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Jim-Ballingall

Nooor Talks with Jim Ballingall

We know you’ve missed our Nooor talks! So here we are with another interview with one of the most remarkable members of the blockchain industry – Jim Ballingall. Jim is a good friend of Nooor and was one of our speakers during ChainPoint 19. No more details here; continue reading to know who Jim is, what his background is, about his projects, and more!

1. Tell our community about yourself, your professional experience, and how you have entered the blockchain space? 

I am the Executive Director for The Initiative for CryptoCurrencies and Contracts (IC3). IC3 is by far the world’s leading academic initiative devoted to blockchain research – with seventeen faculty spanning nine campuses at top universities in four countries (UC Berkeley, CMU, Cornell, Cornell Tech, EPFL, ETH-Zurich, the Technion, University College London, and Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign). In addition to computer science, its expertise includes finance and technology law. 

I earned a Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Cornell and a BS in Engineering Physics from U.C. Berkeley. I also direct the Industry-Academia Partnership, a consortium founded by Cornell with other top universities and leading companies pursuing next-generation computer, networking, and storage solutions, as well as new implementations and applications of AI. 

I began my career as a microelectronics scientist in the aerospace industry focused on compound semiconductors for infrared sensing and RF communications. Our team at GE developed and deployed the PHEMT, a GaAs-based quantum well transistor for 60 GHz ultra-secure inter-satellite communications. The PHEMT is now used widely in the RF front end of smartphones. I held senior executive roles in the silicon CMOS industry for 15 years and then transitioned into cloud computing. Moreover, I was CEO of a Software-as-a-Service (SAAS) provider of supply chain solutions that merged with E2open.

I always worked with universities throughout my career, in fact, the PHEMT cited above came out of work GE did with the University of Illinois and Cornell. My work in blockchain grew out of collaborations with the IAP and the faculty at Cornell.

2. What is your key to success in the IT industry? And what are the most interesting projects you have worked/ are working on? 

I am fortunate to work with many exceptionally talented people. It’s like the old Chinese fortune cookie proverb, and in fact, my Ph.D. thesis advisor at Cornell told me this too (he was not Chinese, nor a maker of fortune cookies – Prof. Lester F. Eastman, another extremely talented person, born in upstate NY) – “Jim, find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life!” Les had found that job as a prof at Cornell.

3. Which blockchain, crypto project you can consider the most promising today? 

There are so many! The Ava project (Ava Labs) came out of IC3, so I am naturally biased towards it. It offers an asset trading platform with a unique consensus protocol called Avalanche (super-fast, scalable, and reliable) that was first presented at the IC3 Spring Retreat in 2018. The company has an amazing team led by Prof. Emin Gün Sirer, who is indisputably one of the top blockchain experts in the world.

4. The buzz around the CBDCs is growing rapidly. What is your idea about this concept? What is the vision for the upcoming 3-5 years? 

CBDC is really a very exciting concept. I believe it will add value to national economies and benefit individual citizens, but I doubt CBDC’s will be deployed in the next 3 years, and I doubt the initial implementations will be based on a blockchain. There are certainly advantages, but really no absolute need for a truly distributed CBDC application on a blockchain; it simply presents too many security vulnerabilities in the near term due to the enormous number of accounts and users – each presenting a possible attack vector. A centralized DB can meet the minimal requirements and more. Our IC3 faculty is working on a white paper to elucidate the options.

5. We are all facing the challenges that the pandemic has exposed. What kind of strategies should companies apply in terms of digital transformation in the post-COVID19 world?

Some of our IC3 researchers are working on options for maintaining privacy for contact tracing. The SwissCovid App is available for download. It uses Bluetooth to share temporary identifiers, which assist in privacy-preserving contact tracing once an individual is diagnosed with COVID-19. It is the result of joint work by the Federal Office for Information Technology and Telecommunications (FOITT), the Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich (ETH) including IC3 faculty member Srdjan Čapkun, Lausanne (EPFL), and the Swiss company Ubique.

6. It’s interesting to know your thoughts about how tomorrow’s new technologies will drive change and spur innovation in our world. 

In so many ways! A few years ago, I stood on the US Civil War battlefield of Bull Run in northern Virginia with my family. There were two opposing lines of 4-inch cannons spaced about 200 meters apart – North vs. South. It struck me how primitive the technology of 1865 was when I realized that only 100 years later, we had landed a man on the moon.

7. As a 30-year IT veteran, what will be your advice to new generations? 

In terms of interactions with your fellow humans, please be kind, be gracious, be generous, love others as yourself – even if you disagree strongly with their political views. In your studies, work hard but be well rounded – study physics, math, music, literature, history, religion, not just CS or ECE. Get less involved in social media and more involved in actual social activity – such as extracurricular and volunteer work in the campus community. There is so much more to the world than coding and making money, or winning prestigious awards and titles, or otherwise becoming famous. I know billionaires and eminent scientists – many are quite miserable. Be intellectually curious about technology and the world around you. Be involved in your family, your circle of friends, your community. Make it a better place.

8. What has been a source of inspiration for you to fulfill your initiatives? 

Jesus of Nazareth. The Christ is my inspiration and salvation. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)

About IC3

The Initiative for CryptoCurrencies and Contracts (IC3) is an unrivaled center for interdisciplinary talent that uniquely meets the blockchain community’s urgent need for world-class expertise spanning cryptography, distributed systems, programming languages, game theory, and system security techniques.

IC3’s mission is to bridge the gap between academic research and industry need to distill out the technical challenges of key importance to its sponsors and the community at large and devise performant solutions grounded in science and built to last.

IC3 contributes to three pillars – scholarship, public policy, and code and leadership to the blockchain community.

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