After interviewing extraordinary DevRel engineers as part of Humans of Web3 (HoW), I recently had the opportunity to interview Matt Sorg, the Lead of Tech and Product at Solana Labs, a popular blockchain organization consistently ranked in the top 5 today.
Solana was co-founded in 2020 by Anatoly Yakovenko and Raj Gokal. It started to witness remarkable growth and became unstoppable a year later. So far, it has raised a total of $315.8M in funding over 11 rounds, released a new P2P payment protocol, turned the blockchain carbon neutral, integrated AI and released Solang, a Solidity compiler, along with many other achievements under its belt. A strong competitor to Ethereum, Solana did not achieve these feats overnight. The co-founders and the team toiled tirelessly to turn it into a huge Web3 organization.
Sorg thought of Solana as a rare consumer-centric gem and subsequently joined hands in 2021 to further develop it. He entered the scene when the team was looking for ways to scale and diversify the blockchain and execute application strategies, especially around games.
🤘Check this out: Create Your Own Solana Token in Just 10 Minutes
Sorg, who deeply understood both the gaming and blockchain ecosystems, proposed the idea of introducing NFTs to do the needful. “The idea was welcomed and subsequently, I got into the habit of helping the startup understand what technologies were needed in order to set up certain types of applications for success”, he mentioned. Eventually, he was leveled up to become the Lead of Tech and Product at Solana.
Athletics and Algorithms – Sorg’s Early Life
While Sorg is doing impeccable work today, his Web3 journey is no less than a rollercoaster ride. Born in upstate New York, he was very young when his family moved to a suburbia in Ohio, carrying barely any memories of The Big Apple. A middle child, the second of three brothers, Sorg grew up as an overweight kid. As a result, he resorted to playing football which helped him hone his socialization skills and be more attentive and alert along with growing fitter.
When it was my turn, I could not quite go into CS but I had to distinguish myself. So, I chose something deeper than technology.
Although he was known for his athletic prowess in his social life, at home, he and his younger brother enjoyed activities like tinkering with electronics, playing DOS games and altering their codes. “These games often had text files. If you change the text, you practically change the whole game. A lot of it was open code. So, we would play around, make the game multiplayer, speed it up, or make other small differences”, he shared, laughingly.
Eventually, Sorg ended up being a rare and dynamic combination of a professional athlete and a nerd with commendable computer skills.
Sorg’s passion for technology was evident from a young age and it suggests that he would have gone for a relevant field. However, this was not the case. He was always competitive with his elder brother who pursued Computer Science. “When it was my turn, I could not quite go into CS but I had to distinguish myself. So, I chose something deeper than technology”, he shared. As a result, Sorg ended up pursuing a blend of math and economics at University of Wisconsin-Madison.
My mother has hearing loss and when I learned about the co-founder’s idea, I started to get more interested in the startup.
Subsequently, he went for grad school at University of Washington, a decision that came in handy later on. While juggling econometrics and quantitative development in grad school, Sorg stumbled upon machine learning (ML) and instantly fell in love with it. He ended up finding his passion in computing and in 2012, earned a Master’s degree with a concentration in econometrics accompanied by a diverse coursework in ML and CS.
From DOS to League of Legends – The Big Break
Fast forward to 2014, Sorg got his first big break at Riot Games after over a dozen interviews. From altering the text files of games as a child, to eventually coding them at a corporation that created the likes of Valorant and League of Legends, he had come full circle.
However, at times, even an ideal role, a dream job can have inescapable challenges. Although the overall environment at Riot was everything that Sorg ever wanted, he kept himself confined to relatively basic tasks when it came to work, though he was very much capable. The expectation to explain everything that he was doing turned out to be a stumbling block for him.
In order to not get stuck in a rut, he got into coding which allowed him to take up complex tasks that would only get implemented if he did them himself. This meant not having to rely much on communication. “I don’t think I grew as much as I could have at Riot. When I look back, I see all the things that I could have done to become a leader there”, Sorg shared. However, one only learns by reflecting on their past. Thus, in hindsight, it was precisely these experiences that coalesced to get him to co-found two startups and become a Lead at Solana.
A Startup Named After a Cat and Silent Ventures – Sorg’s Entrepreneurial Web3 Journey
Sorg’s journey to Web3 is a long and winding one and it started in 2017 with the esports industry picking up pace. Thanks to his experience in the gaming industry, he found out a core problem, lack of connection, in esports. A constant tinkerer that he was, Sorg explored blockchain, thought of it as the next big thing and started working on it to resolve the disconnect within the industry.
I don’t think I grew as much as I could have at Riot Games. When I look back, I see all the things that I could have done to become a leader there.
Regardless of that, Sorg saw immense growth within himself and was even offered a job at Coinbase. However, his true calling was that of a founder. After KorroBox, he co-founded a hearing aid startup, Concha Labs, in 2018. “My mother has hearing loss and when I learned about the co-founder’s idea, I started to get more interested in the startup”, he shared.
In 2020, after serving as a CTO at Concha Labs, Sorg did some advising which he thoroughly enjoyed. In the meanwhile, he also kept a close eye on the blockchain industry because he had seen its numerous benefits while building KorroBox and knew that there was a bigger difference that he could make.
Life at Solana and Sorg’s Web3 Dreams
However, it took him some time to find an ideal Web3 startup that is focused on consumers. This is because finding a consumer-centric blockchain startup three years back was like finding a needle in a haystack as it was not economical. Although there were startups and organizations that were very economical from a developer perspective, Sorg was not interested in them. He came across multiple L2s until he learned about Solana which naturally stood out. He knew that he could make an impact in Web3.
During his time at Solana, Sorg identified a key problem within the ecosystem, which eventually led him to become the Lead of Tech and Product. At the time, other than Ethereum, no blockchain had multiple clients operating and defining the protocol. Sorg greatly helped facilitate this feature for the organization by overseeing some brilliant protocol engineers, dealing with the risks and long-term health of the Solana mainnet and collaborating within the ecosystem. Being at a senior position in a giant Web3 organization means learning a new language or a new skill every year. As a Tech and Product Lead at Solana, Sorg always has a different task to do and it has been a fabulous experience for him.
Blockchain is amazing but people are using it for very simple things like tokens and cryptocurrency. These low-hanging fruits make it a very noisy ecosystem. A lot of stuff built on the stack today is very different to the deep technical nature and the potential value of the underlying technology. This is because the actual super good technology takes a while to build.
As the interview drew to a close, Sorg shed some light on the achievements of Solana Labs in light of Solang, integrating AI and the infamous FTX scandal. “The reason Solana is seeing an increased popularity from the consumer base, who are using it to buy goods and services, is because it is consistently releasing innovative solutions to solve legitimate problems and address genuine challenges. This is why people like Solana despite what unfolded after the FTX crash”, he shared.
In contrast to the popular opinion, Sorg is not focused on rapid mass adoption of blockchain at the expense of addressing existing problems. His emphasis lies on bettering the core of the system, taking the technology to the next level and making it more consumer-centric. “Blockchain is amazing but people are using it for very simple things like tokens and cryptocurrency. These low-hanging fruits make it a very noisy ecosystem. A lot of stuff built on the stack today is very different to the deep technical nature and the potential value of the underlying technology. This is because the actual super good technology takes a while to build”, Matt Sorg concluded.
Humans of Web3 is a flagship program of Metaschool and its sole aim is to highlight and bring to the fore individuals’ Web3 journeys that go unsung. If you are someone or know someone who has had such a journey, you may reach out on Twitter (@0xmetaschool) for a quick chat.