I speak with Dr Xinshu Dong to get his views on management, leadership, and find out more about Zilliqa.
Meet Dr Xinshu Dong who not only holds a PhD in Computer Science from the National University of Singapore (NUS) but he is also a scientist and practitioner in building secure systems, ranging from blockchains to Web browsers and applications. Dr Dong was also a technical lead for several national cybersecurity projects and the outcome of his research has been published at top international conferences.
Amongst his various accomplishments, Dr Dong is also the co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Zilliqa. He is currently leading the Zilliqa team in developing a new public blockchain Zilliqa for high-throughput applications. How could I not want to interview the man? He shares some rather interesting perspectives on his management and leadership styles amongst other topics.
Sadie-Jane Nunis (SJN): There is a constant debate that management and leadership are different. What are your thoughts?
Dr Xinshu Dong (XD): I think that management and leadership are different, but both are important. Leadership is about rallying people behind a vision and inspiring others to achieve great things. Management is about helping a team make that a reality by translating that vision into actual day-to-day actions.
SJN: What is your management or leadership style like?
XD: I believe in getting out of the way and empowering my team to take ownership and responsibility of their respective fields, instead of putting in stringent hierarchical processes. Listening and being open to feedback is also very important to me, as I am still learning about management and leadership—my team and I help each other to grow. I am also very fortunate to have team members and co-founders who come from senior leadership positions in large organisations, and always have valuable suggestions and thoughts.
SJN: What strengths should an effective leader have?
XD: There are many different ways to lead, so I don’t think there is one right answer. However, the two traits most important to me have been persistence and resilience. Zilliqa has faced many challenges to get to where we are today, and I know there will be more challenges ahead. An effective leader needs to keep the team focussed and driven, even when faced with difficulties and failures.
SJN: How do you stay motivated?
XD: I stay motivated by working on things I am passionate about—solving complex and meaningful problems and developing cutting-edge technology that will one day be used by millions and, hopefully, billions of people globally.
SJN: How big is your team and how do you manage and motivate your team?
XD: My team is just over 20 people in size, and we are distributed over several countries. Our structure is flat, and we encourage sharing so that everyone knows what everyone else is working on. The combination of being able to work on exciting new technology in a flat, open, and trust-based culture has been the key motivation for our team. As a leader, I make a conscious effort to ensure that I know my team as holistic individuals beyond just what they work on.
As our team grows in size, however, I am figuring out how to put structures in place that allow us to continue to work efficiently as we scale, without compromising on team culture. For example, we are helping some team members step up to take on more advanced leadership roles.
SJN: Tell me more about Zilliqa and how it came about.
XD: Our original technology was developed as a research prototype at NUS, which was then commercialised as private blockchain deployments. One of our earliest customers was Singapore Exchange. The team wasn’t content with the scale in the private deployments and was wondering how to scale up the technology to better unlock its potential. This is why we started to seriously consider moving towards the direction of a public blockchain platform, where we would be able to get thousands of computers on the network. That’s what eventually led to the start of Zilliqa as a public blockchain project.
SJN: What role do you see Zilliqa playing as a disruptor?
XD: I see us continuing to challenge and disrupt the blockchain space by pushing forward the evolution of technology, and thereby driving greater adoption of blockchain. Zilliqa should not just disrupt existing blockchain technology, but also Zilliqa itself. The biggest hurdle to public blockchain adoption we see right now is scalability and security while maintaining decentralisation, so this is what we are currently focussed on solving. However, I see us continuing to work on solutions to new problems that arise and improve existing solutions.
SJN: Why do you think people are wary of bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and the like?
XD: I think one of the main reasons why the general public is wary of cryptocurrency is because of a fundamental misunderstanding that the space is full of scammers looking to drive hype and make a quick buck. In reality, blockchain is a truly innovative technology.There are a lot of highly-qualified people dedicated to working on very legitimate projects. Zilliqa is one such example. As the hype around cryptocurrency subsides,I think the public will have the opportunity to analyse what blockchain means, what the technology actually does, and how it will shape the future.
Dr Xinshu Dong—CEO of Zilliqa
SJN: Where do you see Zilliqa in the next five years?
XD: I see Zilliqa growing into one of the leading blockchain platforms, serving many applications that are critical to people’s lives and businesses. At that point in time, Zilliqa would have already evolved and completely re-innovated its core technology stack from what it is right now.
SJN: Where do you see your industry in the next five years?
XD: Similar to the Internet, smart phones, or mobile applications, blockchain will no longer be a topic of discussion, as it will have become the building block for most software applications and infrastructures around the world.
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