physically, I think I had like an infection and things like that. And then, you know, I felt like, I wanted to continue studying without a lot of, you know, kind of a normal work sort of pressures and things like that. Right. You know, I took some, you know, cryptography stuff, and it was actually with a professor called Charlie Rakoff. For those that don't know, he's actually one of the CO inventors of zero knowledge proofs, right? So zero knowledge proofs is like, super powerful primitives that allow people to kind of prove statements without revealing secrets behind them. Right? It's an incredibly powerful concept. He was like one of the CO inventors who went to MIT to study in the early days. So he was a professor at the University of Toronto and a graduate, you know, summer course with him. And he's an intense guy. Like, he's super intense. I think, like a lot of people. Yeah, not a lot of people, I would say, you know, find it easy to work with him. I certainly, you know, first months, I think of my summer internships was like, you know, tense every time I would go to his office, but I think what I saw there is like a guy that thinks, just like nobody else, okay, like, the way he approached the problems the way he kind of thought about them. Like, his first lecture to me was, he was like, Okay, can you give me a random number, right? And like, first thing you think about, okay, you pick up some random number 35724, right. And he was like, Well, how's this random, right? He gives us whole lecture for an hour, what is a random number that are no random numbers? They're only randomly generated numbers. The question is how you generate the numbers, and how you prove that they've been generated in a random way. Lecture for one hour. What random this is, and so yeah, kind of that summer, I think was like, really interesting to see how, you know, he had like a very interesting, you know, lifestyle. He was more on the senior side where he just had an opportunity to think like without a lot of pressure without a lot of, you know, kind of what they like, regular jobs that I've saw through my other internships and you know, like, deadlines and like tickets and whatever. And yeah, he just thought and I thought, you know, I want to think like him And I don't know how to do that, but I want to learn how to do that. And I applied for grad school, I was really thinking between two areas, right? One is computer networking and cryptography. And I did quite a lot of work on computer networking as well, at the end of my undergrad, you know, worked on kind of various projects, I really loved a lot of the stuff that we did, and then decided to do cryptography to mostly learn kind of how some of those people thought, because I thought that to be incredibly fascinating. Yeah, I'm cutting, you know, continuing to do you know, kind of cryptography work through grad school.

Tim Bourguignon 15:31
How do how do one, pick and choose your dissertation and what you're going to work on for two or three years? Or even more? Maybe? How desperate Cisco

Sergey Gorbunov 15:43
so when it's different within masters and PhD and right, so especially in Canada, where did the masters and then I went to the States to do the PhD and finished there for maths Master's, I had a, I guess I can pretty good, you know, advisors just throw a bunch of papers to me, and he was like, young, he just finished his grad school, I was I was actually his first student that, you know, did not Viton. And he threw me a bunch of papers, and I just kept on thinking and thinking, right, I, you know, I didn't pick, I would say, I was always thinking about, like, what are the interesting problems to solve? Right? And, you know, just ask questions along the way. And then, you know, it sort of naturally shapes up and then, at some point, you know, after a couple of papers, some of again, like my, I think competitive instincts started to kick in, where there were like, Lone, unsolved problems in the crypto space, in particular, like how to construct like, these objects, like, attribute based encryption, right? Like for, you know, for those that don't know, like, it's a, it's a kind of a fine grained encryption, that allows you to encrypt the data and sort of selectively authorized decryption of it, right? Traditional encryption is like, you encrypt, and you can decrypt and nothing else, right, with attribute based encryption, or things like functional encryption, I can give you a program that would allow you to decrypt only specific parts of the data or functions of the data. It's really interesting concepts, really interesting notions. And many of those problems were unsolved for, you know, many, many years, some of them, you know, over a dozen of years. And then, I think one of the problems I remember, I started to think about, and then, you know, my advisor came in, and he was like, Oh, don't bother with it, you know, I spent like, two years thinking about it, right? Like, you know, I, that flips me, usually

Tim Bourguignon 17:38
the right button to get you on a tangent, it really focused on that

Sergey Gorbunov 17:41
with the right button, and then they are occupying hammer, and like throwing ideas at him, and this and that, and I think we've experimented and, you know, I think we came up and actually, like, solved it, which I think was pretty great. Also. Yeah, so that was, did you

Tim Bourguignon 17:54
think you did that on purpose, knowing that you were competitive? And just to push you in the in this direction?

Sergey Gorbunov 18:02
I don't know. I don't know.

Tim Bourguignon 18:05
Just talk to him again. To do that. I'll give him the credit. If you didn't, if you didn't, what would you say is would be dismissive for someone wondering if they should continue in academia, and pursue an undergrad? Or, or switch and go to industry? What would you say would be the key aspects in going one to one or the other?

Sergey Gorbunov 18:31
It depends what you're looking for. Right? And like, how do you see yourself, you know, five to 10 years afterwards? I would say like PG on itself, you know, it's a brutal path, right? You know, you have to be prepared for a lot, you know, you have to have a mindset, okay, here's, I guess, the way that I think about it, if you want to learn and if you want to get better at something, right, without, with potentially compromising your lifestyle for many, many years down the road, you should do a PhD. So like, the same was at the end of grad school is like, you know, you start in your life when you finish your PhD, right, like, so you like some people 25 Some people like 26, or whatever that is, and like, you know, they come out and all of their college kids that, you know, got jobs already, you know, like, bought cars, bought houses, had families, girlfriends, whatever that is right, that they're like, Okay, now I know, I'm about to do it. Oh, but here's, uh, but you know, you probably don't qualify for many specialties, especially if you did something in very, very specific and, you know, unit direction. No, you lost all of the skills that like undergrad taught you. Like programming, right? If you don't do that, like, I don't know, if you do in some specialty, like something more theoretical, and then you have to, you know, start again. So, yeah, like I would say, if you want to learn, if you don't care about your lifestyle, and you can take you know, financially and emotionally that you should do a PhD. If you want to grow as a developer as an engineer, right as a, you know, you know, as a contributor to you know, various projects, then, you know, maybe kind of PhD is not necessarily the path to taken, you know, you can kind of go to industry and kind of build your skill set just contribute to a lot of open source projects, or continue contributing to various, you know, startups, larger projects, and so on and so forth. And, you know, experiment a little bit that way. I found that, like, some industries, just amazing have been, you know, this educational sort of hubs, and you know, they have mentorships, right, they have interesting projects you can learn from, you know, some regular jobs, of course, will kind of drag you drag you down. So you have to be kind of careful around that as well. But yeah, so I would say those are like the trade offs, do you want to work on interesting things? Or do you want to work on you know, things that may have more direct, you know, impact and, you know, touch and like, you know, customer the end of the day?

Tim Bourguignon 20:43
That makes sense. Makes sense. So, you went through these studies, PHP, and then probably had, again, this is 1.2 to five. So you want to continue in academia, go toward more research, more public teaching, that's probably where your teachings come from, and doing something else or doing something else on the side? What was it like this?

Sergey Gorbunov 21:50
Yeah, so okay, I was finished a PhD. I actually, okay, I had my dissertation and everything kind of figured out maybe about a year before I had to graduate or, you know, so I had all the papers and everything. And I think last year, I just spent mostly like, looking around what else to do, right? So I kind of started to play with blockchains, a little bit of learning that space, you know, so worked on, like some early designs behind one of the protocols we shipped ended up being called Elgrand, which is a kind of proof of stake blockchain. So we did like some, you know, early work in the blockchain. And then I found those things to be interesting. We actually tried to do what start, you know, a company with professor from MIT. Right. So and at that time, there's not a lot of funding in a blockchain space. So, you know, I think like, he tried to raise some some capital, it was pretty dry in the market for, you know, for blockchain. And so I actually, I got a job at the University of Waterloo, but I delayed it, because I wanted to start another company. So and yeah, I mean, so I guess like my last year of university, I found like this intrapreneurial, you know, spirits to be also another very interesting aspects. So that's why we kind of tried to do this project was so real. And I really wanted to try myself and intrapreneurship right, and I thought like, that will be really interesting to problems to solve on. I couldn't figure out why all the things I've been working on for the last five years not using the real world. That was a path that fascinated and puzzling to me, I'm like, these are things are going to change the world, right? Like, why isn't everybody using this? So let me go commercialize some of the stuff, right? So there's some first ideas and so that that actually ended up you know, kind of the first company that I tried, which was around this, you know, encrypted compute, right? Where, how do you take your data and send it to, you know, an untrusted environment, like a cloud environment and allow computations with while still preserving privacy, right? Privacy, meaning like the cloud operator, or, you know, attackers want to be able to get your data. So, you know, started the company around that, you know, went through like a small incubator out of Boston, you know, raised a little bit of capital, like, from Intel Capital in the process, you know, had a couple of people working on this. And yeah, I mean, I think we were trying to it was really new market, it was really, you know, early days, and I think we were, you know, experimented and didn't go too far. But I think I had, you know, pretty fun to ride and then, you know, yeah, spend a bit of time kind of a as a faculty at Waterloo, and then I took a leave sure it kind of shortly after to work on our grant. So I went back to Boston, you know, put all of my kind of research on hold a little bit. And then, you know, worked on the ground platform for for a couple years, and, you know, kind of we we took the market, and yeah, kind of since then I've been, you know, sort of back and forth, but then the university and sort of startups I love, I think actually work in Europe. So I think that's something, you know, kind of learned over the last five years. It just, it's insane. It's crazy, but I don't know, I think like my competitive aspects get going again, a little bit.

Tim Bourguignon 24:46
It is indeed and I would totally understand why you would want to sit and stay in there. Until what why do you keep a foot in the academia, if it's so fun in the startup world?

Sergey Gorbunov 24:56
Yeah. I mean, I think there's a lot of I guess, experimentation work you can do in academia, especially with grad students that startups are not necessarily ideal for. Right? So I have, you know, kind of a couple of students that worked on certain projects that, you know, I just wouldn't dedicate, you know, kind of a startup resources on experiment in those areas, primarily, because they're get you to know certain answers, you know, they're experimental, right? And a startup, you're really, it's good to be experimental, and it's good to do r&d. But at the end of the day, like, you know, you are there about building something that, you know, has to start to have an impact. And so, you know, these experiments you will naturally have, but you still have to have a conviction that what you're building is going to work, right. And I think, you know, in academia and some of the research projects, you don't have to have that conviction, right, it's okay to fail. And I think that's actually really important than I think for myself when I was in startup, sorry, not serve in academia in grad school. I allowed myself to fail, right? Like mentally, you know, and I said, like, I'm going to work on this problem, this is going to drag me down. And this is fails, you know, six months from now, you know, I'll be okay with it. Right. And there's like the plan B, and Plan C, you know, what happens when this project doesn't, doesn't have? I think there are two types of people that I've seen. Sorry, I'm jumping back and forth. But that's alright. But yeah, I think like, I've seen two types of mentalities in grad school a is just like very specific, very focused, kind of driven by a supervisor that says, here's a problem to solve, here's a problem you solve, here's a problem you solve and like, you put yourself in this, like, mental box and a mental path, the same as your, you know, advisor potentially took or is taken, which is alright, but you know, I think it's a pretty limited in terms of just personal development. And then the second path where people just like so obsessed about one problem that they spent, like five or six years trying to solve it, and then they then they failed. Habit, at least to me having, you know, shorter duration for when it's okay to fail F, you know, was was quite important. But yeah, so that's, that's, that's the difference, right? And that's why I think, yeah, you know, it's still interesting to do some of these, like research or work,

Tim Bourguignon 27:07
or how do you approach this, this this risk taking versus failing versus still progressing with the students or the the Kennedy PhDs that you follow?

Sergey Gorbunov 27:19
It really depends on the students, I would say, right, you know, some need more, you know, some needs this step by step, you know, supervision, right. And you have to lay down the steps for them, which I'm not a fan of doing, frankly, right. Like, like, I try to give people a courage to go on their own path. And, you know, when they asked me questions, yeah, I mean, I tried to flip back at them with another question,

Tim Bourguignon 27:44
sometimes, the Socratic Christian questions.

Sergey Gorbunov 27:48
But yeah, I mean, I guess, like, ideal at one up to explore, right? And, like, do this this work? Not everybody is prepared to do that. Right? I would say, you know, some people don't have, like, the confidence, you know, I think it's about confidence building, right? Like, during PhD, and there are many steps that will allow you to get the confidence, like get an early paper, like accepted, you know, is like a confidence booster solving something, you know, is a confidence booster, and then, and then you can, like, explore that it didn't kick in, even in me right away, like, you know, some of this confidence to try those things. Like it was really about that, after you solve a couple things, right? I'm gonna prove to yourself that, you know, you have some interesting ideas. And yeah, I mean, I want to be creative with them doesn't work with everybody, right? You know, some students, you know, you have to get supervise kind of a, you know, give them a with a very well defined path with some students. Yeah, you let them go on their own, and they figure it out and they float.

Tim Bourguignon 28:43
Okay, could you define the difference? And maybe in day to day or in, you know, in point of view between a professor and an assistant professor, how do you split the work? And what did you both try to do?

Sergey Gorbunov 28:54
Even like, from titles perspective, from

Tim Bourguignon 28:57
your job, titles, or positions, or how you interact with the students?

Sergey Gorbunov 29:02
There is, nonetheless, not a lot of difference, right? You know, I think like, Assistant Professor technically, is somebody who just doesn't have tenure. So you know, they have to, like, work and like publish for five years, and then you get tenure, then you become like, Associate Professor then means, you know, I think under normal circumstances, you will always have the job, you know, unless there's an extreme, so you cannot be like kicked out of university, right? And then I think five or seven years later, depending on the university, you know, you promoted to like a regular professor. And so the thing that goes, yeah, the changes your interaction with students, you know, doesn't really change your obligations to university change a little bit. I would say, you know, typically, the more senior you are, the more just like, administrative work that gets piled up. That gets thrown at you. That that's an unpleasant part of it. So you get introduced to you know, like more committees and more. Yeah, just going to university administrative work. So I think like your time to actually Do interest in research work that actually goes down? So, you know, you earn yourself in some sense of freedom and you know, ticket to be paid for many years. But the price that you pay is the time in which you have to spend,

Tim Bourguignon 30:17
isn't it always, as soon as you start to being an executive or something? The responsibilities pile up as well. To deal with it? Is there a difference also in or there was not much of a difference so far? But is there a difference between going in the direction you can give to the research, you spoke about the professor really, really guiding their students saying, well do this do that? It's probably because there is an overarching goal in his or her mind and saying, Well, let's steer the whole department in this direction. Or it's really each TA and OTs professor can can say, well, I want to research in this direction and come who wants and let's go?

Sergey Gorbunov 30:57
Oh, I mean, at least in North American schools, is for sure, you know, the the ladder, right? Where you know, as a faculty, you get to pick your own research direction, you get to pick who to collaborate with, and, you know, you drive your own research program, you get to collaborate with some faculty that you want along the way. Yeah, like, you drive your own ship, right. There are definitely like Denver mental themes that, you know, would potentially make some research easier than others. So for instance, like a department may, like have some funding for I don't know, AI research, right, or photography research, and then, you know, you can submit a proposal there that kind of puts you in the, you know, having to work on that project and proposal, if you've got funding from that specific, like, department, right, or specific, you know, institution. So yeah, I would say, the school and the departments are Dr. Themes, sometimes, and areas of focus, and like the the funding that comes in, could be along those lines, but individuals still have, I would say, kind of the ultimate save control.

Tim Bourguignon 31:54
Okay, fair enough. Fair enough. So at what point does Exodar entered enter your your mind or your, your, your day to day?

Sergey Gorbunov 32:02
Yeah, so we were working on our grant, right, which is a proof of stake blockchain and we took it to the market. And, you know, the first year was really try to find some kind of a, you know, Product Market Fit in some sense, right, and, you know, great technology, and so on, and so forth, can amazing consensus protocol. But what we found is that, you know, developers that wanted to build on Elgrand, still needed to kind of composability with other ecosystems that they're used to, right. So for instance, Aetherium, has a lot of assets, right, or, and had a lot of assets at the time as well. And so if you're a developer than building on our grand, you want to be able to include those assets in your application. Right? So you want to be able to allow users to transfer them to our brand and using your application. And so we were looking for, you know, some type of connectivity, right, between our grant and you know, other blockchains. And nothing was really available, right, you know, not the protocol that you can take off the shelf, no, you know, kind of a company that you can call and say, you know, we're looking for this, could you help us kind of connect? And so yeah, then we'll kind of realize that this will be a huge problem for many other ecosystems as well, that we're building in parallel, right kind of our ground was built with the goal of solving some of the scalability challenges that Aetherium had, right to allow people to deploy their applications have, you know, a faster settlement have lower transaction fees, and more throughput. Many other approaches were taken in parallel, right, Solana, you know, near avalanche, kind of polka dot Cosmos, and the list goes on and goes on, all of them, you know, experimented with consensus mechanisms, some of the more some of them less, many experimented with a software development, you know, framework languages on top of them and things like that. And then, I mean, to me, it was kind of a clear that, assuming this space is going to continue to grow, and you're going to need connectivity across all of these platforms, I think some people had a thesis that this is going to, you know, Aetherium is going to take it all if you're, you know, 2.0 is coming. And I've been waiting for the last kind of five or seven years for that. So it's still coming. Still excited. But, but in parallel, I think what we've seen is just like very different ecosystems growing, there are different use cases, very different markets, or different approaches. I think it's fascinating to see all of that, and I think actually unifying that, connecting all of this, you know, islands, you know, and building, you know, connectivity tissue and like transport boats and planes across them is super interesting. So, yeah, and that's how we started, you know, to to work on accelerate with my co founder Yorgos. And yeah, and since then, it's been, you know, another really fun ride.

Tim Bourguignon 34:41
That is really cool. Is this more or less related to what you did your PhD on? Was it's a different topic entirely.

Sergey Gorbunov 34:49
Not really, I mean, we use in some cryptography, right we use like some threshold cryptography which you know, I definitely started didn't work there right directly on it, but yeah, I wouldn't say it's, it's actually directly PhD. If I found more actual similarities with what we're doing now with earlier works that I was doing, like in software defined networking, right, which was, you know why I wanted to kind of study networking for grad school as well, where we were, you know, building like software controllers and programming to program like, you know, the control plane and the routing, right, like for for the internet. And so I think like an extra, a lot of the work that we're doing now is, is actually closer to that. But cryptography and security is like a key component of all of this doing because like, it's so critical, and I think, yeah, all the Yeah, kind of just like, an ability to think about those problems, right. And, you know, an ability to, you know, reasonable security models is, I think, what ended up being incredibly, incredibly helpful. And again, like having a conviction that something would work before anything, and like this system is actually incredibly complex, I think, I tell to my engineers that this is like like, is a full stack is probably the most technical that I've interacted with and work with, because it has so many components and so many interactions across other different blockchain. So there's like, three different layers in this. So you really have to have really strong conviction that this would work. I remember our first engineer, Chris, that we heard, he worked on like permission blockchains, and is still kind of catching up on permissionless blockchain, and I think about eight or 10 months after we started working with him when things actually started, like gluing together and you can send messages end to end, he was like, wow, it's actually worse. So he was like, you think it would work, you know, that would work. But like, you know, kind of you spend, you know, millions of dollars towards something that you have to have strong conviction. So that's incredibly rewarding, right? Like to me to our I think our team things like that's just the the experience like the emotional roller coaster just gone.

Tim Bourguignon 36:46
I believe, I believe you right away. There are some topics that emerged in your minds while you were doing your your or your your PhD of applications of what you were doing, or what you were doing a few rising, treating, creating solutions for, et cetera, that could become startups in the future, so nagging at you, and say, Hey, you wish to do that? Oh, remember, this should do that.

Sergey Gorbunov 37:09
Yeah, I mean, definitely read like, I think a, okay, there's like, the concept that we're working with, which I think are actually now there is a next wave of startups that is attempting to solve them, which actually doing quite well, right. And actually, those problems are getting solved, you know, potential using like, different, you know, technology or a different like algorithms under the hood, but like the same problems, right. And it all goes back to this secure compute, right. And I think when we were working on it was definitely kind of a interest in theoretically and on paper. But now, like, we have seen those problems actually come to reality, especially around, you know, AI, right, or machine learning, kind of the basic problem, you have like a data set, which you want to keep confidential, you want to use some type of a cloud compute, to perform, you know, to compute a model of this data set, right? Or, you know, or if you have a model you want to them, you know, allow, you know, kind of ship it and allow people to query it, right. But you really want to preserve the privacy of either the data or the model itself, right, Trump. So how do you do it in a secure way. And there are now I would say, like two startup trends that I'm seeing a the ones that using, like secure hardware to solve the problem. So for instance, things like Intel SGX x, which is like a hardware enclave on your processors that allows you to isolate the data or isolate a program. So that's quite interesting. And then the second trend, where we seen kind of a new algorithms that have been built that are tackling these specific subsets of the problems, right, so for instance, for machine learning, where they're already efficient enough to be able to perform specific computations, maybe they're not efficient enough to do a general compute, right, for arbitrary computations, but they're efficient enough to work for specific, you know, compute environments. And yeah, I think like, we have, you know, a few startups that are working on that space. And I think those are quite exciting. So yeah, I still think it's kind of early in this space. But I think, you know, we're already finding those use cases. And those applications, I think, is just going to continue accelerating.

Tim Bourguignon 39:12
That's what I think is well, it's amazing what's what's popping up everyday. And you have to scratch your head and think, why the hell are they doing this? And if you keep scratching the Oh, and oh, you see what what's what's emerging? And it's really usually 10 years 15 years in the future but it's amazing what's what's what's popping up. That's that's really so what's in your future. Further research further further XLR and at some point to another company and more intrapreneurship and so on and so forth.

Sergey Gorbunov 39:41
I mean, all of those things sound great, right? Like I think I you know, I think like excellent is gonna keep me quiet visited for the foreseeable future. I think we're really building as like, you know, going to be foundational for the history of blockchains and kind of a very needed component in the space. So yeah, I'm, you know, kind of A 24/7 on that, at least right now, and I think, you know, will kind of keep us busy for a while. And also from there, I'm super excited about, you know, kind of a blockchain distributed ledger technologies in general. I think they change the programming model, they changed business models, you know, I think it's yeah, it's like, the stuff that I, you know, I was not necessarily part of, but you know, in the night is right then, like, 2002, where internet was developed, and like, early applications, but I would say, I probably touch that a little bit more than, you know, my, my peers of like, my age, because I think, like, in Russia, things were a little bit delayed. Right. So I think I, you know, I touch some of the, like, connectivity, you know, problems and things like that, and a little bit more in that kind of side, accelerated when it when we're moved to, you know, Canada. So those things are just like, fascinating, right. And I think that's what we're doing now, you know, with distributed ledger and blockchain technologies and you know, definitely seen a lot of parallels but also very new programming and, you know, business models that I think will start coming up more and more often.

Tim Bourguignon 41:01
Awesome. You've touched bases about your your professors before, there was some some interesting characters in there as ever been one one piece of advice from one of them, that really changed the way you think changed the way you you approach approach things.

Sergey Gorbunov 41:15
I mean, a lot. I don't I don't know if there's a single one. The first thing that came to my mind, is it from this Professor Charlie Rockoff. Yeah, his advice was don't get old. So that was a good one.

Tim Bourguignon 41:28
That's it. That's that's a subject for research in itself.

Sergey Gorbunov 41:32
Yeah, so that was a good one. Let's see what else was there? Yeah, I don't know. I think a lot like I'm not sure if that thing, for instance. Right away is the most memorable.

Tim Bourguignon 41:43
But that's pretty good. How are you doing on the not getting old?

Sergey Gorbunov 41:47
I got a lot of gray hair over the last year.

Tim Bourguignon 41:51
Doesn't mean you're getting old. Too much startup and research and lifestyle put on the side probably. Well, it's been fantastic. That's a hell of a ride. That's pretty cool. Thank you so much.

Sergey Gorbunov 42:02
Awesome. Yeah. No, thanks so much is super, super interesting.

Tim Bourguignon 42:05
So where would be the best place to to start a discussion with you or continue this discussion with you?

Sergey Gorbunov 42:10
Yeah, I mean, I think the best place you know, just to kind of you can DM me or follow on Twitter. Right. It's a handle like Sergey underscore, you know, you can Yeah, DM me. I think my DMs are opened, you know, gonna comment and we can start a discussion there. And, you know, take it from there

Tim Bourguignon 42:24
anything on your plate that you want to plug in?

Sergey Gorbunov 42:26
I think a lot of things on my plate.

Tim Bourguignon 42:28
Two and a half meters wide plate. Yeah.

Sergey Gorbunov 42:31
Yeah, no, I think a lot of interesting stuff. So I think yeah, I'm super bullish on you know, what we're doing an excellent, right. And I think like new connections and new protocols will become in life. So you know, stay tuned, we're gonna be, you know, gonna release it more information. So I think that'll be exciting.

Tim Bourguignon 42:45
Okay, then now we'll link to your Twitter, excellent Twitter where people can see all the news probably popping up. And we'll add all that to the show notes down. Awesome. Thank you very, very much.

Sergey Gorbunov 42:58
Thanks so much for having and

Tim Bourguignon 43:01
this has been another episode of developer's journey. We see each other next week. Bye. Thanks a lot for tuning in. I hope you have enjoyed this week's episode. If you liked the show, please share rate and review. It helps more listeners discover the stories, you can find the links to all the platforms to show appears on our website, Dev journey dot info, slash subscribe. Creating the show every week takes a lot of time, energy, and, of course money. Would you please help me continue bringing out those inspiring stories every week by pledging a small monthly donation, you'll find our patreon link at Dev journey dot info slash donate. And finally, don't hesitate to reach out and tell me how this week story is shaping your future. You can find me on Twitter at @timothep ti m o t h e p or per email info at Dev journey dot info. Talk to you soon.