Silicon Valley and big tech companies are increasingly losing talent and high profile personalities to the greener pastures of the crypto industry. Green as in freshness and the horizon of opportunity, and green as in silver.
As CryptoSlate reported last month, it’s becoming apparent that Web3 and the broader crypto and blockchain space are becoming increasingly attractive for talent to join. It wasn’t too long ago that landing a job at one of the big tech companies was a dream come true for many, and it still may be, but now there is an attractive alternative career path in the crypto space.
There are many supporting examples: Novi, the wallet project of Meta (Facebook) lost its CMO to payment technology company Circle in January; The general manager of Amazon’s AWS Edge Service has taken on the role of CTO at the Gemini exchange.
Meanwhile, the former CFO of Lyft and the former director of corporate development of Uber headed to the NFT OpenSea marketplace. Also, former head of games at YouTube, Ryan Wyattleft the tech giant to become CEO of Polygon Studios.
An AI expert at Uber and Facebook
In an interview with CryptoSlate, Zhang shares his personal story of why and how he left presumably high-paying jobs and straight career paths in big tech, for a much more adventurous and risky career in the crypto space.
Zhang’s journey into the big tech world began around 2013. He was the organizer of a bitcoin developer meetup group in San Francisco, which inspired him to create an API for crypto developers.
“Although the timing was not as ideal to start a crypto business as it is now, it gave me valuable experience that I would need later to take on other tech ventures. then took a short break from crypto and joined UberEats,” says Zhang.
Zhang spent a few years at UberEats where he focused primarily on machine learning, search recommendations, and discovery.
“Then I moved into the role of Director of Research Engineering at Uber’s Self-Driving Research Lab, focusing on computer vision/prediction. After that, I left Uber to work at Facebook in AI.
At the same time Zhang joined UberEats, he had already developed a taste for crypto. Zhang discovered cryptography in 2013 and was “immediately fascinated”.
“At that time, I adopted a libertarian belief system and really identified with the tenets of crypto and its advocacy for a fixed supply currency,” Zhang said.
“Diamonds are bullshit but blockchain is forever”
At first, Zhang wanted to build consumer apps — he did NFT things, like embedding love letters on the blockchain.
“I think the line back then was ‘diamonds are bullshit but blockchain is forever.’ not quite landed, and I’ve been working on a project where you can hash an image and store it on the blockchain so you can check the copyright,” Zhang says.
Shortly after his efforts in the NFT country, Zhang had a “great idea” to create a Bitcoin Developer API that enabled other developers to build mainstream crypto apps.
“Instead of not being able to get traction with mainstream crypto applications, I had a group of developer clients who were unable to get traction. The API company ultimately failed. And I went working for Uber. But I continued to be careful about crypto,” says Zhang.
What finally made Zhang take the plunge and launch the Magic Eden NFT Marketplace on Solana was crypto gambling, a thought that had been lurking in his mind for years.
“I personally have been thinking about crypto gambling since 2014. That’s when people started talking about smart contracts right before Ethereum came out and people spent a lot of time thinking about it.”
“I was thinking a lot about how in-game assets could be crypto assets. When it actually happened, I was still amazed and fascinated. And of course, things always turn out in a different way than I imagined,” Zhang said.
NFTs have been a long time coming
When NFTs as a use case started to take off, it took a long time for Zhang. With a group of co-founding friends, long thinking about starting something in crypto, the group started brainstorming and eventually launched Magic Eden.
“What I find promising about NFTs is that ownership of these digital assets now rests with the user. Open protocols always beat closed protocols. NFTs as a concept in the larger context of the metaverse , and the interoperability of digital assets is amazing.
“Before, it was a game: the game was built and there was a certain player base. Now the game can become a development platform and the game can support the developer’s assets. I think the ability to do that is really cool,” says Zhang.
Digital assets belong to the user, not the platform
According to Zhang, this opens up a lot of primitives and opportunities. Digital assets are owned by the user rather than the platform, which is also really amazing.
“It’s an exciting time, and there are a number of stories I can share with Magic Eden of how amazing it is that the user owns the asset. The user is not tied to any platform. They can prevail on any platform they want. It prevents platform blocking. This prevention is what creates a healthy ecosystem.
For Zhang, and many others leaving big tech for crypto, the prospect of sovereign user ownership of assets and the technological opportunities this can bring seems to be a major driver of their interest in the crypto space. Crypto is also highly multidisciplinary, which also makes the space so appealing to many.
The financial aspect is there, yes, but these people generally don’t lack money, they miss the technological vanguard, they see a new paradigm for asset ownership and want to keep changing the world for the better.
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