Education

Breaking the codes

Founded by technology entrepreneur and investor Peter Thiel in 2011, the Thiel Fellowship is a two-year programme for youngsters who want to build new things. Thiel Fellows skip or drop out of college to receive a $1,00,000 grant and support from the Thiel Foundation’s network of founders, investors, and scientists. This year’s Fellow Aparna Krishnan, a 21-year-old entrepreneur from Chennai, Aparna elaborates on her experience, her organisation, Mechanism Labs, and plans.

The beginning

I had heard about the Fellowship before, but had never once consider pursuing it and taking a break from my studies, especially as I had founded Education at Blockchain at Berkeley, and taught the largest university accredited course on blockchain, which is the revolutionary technology underpinning Bitcoin.

The blockchain technology runs on the principles of cryptoeconomics, a field that is at the intersection of both cryptography and economics. All public blockchains need to be secure from a cryptographic perspective as well as provide incentive compatibility by making it optimal for the network caretakers (also called as miners/validators) to act honestly. Any blockchain that has just one aspect, is still vulnerable to several attacks.

Due to the efforts involved in working on Education at Blockchain at Berkeley, I realised that I was well equipped to solve that problem because of the knowledge I had garnered. Thus, I started a research team to focus on solving problems in the alternative consensus realm. Through all of this, I was spending over 40 hours a week focusing on blockchain ,and the remaining in school. I was barely sleeping, trying to balance it all.

So, when the Thiel Foundation reached out, I considered applying. Later, though, knowing that I was dropping out of college to pursue what I was passionate about, gave me the confidence to take the leap of faith. Having the right team, gave me the confidence to make the decision. The final summit, which the top 60 applicants get invited to, was a series of pitches and interviews where the foundation gets to know each individual. It was a fun process as it gave me the opportunity to connect with amazing people.

Mechanism Labs

Mechanism Labs is the world’s first open source blockchain research lab. When my co-founders and I were working on research in the blockchain space, a year ago, it was hard for us to know what open problems existed and what were pertinent problems for us to solve. We started by thinking about attack vectors on Ethereum and trying to see if the same attacks were possible on other blockchains. That was when we zeroed-in on how there was a lack of common terminology and understanding between different blockchain protocol. As we progressed with our research, we were aware that if we could channel our intellect meaningfully, we could have a blockchain that finally meets the dream of decentralisation, someday, our long-term vision.

Being a Thiel fellow enables me to have access to mentors. Mentorship is invaluable in speeding up learning, foreseeing and preventing critical mistakes. It also means I have access to other youngsters who are working on their own startups and going through a similar period of uncertainty. People often underestimate the power of environment. Having other people my age to bounce off ideas with, learn from, and grow with is invaluable. It also means I give up on the regular college experience. However, the default path of education will always exist and I can go back to it after I finish working on what I’m currently passionate about. For me this is the right time and right place to be pursuing blockchain research and the industry is the best place for me to be maximising my impact.


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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 5:48:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/education/breaking-the-codes/article24481566.ece

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