Mike Hearn, Software Developer for Bitcoin
by Mike Hearn
Where I grew up, it rains a lot. It’s one of the wettest parts of the UK. Playing outside isn’t much fun when it makes you cold and soggy.
Looking back, I was fortunate to be born around the start of the personal computer revolution. I didn’t need to play outside because I had such amazing toys inside. It was the late 1980’s and the computer industry was much less mature than it is now: floppy disks actually flopped in those days, and a common way to “download” programs into a computer was to simply type in their source code from magazines …. one painstaking line at a time. If you were lucky you could use a cassette tape instead. Either method could take hours. I didn’t mind though, even though I was a typical 8 year old with a short attention span; the reward for patience was something wondrous to behold …. a video game!
Like all kids I loved video games. Unlike many others, my parents refused to buy me and my brother a games console. Machines like the SuperNintendo were cheap compared to real programmable computers, but my parents felt strongly that computers should be educational as well as fun and you couldn’t get any good educational games for consoles. And my father, a television engineer at a national TV channel, had enjoyed programming as a hobby for a long time. He had even founded what these days we’d call a tech startup?—?it sold software to make computers load programs from tape faster.
Thanks to this environment, I learned programming from an early age. When I ran out of video games to play the only option to get more was to write them myself. I didn’t really know how, of course, but that didn’t matter! It turned out that writing games could be just as much fun as playing them, in an odd sort of way.
One thing led to another and eventually I found myself graduating with a degree in computer science. I didn’t care much for university but luckily I didn’t have to?—?before I even graduated I was approached by recruiters from Google. It was 2006, the company was only 8 years old, and it was growing rapidly. They found me through contributions to open source internet projects that I’d worked on, after writing video games lost its appeal.
After several years working on Google Maps I moved to the Gmail team to work on fighting spammers. This is easily one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. Each morning my team would come into work, figure out what the bad guys were getting up to … and find a way to stop them. In some ways it was like a video game but in real life, where winning and losing actually mattered. After only a year things suddenly got a lot more serious:spammers figured out how to steal the passwords of millions of Gmail usersand use their accounts to send links to porn, drugs and malware sites. I led a team that infiltrated the hackers operations and battled them for over two years, until we beat them so badly they gave up and went away.
Around the same time as these things were happening, I was developing an interest in an obscure, tiny online project called Bitcoin. It’s goal was to build a new financial system for the internet, one that wouldn’t need banks at all and so wouldn’t suffer from their endless bailouts, slowness and overheads. I communicated with the mysterious creator of the project, a man who used a pseudonym and has never been found …. despite a worldwide manhunt. Bitcoin’s meteoric rise from obscurity has taken me around the world, introduced me to thousands of people and I’ve spoken about it on British television and radio. Bitcoin faces serious challenges and I don’t know if it will succeed in its goals, but the trip so far has been amazing.
In the end, all these adventures have been possible due to the incredible dynamism of the technology industry. It’s a group of people who are never satisfied with the status quo. It’s people who watch Star Trek and don’t just enjoy the story, they say to each other: that’s cool, let’s build it. They say: if we work together, we can change the world.