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From College Professors to Entrepreneurs, to Top-tier Investors, Women in Blockchain are on the Rise

When we talk about women in tech, we think of names such as Sheryl Sandberg, Susan Wojcicki, Meg Whitman, and the likes. In fact, more and more women are making their ways into the tech scene here at Silicon Valley. Blockchain for one is an area where lots of women are making their voices heard.

Kathryn Haun: from a federal prosecutor to A16Z

Oftentimes, well-known prosecutors later become politicians, but that’s not the case for Stanford-law-school-grad Kathryn Haun.

Haun first heard about Bitcoin in 2012, when one of her bosses told her to prosecute it. Back then, before all the hype and numerous “understand bitcoin in 2 minutes” YouTube videos, bitcoin was associated with mostly illegal and shady stuff, as it was a preferred means of transferring money for the unsavory types.

The next year, Haun created the first federal “digital currency task force”, combining Justice Department, the IRS, the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and other agencies to look into illegal activities.

Many people may have heard of the infamous hack of Mt.Gox, then the world’s biggest Bitcoin exchange. Haun’s team investigated into that. They also went on to lead the takedown of crypto exchange BTC-e, which was later charged by the feds with money laundering.

And that’s how Haun made her debut into the Silicon Valley’s crypto circle — — — that, and the famous debate between her and Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist and Nobel laureate in economics, over “whether Bitcoin’s value can stand the test of time”.

The thing is, Haun the prosecutor, was the “pro-bitcoin” person in that debate. Haun views virtual currencies and blockchain technologies as “a last great hope at reclaiming power gobbled up by greedy banks and Internet monopolists.”

Haun quickly gained popularity among blockchain advocates and developers. To them, she represents the regulators’ side, and her optimism was well received and much needed.

But what Haun could bring to the table was more than that. As David Marcus, senior Facebook executive, said in a previous interview, Haun “has this rare blend of having been in government and having a business-centric mind.”

Perhaps that is one of the key reasons Haun was invited to join Silicon Valley’s star Venture Capital Andreessen Horowitz as a general partner.

In Silicon Valley, Andreessen Horowitz needs no introduction. Companies they invested in include Skype, Lyft, GitHub, among many others.

Andreessen Horowitz also started betting on crypto technologies much earlier than many other Venture Capitals. This summer, the firm announced a separate $300 million fund specifically for crypto.

Now that Haun joins Andreessen Horowitz, with her regulatory know-how and the ability to understand both sides of the table, Andreessen Horowitz can expect to bet on the Skype or Lyft in the crypto world.

Elaine Shi: the Cornell professor abridging academia and the industry

We interviewed Elaine Shi via email as she was traveling overseas. What really impressed us is how she always gets excited about tackling hard problems, as well as her ability to bring people across different academic fields along with her towards the same goal — ultimately revolutionize the infrastructure of blockchain.

Back in 2011, Shi had a friend who was an early Bitcoin miner. He was passionate about Bitcoin and explained Bitcoin’s protocol to Shi.

Shi immediately became fascinated and co-authored one of the first peer-reviewed academic publications on Bitcoin with that friend of hers and a couple other colleagues. Later, when Shi was teaching at UMD, she co-authored the first peer-reviewed academic publications on decentralized smart contracts with her students.

It didn’t take long for Shi to realize that scalability was one of the biggest challenges. Shi joined Cornell in 2015, soon she started collaborating with her colleague Rafael Pass.

They worked on designing scalable consensus protocols for decentralized, permissionless settings. Of course, they had several ideas along the way, and Thunderella, their current product, is the result of 2.5 year’s hard work.

The goal for Thunderella is to become a provably secure, scalable, and incentive compatible decentralized system. The challenge, however, is that it is a combination of cryptography, programming languages, economics, and game theory, and the interdisciplinary nature makes them “all the more exciting and challenging”.

And that’s where Shi’s continuous effort of trying to promote cross-disciplinary conversations as well as collaborations between research and the developer community comes in handy.

“I am very happy to see all the exciting conversations that are now going on, and readiness of the community to embrace/adopt state-of-the-art research results.” says Shi.

Besides Elaine Shi and Kathryn Haun, there are many other wonderful women who are changing the blockchain industry one step at a time: there’s Jing Chen, Assistant Professor at Stony Brook University and Chief Scientist at Algorand; Ashley Lannquist, Project lead for Blockchain at World Economic Forum, among many others.

Many of them will be participating at Blockchain Connect Conference : Academic 2019 hosted by SV Insight on Jan. 11, 2019.

The event is emphasizing education in the blockchain space, which will gather the most authoritative blockchain professors around the world, the public chain projects with the most advanced technology, and technical experts, to discuss the most cutting-edge blockchain academic research, problems, and solutions.

If you are interested in learning more about girl power in the blockchain space, get a ticket now at www.goblockchainconnect.com!