Journeys in Blockchain: Erick Pinos of Blockchain Education Network

From the American Dream to a global reality — how one MIT graduate perceives a blockchain-powered future.

by Darren Kleine 6 min March 6, 2020
Journeys in Blockchain with Erick Pinos of Blockchain Education Network and Ontology
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An immigrant arrives in America. The fabled land of opportunity. Leaving — but not abandoning — his family back home in Ecuador he finds work as a waiter in a restaurant in New Jersey. He meets the love of his life in America, an immigrant from Costa Rica, and starts a family with her.

For the next few years, he scrimps and saves his money — not to buy a nicer house, not to have more stuff — but to pay for more of his family to come join him in the country that has become his home. Over time, they do — many of them working with him in the same restaurant where he began his career.

The family expands. Kids grow up and start heading to college, creating paths to their own successful careers in the United States. Eventually, he and his brother save up enough money to do what seemed impossible decades ago when he first arrived. Together, they buy the very restaurant where they have been employed all these years.

It’s the American dream. And it’s not a cliché to those who live it.

Erick Pinos, Ontology’s Americas ecosystem lead and president of the Blockchain Education Network, has lived this story.

It was his father who arrived in America 25 years ago with hope for a better future. It was his mother who came to America from Costa Rica. He shares their story with pride. It’s clear that their hard work and selfless effort inspire him.

Playing with toys

Spending some of his youth in Costa Rica and Ecuador, and then returning to New Jersey for school, Pinos loved playing with Legos and robotic toys — the creativity of making things work captivated him. This extended to mechanisms of ever-growing complexity: building websites, coding and even creating online games for the sheer enjoyment of doing it.

As he got older, Pinos loved playing with computer kits designed to inspire ingenuity and creativity. He tinkered with Arduino and Raspberry Pi devices, which “shaped how I grew up,” Pinos says.

He chose to go to a vocational school for a more hands-on approach to learning rather than taking the more traditional academic route. Pinos trained as a computer technician, learning how to fix computers as well as studying the usual high school subjects.

Pinos wanted to keep studying computer science, to delve into robotics and to learn electrical engineering. He was accepted to MIT — not only because of his interests and good grades, he says, but because of the strong work ethic he had inherited from his family.

“I was exposed to all the cutting edge industries. I got involved in virtual reality, […] hydroponics, agriculture, smart cities and sensors.” But the most captivating of all topics that Pinos encountered was the most recent, learning of it “right before graduating”: blockchain.

“It caught my attention more so than all of the other industries that I explored while I was there,” he says. Pinos saw that he could have a pioneering influence in the industry because it was such a new concept at the time.

Making an impact

Working as an MIT Digital Currency Initiative volunteer in Puerto Rico after a hurricane disaster wiped out much of the electrical grid, he helped establish a network of portable solar panels, generators and batteries. Pinos took advantage of his recently acquired and highly specialized skills, building a blockchain transactive layer for the grid system. Residents could share batteries with each other, sell excess solar panel energy between houses and deliver electricity between different points in the grid.

The problem necessitated a new approach, “If we just built the grid back the way it was, then the second there’s another hurricane or a tree falls down on a wire, it can knock out power to the neighborhood. Creating it as a micro-grid was a big priority. Blockchain was one of the tools that would help make it work.”

You shouldn’t have to move to America

While Pinos is happy to “give back” to those in need after seeing his family achieve the American Dream, he has a more lofty goal: expanding opportunities beyond the borders of any one country.

“Everyone’s goal is to come to America, work in America, make more money in America, and send the money home to provide for family, or to help the rest of the family to move back to America, as well,” he says.

But these opportunities are improving in other countries. “We can create a world where not everyone has to move to America, but instead we are all contributing to making the entire world a better place. It shouldn’t have to be this thing where you have to move to the U.S., or study in America and then go back.”

Pinos insists other countries are moving toward a more progressive tech environment. “A lot of these countries are starting to pay more attention to the startup space.” Governments are putting more funding into incubators, VC firms and accelerators to increase innovation, he says.

The Blockchain Education Network

Pinos believes strongly in expanding blockchain technology knowledge and the required skill base. Pinos first became president of the MIT Bitcoin Club and eventually, the president of Blockchain Education Network, where he corralled students from around the world to share resources and to connect with each other.

At BEN, Pinos has been helping students around the world learn about blockchain and its myriad applications. What began as a small network of a few clubs in 2014 has grown to over 80 clubs around the world today.

BEN continues to provide opportunities for students through a range of efforts including pooling funds from sponsors to send students to annual conferences.

The future for BEN, Pinos believes, is continued growth and adoption. He envisions more universities joining the network, with a greater focus on hands-on learning. He acknowledges that clubs are doing a great job of providing speakers and offering Blockchain and Bitcoin 101 sessions, but he explains that many clubs want to place more emphasis on practical activities like running nodes for different projects, expanding the acceptance of BTC as a currency on campus or implementing tools like decentralized voting.

Driving Ontology

In addition to his dedication to BEN, Pinos works as the Americas ecosystem lead for Ontology, spending his time developing enterprise partnerships, translating documentation, providing English developer resources and growing Ontology’s English-speaking community. He first became familiar with Ontology during his time working for VC firm Game Theory Group, where his job focused on executing technical due diligence for crypto investments, crypto partnerships, blockchain projects and initial coin offerings.

Pinos found Ontology to be the most interesting of all the projects he researched, with its focus on decentralized identity solutions built into the protocol. He now envisions the technology being used for a broad variety of applications beyond university campuses, like medical records and supply chain management.

Pinos explains that the Ontology ecosystem also offers tool sets for accomplishing many of the goals set out by clubs in BEN. The tools offer hands-on usage, he says, that are more in line with what clubs want to spend their time doing: “Actually working on things, as opposed to just bringing in speakers every week.”

A world of opportunity

Pinos focuses on the big picture — connecting the world to a growing range of opportunities through blockchain technology. He often returns to Costa Rica and Ecuador in an effort to build more connections with technologists throughout the region. He recently helped with the Omar Dengo Foundation, the largest nonprofit educational group in Costa Rica. It handles STEM (i.e., science, technology, engineering and mathematics) programs for high schools and universities all over the country.

Pinos sees a wealth of possibilities for economic growth in the digital realm through education and networking. “A lot of Latin Americans supplement their income with online work, with second jobs freelancing, doing remote work, or crowdsourcing microtasks.” Cryptocurrency technology, Pinos explains, is very good for tracking this sort of work and for directly paying workers for online tasks.

Pinos hopes that he can take what his parents did for him and push it one step further: creating possibilities beyond a purely “American Dream.”

He hopes that, in the near future, the land of opportunity will be anywhere one chooses.

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Darren Kleine at Cointelegraph Magazine

Darren Kleine

Based in Canada, Darren Kleine is fascinated with distributed ledger technology and its implications for societal change. He had written the Cointelegraph Journeys in Blockchain feature since day one.