Fortune: The Ukrainian-born engineer behind Solana Labs learned to code as a teen and had a ‘lightbulb’ moment about the blockchain

Anatoly Yakovenko was a kid when he came to the U.S. from Ukraine in the early 1990s. As a teenager, he was enamored with programming, having learned C, his first coding language. The dot-com boom was in full swing and “there was this magical possibility of writing a piece of code that just solves some incredible problem for the world” and becoming the next Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, Yakovenko tells Fortune, seated at a long table at Solana’s Hacker House in Miami.

Anatoly Yakovenko’s background

Yakovenko was in college when the dot-com bubble popped, and “some advisors literally [told] me, ‘maybe computer science is not a good career choice,’” he says. But Yakovenko stuck with it, and, after a failed startup, landed a job at Qualcomm, where he stayed for nearly 13 years working on distributed systems, among other things, before leaving in 2016, per his LinkedIn.

In 2017, Yakovenko had an idea. He had been working with a friend on a side project to build deep-learning hardware. And to offset the costs of setting up all the graphics processing units being used, the duo began mining crypto. By then, Yakovenko was already well aware of the crypto markets. But one night, as the story goes, Yakovenko, riding the highs of two coffees and a beer, wound up staying awake until 4 in the morning and, in the process, had a lightbulb idea. The passage of time itself, he realized, could be used as a data structure to help order transactions and events on the blockchain—a seemingly wonky conclusion that would turn out to be a part of what has become known as “proof of history,” and a key reason why the Solana blockchain can now operate at lightning-fast speeds compared to Bitcoin and Ethereum. (Solana, in conjunction with Proof of History, uses the consensus mechanism known as Proof of Stake to validate transactions on the blockchain.) Yakovenko also brought on several other cofounders, including fellow Qualcomm alumni Greg Fitzgerald and Stephen Akridge.

A systems engineer ‘through and through’

Dressed in a gray sweatshirt, shorts, sneakers, and a black baseball cap, Yakovenko looks more like many of the other developers than the CEO of a company.

According to those who know him, Yakovenko is a systems engineer “through and through,” as Ali Yahya, general partner at venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz and an investor in Solana, puts it. The way Yakovenko talks is very analytical and technical, with a somewhat paradoxical mix of calm and, at moments, nervous energy.

Read more via Fortune how Anatoly Yakovenko’s crypto startup Solana Labs is building what investors think will be a core layer of Web3

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