Interview with Basat Gorchu – Blockchain Analyst, The Vanderbilt University Graduate
A.T.: What can you tell us about your upbringing and background? What were your goals, expectations, and your vision that took you from Azerbaijan to Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, the USA?
B.G.: I was lucky enough to be raised in a family deeply involved in the cultural life of Azerbaijan. My father is the theatre director at the Baku Marionette Theatre and a graphic designer, my mother is a musicologist, and my grandfather, who also played a huge role in my intellectual development, is a retired professor of philosophy. Naturally, growing up I was exposed to many of the interests of my elders and so I always had an appreciation for the humanities including history, philosophy, music, and theatre.
For high school, I attended the Oxbridge Academy in Baku, and during that time I developed a particular interest in economics. I vividly remember that ever since I was a kid money always fascinated me, but around the time I was in high school I started thinking about money not directly in its physical or immediate form but in the abstract: what it is, how it works, how we value things in terms of money and why the way we value them always changes.
My interest in economics was also partially the reason I got into learning about blockchain and cryptocurrencies around 2017. In the early 2010s, we experienced the birth of a new form of currencies; these currencies are not only superior in terms of their functionality but are also less tied to political decision-making – a very interesting paradigm change and one which created new opportunities for experimentation by individuals and communities alike.
So with these two interests in mind, I was determined to eventually study economics and computer science in the USA, which has always been at the forefront of both Economic and technological research. Most of my time and effort was directed towards that goal.
A.T.: How did you manage to win the Heydar Aliyev Foundation’s support that covered your educational expenses at Vanderbilt University?
B.G.: I was very fortunate. I did well on my high school exams and scored 1550 on my SAT, which placed me in the top 1% in the world and was more than enough to make me a competitive applicant to any US university but as you may know, the cost of education in the US is massive even in terms of their income level, so my parents could not afford to cover those expenses. My family and I addressed our concern to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation and they deemed me a strong candidate. That meant a lot to me. I want to express my sincere gratitude to the Heydar Aliyev Foundation for giving me such an opportunity.
A.T.: Would you please tell our readers about the scope of your educational interest and the knowledge that you gained while doing your studies in the US?
B.G.: In college I double majored in economics and computer science, and, in general, I enjoyed both. When it came to economics, however, I went through a phase of disappointment in the very dogmatic approach that college classes had. Much of the knowledge was presented without its historical context and the professors often seemed to be blind to the flaws of their models in an attempt to present economics as almost a natural science with rigid laws, instead of a field heavily influenced by cultural values, sociology, history etc.
Nevertheless, my temporary disappointment only encouraged me to study more on my own and explore the side of Economics not presented in college classes, which was very intellectually rewarding. I spent a lot of my free time studying the banking system, the money and capital markets and wrote my senior year research paper on Hyman Minsky’s financial instability hypothesis and its application to the post-COVID-19 economies. I would say that I am now more interested in the subject than ever, which is one lesson I learned in college – find what you are interested in and just study that on your own because you will have to do it throughout your life anyway.
Perhaps not surprisingly (my family’s humanities background probably played a role here) I enjoyed humanities in college more than I did engineering. The interdisciplinary nature of studies in the US appealed to me because I never wanted to be an engineer in the strictest sense of the word. I never believed that the role of a university is to be a medium of exchange of information and knowledge, but instead, believe that a university should foster an interest in life in all of its complexity. It seems to me that the more interested I am in life in general the more enthusiastic I am about my work so taking classes in theatre, cinema, literature, philosophy, and jazz inspired me a lot.
A.T.: Now you are a successful graduate. Congratulations! And we hope you will share with our readers your ideas about what you want to do in the future?
B.G.: Thank you! Yes, I graduated in December 2022. Unlike most computer science graduates who went the traditional route of becoming backend or frontend engineers for larger tech companies, I wanted to commit to the relatively new field of blockchain. I am currently working as a Decentralized Finance Research Analyst at Nethermind, a tech consulting firm based in London and focusing on the development of Ethereum, the largest smart-contract blockchain in the world. Our team does ‘technical due diligence’ and research for many companies in the blockchain industry, including a large UK-based hedge fund. We research the state of the Ethereum ecosystem and the individual projects being built on it to determine their technical feasibility and the innovation they introduce to the market.
Apart from the fact that my work combines my two interests of economics and computer science, one of the biggest motivating factors of the work is that it is very relevant to the future of economic and technological development in Azerbaijan. I will mention a few use cases of the technology for clarity. Besides the most straightforward use case — cheap and fast transactions — blockchains allow for the creation of so-called smart contracts, which are immutable coded contracts that always execute if a certain pre-determined condition is met. Combined with the appropriate legal infrastructure smart contracts could provide people with cheap access to legal contracts which exist on the blockchain permanently, allowing them to create economically beneficial legal agreements without incurring high costs. Another use case is for registry systems, for example, property or land, where the cost of verifying ownership could be drastically reduced with the help of blockchain’s cryptographic advances and verification can be carried out much faster.
We can and should make use of the efficiency that blockchain can bring to so many sectors of our economy but currently the industry is very nascent in Azerbaijan. With the economic development of Azerbaijan, there will be a growing need for startups that can introduce technological solutions based on blockchain.
Startups, by their nature, require guidance and investment — what’s called a period of incubation — and there is a whole industry developed around finding promising projects, funding, guiding and servicing them until they become successful businesses. I am hoping that with the knowledge that I am acquiring right now (researching both economic and technical aspects of blockchain projects and analyzing the market in general) I will be in a perfect position to be involved in the incubation of startups, with a particular focus on startups founded in and for the benefit of Azerbaijan.
A.T.: Thank you very much. We look forward to hearing from you again soon.
B.G.: Thank you!