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Our people are everywhere: Five Ukrainian IT geniuses who are changing the world

The hero of Notes of a Ukrainian Madman by Lina Kostenko lamented that sometimes there was no one to celebrate the New Year with, because all his fellow students were already working in Silicon Valley. We do not know for sure who exactly shareв the same desk with them and what heights they reached. However, The Page compiled the stories of five Ukrainians from the IT industry, who can deservedly be considered geniuses.

Max Levchin

Max Levchin was born in Kyiv in the family of the writer Rafael Levchin and the physicist Elvina Zeltsman. In 1991, when Levchin was 16 years old, the family emigrated to the United States. After graduating from the university, he went to work in Silicon Valley, where he launched three startups that, however, were neuther successful nor profitable.

In 1999, he, together with Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, and Reid Hoffman, launched the international electronic payment system PayPal—and it "shot the moon". Three years later, the project was bought by eBay for $1.54 billion, the share of the Ukrainian, in particular, amounted to $34 million.

In 2004, Levchin launched his own startup Slide. Its main development was a service for the convenient display of a large number of photos for MySpace social network users. Slide later refocused on creating social services for MySpace and Facebook. Photo hosting was subsequently acquired by Google, and Levchin took over as Vice President of the company.

From 2012 to the present time, the Ukrainian has been developing the consumer lending service Affirm. He owns 11% of the company's shares. After the startup's successful going public in early 2021, the company's shares almost doubled in price. The capitalization of Affirm at the end of the first trading day was $23.6 billion, while Forbes estimated Levchin's fortune at $2.7 billion.

Jan Koum

A year later after the Levchins, another family of the future genius left Ukraine. In 1992, Jan Koum, a native of Fastiv, came to the United States.

There he entered the University of San Jose, while working at Ernst & Young. However, after a year, he dropped his studies for a position at Yahoo. The manager of the company, Brian Acton, who later became Koum’s good friend and business partner, helped him get a job.

Jan left Yahoo in 2007. In 2009, Koum came up with an idea that he and Acton brought to life—he created the WhatsApp mobile messaging application. The messenger was downloaded by a quarter of a million users in a short time. In 2014, more than 400 million people used the program, making WhatsApp the most popular messenger in the world.

In 2014, Facebook offered $19 billion for the app. Koum agreed, and that made the founders of WhatsApp billionaires. At the same time, he remained the company’s Chief Executive Officer and joined Facebook's Board of Directors. At that time, his fortune was estimated at $9 billion. In May 2018, Koum left WhatsApp and left the Facebook Board of Directors.

Nick Bilogorskiy

Nick or Nikolai (Mykola in Ukrainian) Bilogorskiy was born in Kharkiv and moved to Vancouver (Canada) when he was 16 years old. He entered college abroad. Immediately after graduation, together with his friend he established his first business—Randronics, a web design company.

While studying at Simon Fraser University, Nick trained at Microsoft in his specialization—crypto security. In Silicon Valley, he first worked for Symantec, and in 2010 joined Facebook—the security department led by Max Kelly.

Subsequently, Bilogorskiy left the company and started his own business—he became a co-founder of the antivirus startup Cyphort. It was acquired by Juniper Networks in 2017. At the time of the deal, Uber, Netflix, Modells Sporting goods, and Tribune Media were among the clients of the antivirus company.

Since 2019, Bilogorskiy has been heading the Trust and Safety team at Google that is responsible for securing Google accounts in all services from Gmail to YouTube, as well as APIs and app reviews on Google Play.

However, he is known not only for his professional and investment activities. In 2014, under the influence of Euromaidan and the Revolution of Dignity, Nick, with the help of other Ukrainian emigrants, established the charitable organization Nova Ukraine—New Ukraine. At first, they donated money to the families of the Heavenly Hundred, and now they send humanitarian aid to their homeland and raise awareness of Ukraine in the world.

Sergiy Grygorovych

Even those who are far from computer games probably heard about S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Cossacks. Sergiy Grygorovych is one of their authors, as well as the founder of GSC Game World that released these world bestsellers. By the way, the name GSC is derived from Grygorovych’s initials—Grygorovych Sergiy Kostiantynovych. He came up with it and the emblem of the company when he was a schoolboy at the age of 12.

The first game to become the company’s hit was the 2001 Cossacks: European Wars, the historical real-time strategy game. In April 2007, the company released another world-class project—the first-person shooter S.T.A.L.K.E.R .: Shadow of Chernobyl. Its events are unfolding in the Chernobyl exclusion zone in the near future. Already in February 2008, the game had 950,000 copies in the CIS and 700,000 in the West. GSC is currently developing S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2. The game’s release is scheduled for April 28, 2022.

Alex Pakhunov

Another Ukrainian who cannot be ignored is Oleksii Pakhunov (Alex Pakhunov), a native of Zhytomyr, who is now developing software at Elon Musk's SpaceX. He talks about himself, his life path and impressions of work in his blog.

Quote"At Microsoft, I was fortunate enough to work in the Windows Kernel and Microsoft Research teams. After that I joined Google where I was working on Chrome Remote Desktop. And now I work at SpaceX, in the Flight Software group," he writes.

The developer notes that he cannot describe in detail the work at SpaceX due to corporate rules:

Quote"Actually, I can only talk about what has already (been) published on the Internet and no more."

Back in 2015, Pakhunov was in charge of the Falcon 9 successful landing. And after SpaceX, together with NASA in 2020, launched the Falcon 9 with the Crew Dragon capsule, the Ukrainians drew attention to their fellow countryman.

At the same time, Pakhunov explained that he had not written "all the software that is responsible for the Crew Dragon flight", since several hundred people have been doing this for many years.

Quote"I used to write software for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, and now I do this for Starship. Of course, since the software for all four of them is assembled from the same code base, part of my code is used during the Dragon flight," the developer said about his role at SpaceX.
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