Tahlil’s journey to Silicon Valley, defying life-altering chronic illness

October 13, 2022

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Tahlil, who suffered from serious health conditions from infancy, went on to become a gold-medalist student of Dhaka University and now a lead engineer at a Silicon Valley company

A chronic debilitating health condition could have defined 25-year old Tahlil. But instead, an indomitable spirit and hunger for excellence made Tahlil a gold medalist student at his university and an award winning software engineer nationally and internationally.

Tahlil, which is his full name, has needed dialysis three days a week since he was 15, when doctors told him that both of his kidneys had stopped working. He never allowed it to become an excuse. To the contrary, it drove him to work harder.

As an undergraduate student of software engineering at the University of Dhaka, Tahlil received the prestigious ‘IIT Academic Excellence Gold Medal Award 2019’ from the university.

In 2020, Tahlil’s team ‘DU Nimbus’ won the ‘Best Prototype Award’ at the International Blockchain Olympiad for demonstrating the effectiveness of blockchain technology for land management security. His team showed how land ownership could be securely verified and transferred using blockchain, the rising software technology that enables storing data in several databases, preventing manipulation.

Tahlil (second from the left), along with his teammates from DU Nimbus, at the National rounds of Bangladesh Blockchain Olympiad in 2020. PHOTO: COURTESY

“In the traditional system, ownership of land can illegally be altered with bribery, but blockchain technology makes it impossible. Also, using blockchain can easily remove the middleman and make the processes much more seamless, transparent and efficient,” said Tahlil.

Tahlil’s successful run continued in the next edition of the International Blockchain Olympiad held in 2021. His team won the top award in the Identity and Privacy category at the National level and the Prototype Award once again at the international level.

Their project focused on giving the proper identity of the unbanked individuals privately and securely to provide better access to financial services. “We gave existing micro-finance institutions (MFI) a chance to invest in micro investors and other institutions. Our novel business model would have MFIs give borrowers tokens and provide vendors with loanable products. A borrower would pay the loan based on the loan type to the vendors.” said Tahlil.

In 2022, the Tahlil-led team finally won the gold medal in the Professional Category. Tahlil realised the highly centralised nature of governance in Bangladesh was the primary bottleneck of the current government institutions. So, he proposed the use of blockchain in public procurement, that is, buying goods and services from a third-party vendor while ensuring quality and quantity and ensuring data transparency, availability, and security.

Photo: Courtesy

“We proposed ‘Shushashon’ (good governance), a solution that leverages blockchain technology to create a secured, transparent public procurement system that can automate the processes from project initiation to evaluation, ensuring accountability and eradicating corruption,” said Tahlil.

Tahlil is now working as a lead blockchain engineer at the Silicon Valley-based company Tero Labs LLC.

However, the course of his life was not smooth at all. At the age of one and a half months, Tahlil had to undergo surgery. Starting from there, the 25-year-old had to go to the operating table at least 20 times in his life.

When at the age of 15, doctors told him that both of his kidneys had become completely useless, requiring regular dialysis, it did not deter Tahlil from his pursuit of excellence in his studies.

“Although I had to take a gap year in school due to severe physical issues, I didn’t want to lose more time than that,” he said.

Tahlil got a GPA-5 in SSC while going through regular treatment and enduring side effects. After finishing college, he made it into the Institute of Information Technology, Dhaka University, to study software engineering. He stood first in all four years of his undergraduate degree and received the gold medal for his academic excellence. “Due to my physical condition, I had to put more effort into my studies than others,” he said.

Photo: Courtesy

It wasn’t just studying hard that made Thalil successful. He was willing to do whatever it takes. He attended classes at the University of Dhaka while living in Savar, found ways to sneak in course-related work when on the bus, went for his dialysis after classes, and above all, managed to flawlessly maintain the highest CGPA.

“I always felt that since I have to spend so much time to maintain my health, I had to work twice as hard as my peers, and that’s what I tried to do,” said Tahlil.

Tahlil believes his success wasn’t possible without his family’s constant support, whether it is his mother taking him to dialysis for a decade, or the sacrifices his siblings made, all of that counted. “I feel bad for my siblings as they were not getting enough attention from my parents because of me”, Tahlil said.

As he topped the class, he could become a teacher at the University of Dhaka. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, he seriously focused on his work on blockchain. “From my second year of university, I was interested in working with blockchain and decentralised technology. I got more into it during the long vacation of Covid,” said Tahlil.

Tahlil’s dream of using blockchain for development of Bangladesh

Tahlil further discussed how blockchain could be instrumental in systems development in countries like Bangladesh and how it can benefit the youth.

Photo: Courtesy

“In a procurement process, the regulatory body can set the budget in the blockchain, leaving no way for others to snatch a part of it in their accounts. Another use case can be document authentication. For example, a blockchain-based system can be used to issue and verify educational certificates securely,” said Tahlil. “In the supply chain domain, blockchain can easily track the state of the products and ensure transparent financial flow to all the parties involved. Also, the end user can trace the provenance of the end product and be assured of the originality. In turn, this can prevent counterfeiting,” he added.

According to Tahlil, if we are to go completely cashless in the future, blockchain is the key as it is the only reliable solution that solves the ‘double spend problem’.

As a software engineer who wants to see technology being used as a liberating force, Tahlil is very much interested in the ‘Web3’ movement that is now in motion. Web3 is defined as the next stage of the internet with more decentralisation, data sovereignty, and enabling the transfer of value through the internet.

Photo: Courtesy

“Unlike current Web2, which relies on a small number of centralised servers and remains susceptible to censorship, and doesn’t consider privacy, Web3 aims to create free and secure data transfer with blockchain as the foundational technology,” said Tahlil.

As someone who battled hardship in every step of the way because of his physical condition, Tahlil believes that these limitations should never be allowed to define one’s life. “Whatever you do, I think you can achieve a lot if you have honesty, passion and the will to stick to it,” he said.

This is why he continues to dream big and hopes to be able to use blockchain technology in developing Bangladesh.

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