Meet the Team: Alex Hentschel on Blockchain and Sandwiches

September 18, 2020

Who are you?

Hi, I am Alex. I grew up in Berlin, Germany, where I also went to school and university. I studied Computer Science and Physics, both with a focus on applied mathematics. I moved on to do my PhD in the domain of Quantum Computing at the University of Calgary in Canada. This is where I started working on the interdisciplinary field of quantum information and machine learning. At heart, I consider myself a scientist with a passion to bring cutting-edge academic research into application. 

In Calgary, I met my wife and we have been exploring our passion for the outdoors and backpacking in Canada. We moved back to Germany, where I worked on self-learning control algorithms for wind and gas turbines. A few years later, our daughter was born. 

In 2017 I started at Axiom Zen to help with the machine learning for Timeline with the goal of generating custom-tailored news feeds for sports fans; I did some unsupervised machine learning in a consulting project; and helped with data science for CryptoKitties. 

Early in 2018, I started working with Dete Shirley and Layne Lafrance on the first conceptual work of what now is the Flow blockchain. In the early phases, my role was to take Dete’s conceptual ideas (his “fever-dreams” is how he worded it), turn them into full algorithms and prove their correctness and resilience to malicious actors. Now, I am the Lead Architect for Flow.

What lured you into the world of blockchain?

My first proper interaction with blockchains was CryptoKitties, I still love the game and own multiple cats. To be honest, I am not so much of a blockchain and decentralization evangelist, but I am intrigued by the multi-faceted domains that converge in blockchain. 

Generally, I like challenging problems, research, formal proofs of algorithmic properties and math in general. Well, blockchain has it all. 

How did you get hooked on Flow?

After Dapper Labs launched CryptoKitties, the limitations of first-generation blockchains became very apparent. There were already a large number of proposals, and even some testnets, out for second generation blockchains based on proof of stake. Many made glamorous promises but none had any noteworthy real-world application load. We started wondering, “What architectural aspects would we want a blockchain to have, so we could build something like CryptoKitties for a billion players?”

The deeper we dug, the more we realized that there was no proposal out there which was really convincing in terms of its ability to scale transaction throughput by multiple orders of magnitude. Then, Dete had that idea “what if we separated consensus from computation?” A radically new proposal, at least in the domain of blockchains. It offered massive transaction throughput without the problems of sharding, but also required a bunch of new, challenging problems to be solved and exciting research to be conducted. 

What should I read next?

  • William Gibson's Sprawl trilogy, also known as the Neuromancer trilogy. I'll take it as an inspiration of where we don't want to be heading. Both environmentally and economically. 
  • Another great recommendation is Annie Jacobsen book "Area 51: An Uncensored History of America's Top Secret Military Base". Great journalistic work based on recently declassified documents and interviews the author conducted. Spoiler alert: no aliens, sorry. Just a whole bunch of crazy tech being built, no normal person would dream of back then. 
  • If you are interested in blockchains, I would suggest reading some of the white papers, if this is your kind of cup of tea. Of course, Flow’s white papers [1], [2], [3] should be on the top of your list ;-) 

What’s your favorite sandwich and why?

Avocado, cheese, tomato with salt and pepper on rye bread. Why? It's yummy.

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