Bryan Peters, Director of Hub Operations - ConsenSys (Q&A)
You’ve had an interesting career journey that’s brought you into some of the coolest company and organizations in Waterloo’s tech ecosystem. Tell us a bit more about Bryan’s story.
My first connection with Waterloo Region came as a student. I studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waterloo. Initially, my career took me into transportation. I was designing passenger rail equipment working with various levels of government. But the industry felt stuck and dated, mired in regulations, and I had a passion for innovation. So I returned to Waterloo in 2011 to take up a role with Miovision. It’s at that point I really fell in love with this Region. Miovision had a passion and vision for autonomous and intelligent traffic control. They were solving a problem that we all can relate to -- better traffic flow. While at Miovision, I developed a new passion for product management and for building agile, self-managing teams. My colleague Victor Leipnik and I began to create a software solution called Teal, which originally was built to help teams at Miovision scale and grow while remaining nimble and fast-moving. For a while we explored taking this technology forward as a startup. Then, a number of weeks ago, I was attending the ETHWaterloo hackathon and heard Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys speak. I realized that the values of decentralization went way beyond teams. It was a karma-like moment for me. It also became the start of the next leg of my tech journey.
You have recently joined ConsenSys in a leadership role - tell us more about the company and your new career path - what intrigued you about the company and its mission?
ConsenSys was founded in 2014. The organization’s mission is to help build the future of identity, financial markets, commerce, security, infrastructure, and more on the Ethereum Blockchain. Our vision is to use decentralized applications (called dApps) to fundamentally reshape the economic, social, and political operating systems of the planet. The ConsenSys organization is itself decentralized and open. There are no managers, no reporting lines. Just self-motivated people who naturally come together on projects to grow the ecosystem. In addition to its internal projects-- “spokes” in their language --the organization also has a $50M venture fund, an educational Academy, and a strong network of enterprise partnerships in pursuit of this mission. Victor and I have joined ConsenSys to build the organization’s presence and help facilitate a grassroots movement around Ethereum here in Kitchener-Waterloo.
It’s financial literacy month. Blockchain is this concept we’ve all heard about, but no one really understands? How do you explain what Blockchain is, and what you do to your….mom?
You know, I did have to explain blockchain to my mom! There are a lot of smart people trying to describe it. It’s such a radically new paradigm it is a bit like trying to describe the Internet to someone in 1985. Hard to get your head around it now, but in perhaps a decade it will be simply part of the way our economy works. Think of blockchain as being a new form of database. It has some interesting properties that improve human trust when compared to most databases today. First, it is inherently difficult to hack, so it makes it hard to change data. It also has permanence. You don’t have to be afraid a central server will fail and data will disappear. It is open. You don’t have to worry about your data being stored by a corporation and then used in some way we are unaware of. It is verifiable. It can be easily audited to make sure data is accurate. All of this means that transactions facilitated by blockchain can occur without the involvement of intermediaries or 3rd parties we need to try and trust. It’s easier and more cost effective to trust the blockchain. Ethereum is a neat evolution on top of the blockchain. It generalizes the blockchain to make it easier to develop on. So instead of having to code a decentralized app from scratch, Ethereum opens up access, creating a peer to peer computing network that reaches across the globe, with applications running on top of that. It’s like Android for the blockchain.
Bitcoin is the most accessible first app built on the blockchain. Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency that isn’t determined or managed by a central bank. People trust in the Bitcoin currency because it is built on blockchain, and leverages all of the blockchain advantages I just mentioned. Bitcoin transactions are trusted to happen peer-to-peer with no banking intermediary. Other transactions where blockchain could be applied might include any transaction where trust is required, legal systems, governance systems, medical systems.
What will be the impact of blockchain on our economy? Will it change our concept of transactions and of currency (as they exist today)?
Tokenization today emulates the concept of currency as we understand it. That said, you can tokenize anything, and exchange those tokens for services and goods of equal value. It’s like the sharing economy put on steroids and made truly peer-to-peer. These concepts of course need to be integrated into our governing, banking, legal, and taxation systems. ConsenSys is very dedicated to finding ways to accelerate blockchain innovation while integrating that innovation into societies systems.
As another example, today our identity is represented by a hard piece of plastic in our wallet. It is some government issued, verified thing that implies trust. In the concept of blockchain, trusted identity is more intrinsic, so we are able to conduct transactions with our identity verified, and without having to disclose additional detail that invades our privacy.
How do you see Waterloo Region playing a role in the advancement of blockchain? Are there some things/companies/innovations that particularly excite you?
While working here for the last six years, I have seen first-hand what amazing things this community can do, and the power our ecosystem has, represented by the University of Waterloo, Conestoga College, Wilfrid Laurier University, the Accelerator Centre, Communitech, and technology companies small and large working together. I think this is what drew ConsenSys to this region as well. Vitalik Buterin, the founder of Ethereum, studied at University of Waterloo. We already have a growing development community here focused on Ethereum. For instance, Kik recently introduced Kin tokens are built on Ethereum.
We’re a great community of builders here in Waterloo Region and we have all the right ingredients to take this unique, transformative technology and use it to build world-class solutions. I’m looking forward to being a flag bearer for ConsenSys and Ethereum here locally. I’d love to see us become a global Ethereum (and blockchain) center of excellence.
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