This is part two of an extensive interview with Dmitry Buterin, looking at his relationship with Vitalik and his insights as a father. For Part 1, which detailed his own fascinating life story, click here.
Dmitry Buterin recalls the day in 2013 when his son Vitalik showed him the Ethereum white paper at their home in Toronto.
“He‘s like, ‘Hey Dad, I was working on this thing, are you interested to look at it?’” the Chechyna-born Toronto resident says in his idiosyncratic accent. Vitalik had dropped out of university a year before to travel the world and, within a month of arriving home, he‘d written the first draft.
Even though Dmitry famously introduced his son to Bitcoin two years earlier, he admits many of the details went right over his head. But, he understood the wider vision.
“One of his skills is he can take something very very complex and he can explain it really well,” he says.
“So, even though I was only superficially knowledgeable about Bitcoin and all the crypto stuff, when I read this document I was like, ‘wow, this makes a lot of sense to me.’ So, I was quite excited.”
Satoshi Nakamoto intentionally limited the complexity of transactions on the Bitcoin network and Vitalik‘s great realization was that if he designed an evolution of Bitcoin in a Turing complete programming language, it could potentially offer every conceivable digital service via the blockchain, from the stock market to building decentralized cooperatives. Dmtiry says the invention of Bitcoin had been a “huge leap” and that the next leap could only be built atop of it.
“For me, it really resonated as a very simple analogy, right?” he says, “Because I observed the growth of internet, it started with static HTML websites and it was all interesting, but very limited.”
He adds: “And yes, it‘s very complicated and risky and there are security issues and whatnot. But, you can do anything.”
Vitalik struggled as a public figure
Although Vitalik had the far sighted vision that turned into a cryptocurrency worth half a trillion dollars, explaining the concept and forging a coalition of like-minded people to help develop it forced him to become a public figure — a role that did not come naturally. “That was actually quite difficult for him,” Dmitry says.
“I could see that and he struggled, especially the first couple years because he is a person who has a, if you will, very kind and sensitive nature — well meaning. And he‘s like, ‘Oh now I’m trying to do this and why are all these people building these websites which ridicule me?‘”
But, he adds that the challenges helped Vitalik to grow in emotional intelligence.
“Through all the public speaking and interacting with so many people and all the traveling that he has done, now the world can see much more of the Vitalik that I know and his family knows: This very kind, sensitive and fun guy versus just kind of some smart guy with a lot of smart ideas talking about blockchain and stuff.”
Back to the beginning
Now a successful businessman who semi-retired in 2017 after the SaaS business he founded, Wild Apricot, was sold, Dmitry says it was obvious from very early on that there was something unique and special about Vitalik. Dmitry, being of a philosophical bent, would no doubt add that there‘s something unique and special about every child, but Vitalik was in a category of his own.
His birth in 1994 had been something of a happy surprise. Dmitry was a 21-year old student at the time living in Kolomna, Russia with Vitalik‘s mother, Natalia Amelineas, as the former Soviet Union fell apart. While Dmitry had himself been a bright child who had learned to read by three and a half, he says Vitalik began reading “quite a way before that.”
But, great gifts come with their own issues, too, and Vitalik took longer than usual to become comfortable with speaking.
“It was kind of obvious that he had some really interesting capabilities,” says Dmitry.
“But also, every child who has very powerful brain has all kinds of other things like nervous tics and things like that. So, there are a lot of things that to deal with — their communication is different.”
When Vitalik was six, Dmitry, his new partner Maia and former wife Natalia all moved to Canada in search of a better life.
The move to the other side of the globe threw the young Vitalik into a strange and unfamiliar territory. Until then, Vitalik had been mostly raised by Natalia and Dmitry, along with her parents.
“They helped out a lot, but they were adamant about not sending him to childcare. So, when he arrived to Canada, he had to go childcare in different language and whatnot. So, it was a big and somewhat painful transition for him.”