Founder & CEO, Armory Technologies, Inc.
Bitcoin’s Rocket Scientist Math Nerd
“I’ve been a math nerd my whole life,” Alan Reiner admits. “I’m the guy who got 800 on his math SAT but below average on the verbal.” As it happens, Reiner, founder and CEO of the Bitcoin security company Armory Technologies, Inc., in Fulton, Maryland, has developed verbal skills aplenty since his high school days. He has become a regular writer and speaker on Bitcoin security while continuing to hone the mathematical prowess that led to the development of Armory.
Reiner earned dual undergraduate degrees in engineering and mathematics at University of Illinois-Champaign-Urbana, then managed to turn the “It’s not rocket science” cliché upside down by becoming, well, a rocket scientist. The venue was the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, a university-affiliated research center in Maryland, where Reiner spent seven years working on Department of Defense contracts to develop a missile defense shield.
“Writing algorithms to do ‘automatic target recognition’ is a fascinating and challenging exercise in creative mathematics,” he says. “It was a dream job for someone with my skill set. I didn’t think work could get any more interesting. Then I discovered Bitcoin.”
Reiner managed to add a master’s degree in applied and computational mathematics before leaving the missile defense world to launch Armory last year. He had happened upon Bitcoin at the urging of ex-college roommate Vincent Mele, now an Armory partner, in 2011. Mele emailed him a spreadsheet showing how Reiner could build computers with high-end graphics cards and run them at home, making his entire investment back in a month.
Which is exactly what Reiner did. “I didn’t even know what Bitcoin was, but the math added up. It was a no-brainer,” he says. “The operation not only generated bitcoins, but also enough heat from the computers that I didn’t have to turn on the heat in my house all winter. My wife finally asked me, ‘Can’t we have just one room in the house without a computer?’”
It was not until he had 10 graphics cards running full-time that he started to research the technology behind the money they were producing. The deeper he looked, the more intrigued he got. That’s when he sent Mele an email asking, “Why do I get the feeling I’m about to get sucked down a huge rabbit hole?”
With a deep cryptography background complementing his math and computer wizardry, Reiner was a natural for the world of cryptocurrency. “Bitcoin may be brilliant, but it’s also quite complex and creates a host of new challenges for its users. Figuring out how to optimize your security can be difficult. Luckily, our company is full of ‘ultra-paranoid crypto nerds.’ It’s pretty much a requirement if you’re going to be in this line of work.”