The cryptocurrency and blockchain technology landscape is dynamic, ever-changing, and full of some of the most interesting people alive today. We all know the superstars and the renowned personalities, but the industry is furthered by thousands of lesser-known voices as well. I wanted to give some exposure to the up-and-coming people who help advance the entire industry.
For the inaugural post, it made sense to interview my colleague and dear friend, Alexandra Prodromos. Alexandra, known as Lexy by her friends, is Bloq, Inc.’s Business Development Manager and the Executive Director of the Chicago Blockchain Center. Precocial in her professional life, Alexandra boasts numerous achievements and accolades while only 24. She was able to take some time out of her busy schedule to sit down and talk with me about her involvement in the industry, the Chicago Blockchain Center, and her non-crypto life.
D: What is your current role in the space?
A: My titles are Executive Director of the Chicago Blockchain Center, and Business Development Manager at Bloq, Inc. In addition to pursuing my master’s degree at Northwestern University, I would describe my role as that of an educator of cryptocurrency and blockchains, community aggregator, and blockchain technology advocate. I greatly enjoy meeting new people and introducing them to this exciting industry, as I try to dispel the persistent and pervasive misinformation this space suffers from on a daily basis. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to do so in a burgeoning community like Chicago.
D: What is your background professionally, academically?
A: I received my bachelor’s from Pepperdine University in political science, with a certificate in conflict management from the Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine Law. I am also an operatically trained vocalist, and sang professionally. During my time at Pepperdine, I worked as a tennis hitter at the Malibu Racquet Club. After I completed my bachelor’s, I worked as the only non-government-affiliated member of the Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology Blockchain Working Group, which contributed to the formation of the Illinois Blockchain Initiative in 2016. Currently, I am a Masters in Information Systems candidate at Northwestern University. I have been very lucky to have emerged directly from undergrad into an environment where I was able to apply to jobs that dealt with innovations in technology about which I was truly passionate.
D: How did you first get into the cryptocurrency and blockchain technology industry?
A: I first heard about Bitcoin, as many have, about five years ago because of its various “scandals” and large exchange hacks. I took a particular interest in blockchain technology, however, towards the end of 2014 when I learned of a new cryptocurrency called Ethereum. This new technology, created by a brilliant guy about my age, contained a “smart contract” platform. As the perspicacious pre-law student I was, I thought learning more about this new sort of contract would satisfy my goal of someday working at the intersection of law and tech. Once I understood more about the underlying technology, I realized smart contracts were not really like legal contracts at all!
There were many more applications for blockchains and smart contracts outside of the legal space. I then spent most of my free time learning how cryptocurrencies and blockchains work. I read several books, sifted through Reddit and Twitter feeds, and attended meetups and conferences where I could speak with others who were just as optimistic about this space as I was. The day after I graduated from Pepperdine, I flew to New York City and attended Consensus for the first time. There, I was exposed to a concentrated group of incredibly bright and ambitious people, all discussing the promise of blockchain technology. After viewing former Governor Jack Markell of Delaware advocate for blockchain technology by announcing a blockchain initiative for the state at the conference, I postponed my plans for law school and approached the State of Illinois Department of Innovation and Technology to work as the only non-government-affiliated member of the Illinois Blockchain Working Group. Thanks to the foresight and vision of the members of that group, this effort eventually produced the Illinois Blockchain Initiative (IBI). I then began a Masters in Information Systems at Northwestern University, and sought to devote my professional career to contributing to this space.
D: How do you feel about increasing regulatory instances in the industry?
A: As is the case with any new technological innovation, particularly one of this scale and that deals so directly with real money, I think it is of tantamount importance that the lines of communication between the regulators and the innovators be unobscured. There is a fine balance to be maintained between disciplining bad actors while allowing a nascent technology to flourish to its full potential. I think some of the initial regulatory actions to cryptocurrencies, at least in the United States, were mostly reactionary and not based on an understanding of the technology’s true utility.
Similarly, I think our bifurcated system of federal versus state presents particular challenges as to how to properly regulate this space, as some aspects of this technology fall under the auspices of both. That said, due to the diligent work of organizations like Coin Center and the Chamber of Digital Commerce, there has been significant progress in educating regulators on the real implications around this technology, easing their concerns and crafting overall more forward-thinking laws at the federal level. At the state level, Illinois, Arizona, Delaware, Wyoming and several others come to mind as leaders locally for providing clarity and new opportunities for blockchain in the public and private sectors in their districts. That said, there is still much work to be done, but I think we are moving in a generally positive direction.
D: What is the Chicago Blockchain Center?
A: Founded about one year ago by Matthew Roszak, the Chicago Blockchain Center is a publicly and privately supported non-profit that serves as an educational resource, event host and producer, and startup incubator for the Chicago area. We are supported by the Illinois Blockchain Initiative, and organizations including CME Group, Bloq, DRW, Lightbank, FinTEx, CMT Digital, and many others. We host and contribute to events fairly regularly, and try to support the developer community by providing intensive workshops and technical events. For example, we recently partnered with BTC Media to co-host Distributed: Markets, and have monthly meetups highlighting interesting startups that are headquartered or have offices or ambassadors in Chicago. We also have a growing repository of online educational materials for the community, including our “Chicago Blockchain Manual of Style.”
D: What is Bloq?
A: Bloq is a company co-founded by Matthew Roszak and Jeff Garzik and is building in the space in two ways. On the one hand, we are an enterprise-grade blockchain architecture provider, through BloqEnterprise. On the other, we are contributing to the cryptocurrency and blockchain community by providing varying types of support to a few key projects, through BloqLabs.
D: Stopping short of an endorsement, what projects do you see in the space currently which excite you the most?
A: One category of companies and projects that excite me most are tackling issues relating to digital rights management online. Specifically, those that have been trying to reverse the ill effects that streaming and copying files has had on compensating musicians for their efforts. Additionally, companies that are seeking to use blockchains and tokens in conjunction with online dispute resolution I view as very promising. And lastly, companies that are tackling decentralizing consumers’ personal data through distributed IDs I view as very important work. This becomes particularly relevant for countries that receive many ID-less refugees on a daily basis, and need more transparent and easily accessible records.
D: Short of a prediction, when do you think blockchain technology will begin making a sizable impact on people’s ordinary lives?
A: Firstly, we need to define what a “sizeable impact” would be. In my ideal scenario, that would be a world where blockchains become so ubiquitous and easily interoperable that users aren’t even aware that they are what is facilitating the use of their favorite apps. The UI/UX experience of all the blockchain technology and cryptocurrency-based apps would be much more seamless and intuitive, where it would obviate the need for an intricate understanding of consensus algorithms and private keys in order to operate. My Yiayia (Greek for “Grandmother”) could use it! How far are we from this reality? I think we are fairly far away, but it will happen sometime in the next 10-15 years. As Moore’s Law would predict, the pace of innovation in this space has been accelerating quite quickly, so it is possible my idealized reality may become just reality sooner than that.
I see developments in the cryptocurrency and token space, however, impacting everyday people’s lives much closer to the present day. Bitcoin and cryptocurrency and their accompanying wallets have the potential to enable those who do not trust their fiat currency (something in America most take for granted) to be granted new financial autonomy. I think in this way, cryptocurrency and blockchain tech is affecting people in those types of countries in a very real way at the present time.
D: Outside of cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, what are you passionate about? Any serious hobbies?
A: I have had glasses since I was about five years old, and since then have loved to read. I particularly enjoy biographies, and am always looking for recommendations! I am a musician, specifically an operatically trained singer and passable piano player, and I find I am happiest making music with others. I am also a longtime tennis player.
D: What is your ultimate end goal for working in and helping drive this industry?
A: I have been very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on difficult yet impactful projects, and similarly have labored alongside many brilliant, well spoken, and hard-working people, whom I admire very much, the last several years. Part of what I aspire to, as such, is to continue such work. Beyond that, I have seen the cryptocurrency/blockchain space come very far, particularly in the last year or so in terms of mainstream recognition and acceptance, but there is still widespread misunderstanding and crucial infrastructure that needs to be built. My goal is to contribute to building a world where personal autonomy over data and seamlessly transacting digital assets truly peer to peer is not an idyllic dream, but is an unquestioned norm.
D: If someone wishes to follow you on Twitter or elsewhere, where should they look?
A: All are welcome to follow me on Twitter @lexy_prodromos and send me a connect request on Linkedin. Additionally, if someone would like to learn more about the Chicago Blockchain Center, we can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you so much to Alexandra for speaking with NullTX!