Fahim Ahmed is a computer science and finance student at Waterloo, and the president and co-founder of Waterloo Blockchain. But what feels like a direct path to success now, took him a while to find.

Ahmed was only 12 years old when he started crypto-mining.

“I had seen people talking about it a lot online, so I set up my own hardware to do mining in my bedroom,” he recalls. “I just wanted money to buy video games!”

In elementary and high school, Ahmed switched schools frequently, and had trouble staying focused.

“I was always interested in learning stuff, I just didn’t like learning at school,” he says.

He dabbled in different aspects of tech throughout his teen years, building an Android kernel in Grade 9 and studying data science in Grade 10. He also developed a keen interest in economics and financial markets.

“I was always trying out technologies, trying out software and dabbling in financial markets because they interested me,” he says. “I remember being in class in Grade 9 and constantly checking the financial markets — especially what was happening with the blockchain and cryptocurrency.”

Fahim Ahmed

Fahim Ahmed, co-founder of Waterloo Blockchain, presenting at the Math Innovation Speaker Series, January 2024.

In Grade 11, Ahmed realized that if he wanted the resources and credentials necessary to do the work he was most interested in, he would need to apply himself academically. He buckled down at school, aced his classes and eventually applied to the University of Waterloo, drawn by the University’s strong reputation for innovation and tech programs.

“When I first came to Waterloo, I tried to find people who were interested in crypto and financial markets, and was shocked to find that the community wasn’t really there.” Always a self-starter, Ahmed and his friends decided to create Waterloo Blockchain in 2022.

“We focus on getting people interested in blockchain, promoting entrepreneurship and actual building,” he says. In the two years that followed, the non-profit has hosted over fifty events, grown to over a thousand members and sponsored students to attend hackathons across North America.

In early March, member and computer science student William Wang won the top prize at ETHDenver’s 2024 Hackathon, the largest blockchain hackathon in the world. At ETHDenver 2024, Ahmed hosted a hacker house of 14 students where all 5 projects created at the hacker house won prizes.

Waterloo Blockchain members at ETHDenver 2024

Waterloo Blockchain hacker house members at ETHDenver 2024.

The Waterloo Blockchain organization has been so successful and popular with corporate sponsors that they had to transition from being a Waterloo club to a registered non-profit.

“Just last summer,” Ahmed says, “we raised $70,000 in funds and held our own hackathon with over 200 participants.”

His involvement with Waterloo Blockchain also allowed Ahmed to check off one of his bucket list goals: meeting former Waterloo student and Ethereum crypto-currency creator Vitalik Buterin, who shared his thoughts on how to onboard more students to use the blockchain and build apps for it.

Aside from the 10 to 15 volunteer hours he puts in weekly with the society, Ahmed spends his time rock climbing, experimenting with fashion and studying hard in preparation to go to graduate school for computer science. He has also found valuable ways to apply his love for cryptography and finance during his co-op work terms.

“I did my first co-op at RBC as a quantitative developer and got to work on the trading floor. There’s just nothing like that energy — it’s amazing.” His second and third co-ops were at Axelar Network, a blockchain interoperability startup founded by University of Waterloo professor Sergey Gorbunov.

Ultimately, beyond the excitement, innovation and friendships he’s found through cryptocurrency and the Waterloo Blockchain Society, Ahmed hopes that he and his fellow enthusiasts can help make the world more equitable.

“Especially in countries with corrupt governments or unstable financial systems, crypto-currency can offer individuals financial security and power,” he says. “I want to keep working on big projects that can have a positive impact on the world.”