He was originally uninterested in cryptocurrency when first learning about it in 2011. However, a few years later, he began to see crypto’s potential to enact social change and decided to dive deep into the technology. Crypto, specifically blockchain and decentralized financial (DeFi) technology, has encompassed his life ever since.
Wood wrote most of the code for the first version of Ethereum himself and served as CTO of the Ethereum Foundation for two years. He famously called Ethereum: “a computer at the center of the world.”
He also founded Parity Technologies, a blockchain infrastructure company; the Web3 Foundation, an organization that funds the research and development of DeFi projects; and Polkadot, a network of interactive blockchains.
Wood was born in 1980 in Lancaster, England. He was interested in technology and game theory from a young age. His neighbor taught him to code and helped him build his first computer program. He also designed and co-published a strategy board game.
Wood graduated from the University of York in 2002 with a Master of Engineering in Computer Systems and Software Engineering. He went on to earn a PhD in music visualization for human-computer interfacing, also from the University of York. His dissertation was titled, “Content-based visualization to aid common navigation of musical audio."
After completing his doctorate, Wood worked as a technical consultant for Microsoft on embedded domain-specific languages. He also built the software systems for OxLegal, a smart text contract editor for law firms.
Role in the cryptocurrency community
Wood first read about Bitcoin in 2011 but described himself as “wholly uninterested” in the topic, which he felt focused more on the currency/financial aspect than the technology. He was still deep into music visualization, channeling his passion into developing software around the topic.
Wood revisited cryptocurrency in 2013 and began to see connections between digital currency, information communications technology, and even game theory. He also saw the potential for social change that cryptocurrency could provide, empowering underserved populations and creating a transparent, decentralized means of exchange.
A mutual friend introduced him to Vitalik Buterin. At that point, Wood had been a programmer for over 15 years, with extensive open-source coding experience. Wood downloaded the Ethereum whitepaper and decided he wanted to contribute to the project, hoping to take Ethereum from an idea to a functional blockchain.
Wood met up with Buterin, Charles Hoskinson, Anthony Di Iorio, and others in Miami in January 2014, a meeting which became known as the foundational gathering for Ethereum. Wood interacted with various crypto developers and entrepreneurs, expanding his knowledge of blockchain technology. He noted that while the meeting was supposed to be a hackathon (a gathering of programmers to work on a project), he ended up doing most of the coding of the first iteration of Ethereum himself.
The group went on to present Ethereum at the North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami. They met up in Zug, Switzerland six months later, to further iterate on the Ethereum ecosystem.
Wood focused on the technological aspects of Ethereum. He designed Solidity, an object-oriented programming language used to implement smart contracts on blockchain platforms, including Ethereum.
He also released the Ethereum Yellow Paper, which served as a formal specification of the Ethereum protocol, explaining exactly how the technology worked. Wood wrote it in the style of a mathematical paper. It has evolved over time as the Ethereum blockchain has changed and grown.
Wood served as the Ethereum Foundation’s Chief Technology Officer for two years, overseeing the expansion of the blockchain and ecosystem, and creating features that made Ethereum attractive to developers.
By 2016, Wood felt that Ethereum’s design was innately limiting. He cited issues with scalability, development tools, governance, and the platform’s flexibility to address real-world problems without the use of middleware (software that bridges operating systems and applications).
Wood wanted to work on new projects that would overcome the limitations he saw with Ethereum. He felt that Ethereum was not fulfilling the full potential he envisioned for blockchain technology, and it was not keeping up with the market. Instead, he wished to build what he believed was a truly decentralized ecosystem.
"We were just kind of thinking how we could maybe create the next version of Ethereum if we sort of had a greenfield to design upon," he said in an interview.
Wood, along with Ethereum colleague Jutta Steiner, founded Parity Technologies, a core blockchain infrastructure company that builds decentralized apps (dapps). Their first project was building a browser for Ethereum, written in the Rust programming language.
Wood founded the Web3 Foundation in 2017, a non-profit that funds research and development for dapps. The foundation has awarded over 300 grants to various Web3 projects globally. Wood continues to serve as president of the foundation.
Wood launched Kusama, a scalable network of specialized blockchains, in 2019. Built as an experimental development platform, it provides a sandbox environment for developers to build and scale quickly before deployment on Polkadot.
Parity and the Web3 Foundation released Polkadot in 2020, a project Wood called a “next generation blockchain.” Wood chose the name because a polkadot pattern has no beginning, middle, or end – a concept that he thought symbolized decentralized infrastructure.
Polkadot allows developers to create their own blockchains that can communicate with other networks. Developers choose the specifications of the projects they build, including how many transactions can be confirmed and the amount of transaction fees. These apps and services can then interact with each other across the platform.
Wood transitioned from CEO of Parity Technologies to Chief Architect in October 2022. In his new role, he said that he will focus on making Polkadot "more relevant to large swathes of the population."
Gavin Wood essentials
- Gavin Wood is a computer scientist and entrepreneur, best known as one of the founders of Ethereum.
- Wood wrote most of the code for Ethereum’s proof-of-concept himself and served as Ethereum’s Chief Technology Officer.
- Recently, Wood released Polkadot, a project that allows developers to communicate between blockchains.