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The Coder: Michael Street
Spotlight on Hidden Physicists
The Coder: Michael Street
Co-founder of Next Software Group and an educator and IT consultant. Sigma Pi Sigma, Morehouse College, 2010
I feel that in life it is important to dream big and to focus on contributing to society, but when I was coming out of high school, I lacked a clear picture of what kinds of problems I wanted to solve. I wanted to go to MIT as an undergraduate—I was interested in physics and engineering—but I never applied because I didn’t think I would get in.
Thankfully, however, my guidance counselor pushed me to attend an interview with a recruiter from Morehouse College, a historically black college (HBCU) in Atlanta, Georgia. They didn’t have an engineering program, so I majored in physics. As a student at Morehouse, I developed the personal conviction and self-confidence required to pursue and achieve my dreams, which included finally applying to MIT to obtain a master’s degree in building technology.
Following my master’s, I went on to complete a PhD in building technology at Georgia Tech where I developed simulation methods to model the impacts of climate change on the design of urban microgrids.
While working on my PhD, I was aware of how niche my field was, so I also dedicated myself to developing a core set of transferable skills that would serve me well beyond the doctoral degree. I quickly realized that the skills I needed to focus my attention on were computer science, software engineering and problem solving, which I had been honing since being an undergraduate physics major.
After completing my dissertation, I founded Black Men Code, a technology brand focused on providing computer science education to underserved and “under inspired” youth, and joined a minority-owned IT services business as the Chief Technology Officer.
I eventually resigned my post as CTO to pursue my own interests because I had lost the ability to engage directly with emerging technology. I sensed that I risked my own future opportunities if I continued serving federal clients in their comfort zone.
Thankfully, my education in physics has always helped the business side of entrepreneurship seem logical. Having a physics-based approach helps you think through business questions like, What’s the market size for my proposed product? and, How much of that market would we need to capture to break even or see a profit? That’s something physicists think about all the time—for example, maybe you’re trying to predict the wavelength of an invisible particle and you have to think through how you would detect it.
My newest venture is co-founding Next Software Group, a software development firm that focuses on blockchain technology. Blockchain technologies are tools that rely on decentralized protocols to share data and transfer value. We have two core products. One is called ChainRelay, and it helps other developers build blockchain-based web apps using the Ethereum protocol. The blockchain is a decentralized way to store and share data, including financial data. Our product helps people who, for example, want to monitor when transactions occur so they can invest in cryptocurrency money markets.
Trading in cryptocurrency like bitcoin in the United States complicates your taxes. If you buy securities through a bank, they are required by law to provide you tax information, but if you buy bitcoin, there’s no centralized organization to provide this. Enter our second product, Cryptotax.tools, which lets cryptocurrency traders and tax professionals easily generate reports come tax time.
A physics education at Morehouse College was one of the most important decisions I’ve made in life. Now I’m focused on building products people want with Next Software Group and giving back through teaching. I recently had the opportunity to work at Morgan State University as a guest lecturer for the first blockchain development class at an HBCU. I helped students design, prototype, and pitch new blockchain products. It’s crucial to give back and inspire others to achieve impossible dreams and avoid stagnation. In today’s fast-paced, technology-driven economy, stagnation is the surest way to be left behind.