Alan Luo

Software Engineer // Entrepreneur // Researcher

alan.luo@columbia.edu | Columbia '24 | NYC

Personal Statement

I'm a software engineer, entrepreneur, and researcher with a passion for pushing the bleeding edge of technology. I seek the impossible to make it a reality. Currently, I'm known for being a leading expert in blockchain games and applied zero-knowledge proofs.

Industry Experience

Co-Founder & Creative Director @ Dark Forest

January 2020 - July 2021

Co-founded and built the world's first-ever fully decentralized game, using zkSNARKs on Ethereum. 24k+ followers on Twitter (@darkforest_eth) and counting. One of the most widespread applications of Zero-Knowledge Proofs to this day. Covered by IEEE, the Thiel Fellowship, MIT Technology Review, and others. Endorsed by Dylan Field (CEO of Figma), Vitalik Buterin (Founder of Ethereum), Matt Huang (Founder of Paradigm), and many others. As co-founder, I helped to scale the company to 10 people (6 engineers), 10k+ users, and eight figures of funding before stepping down.

Incoming Quant Developer Intern @ D.E. Shaw

June 2023

Quant developer at one of the world's largest hedge funds, and the world's first quantitative trading firm.

Software Engineering Intern @ Figma

June 2022 - August 2022

Engineer on Editor Experience team. Directed and (almost!) shipped Scale Tool improvement project, providing both engineering and PM support. During company-wide hack week, built a two game engines in Figjam. Project was chosen to be showcased in front of the entire company – as far as I know, the only intern-directed project selected.

WebGL & Front-End Developer @ Countable Web Productions

February - June 2019

Worked as a contractor and developer for a variety of projects, with an emphasis on rapid prototyping. Created a VR Chatbot for lead conversion, and built the Smart Inquirer, an AI-based assistant for analyzing legal documents.

Research Intern @ Visual Analytics Lab at Tufts

June - August 2017

Created interactive interface for data labelling and feature engineering. Paper, poster, and review paper.

Creator @ Little Planet Procedural (Project)

March 2016

Generate infinite artistic interpretations of alien planet landscapes in the browser using Javascript and HTML5 Canvas. Open-source on Github (/alan-luo/planetprocedural), with 20000 views, 98 stars, and 10 forks. Semi-viral on HN.

Research Experience

Research Assistant @ Blockchain at Columbia

September 2021 - May 2022

Ran reading group for undergraduate and graduate students with Prof. Tim Roughgarden (now head of research at Andreesen Horowitz) at Columbia. Helped to support student research and direct grants at whitepapers. Wrote and published "A Review of Zero-Knowledge Proofs".

Applied ZK Researcher @ Ethereum Foundation

June 2020 - September 2020

Worked with EF on applied zero-knowledge proof ecosystem work that grew into Dark Forest.

Research Assistant @ Columbia Graphics and User Interfaces Lab

September 2019 - March 2020

Developing applied technologies for augmented reality and virtual reality with Prof. Steven Feiner. Worked on project to use augmented reality as a means of improving training for dental students.

Education

Columbia University in the City of New York | Bachelor's, Computer Science

Class of 2024

GPA: 3.94/4.00. Egleston Scholar - Columbia’s most competitive engineering scholarship (<1% acceptance rate)

Teaching: Founder of Columbia Blockchain Reading Group; TA Programming for Social Impact (2019-2023)

Courses: Up to PhD-level coursework in Math & CS: Foundations of Blockchains, Cryptography, Complexity Theory, Computer Graphics, Analysis of Algorithms, Abstract Algebra I/II, Real Analysis, Linear Algebra, Computer Systems, etc.

 

Technical Accomplishments

Dark Forest Renderer: Built a WebGL rendering pipeline from scratch. Implemented every single drawing primitive, including text rendering, circles, lines, anti-aliasing, and so on. Wrote custom shaders and invented a method to render stateless scale-invariant infinite universes. Also implemented a GPT-3 chatbot on NFTs.

A Review of Zero-Knowledge Proofs (arXiv: 2202.06877): Wrote review paper on zkSNARKs. Discussed theoretical background, describing implementations of various applications, and indicated future directions. Analyzed and compared existing applied ZK protocols, and provided novel constructions for new applications. Cited by 3.

C++ Ray Tracer: Built a C++ ray tracer from scratch. Started with mathematical primitives like vectors and spheres, then implemented Phong lighting model, supporting reflections, refractions, and shadows. Implemented space-partitioning data structures for optimization. Implemented Monte-Carlo integration for rendering soft shadows.

Mario Maker in Figma: Created a Figma plugin that can turn any scene file into a mario level. Implemented a game engine, including collision detection and frame animations. Presented project during Figma Makerweek June '22.

Activities

Service Chair @ Columbia Catholic Ministry

2022

Recently appointed as Service Chair. I have not done much yet; however, this role is the most meaningful to me out of all my engagements because I joined the board before even being baptised. I'm proud of my ability to step up when called upon.

Research Director @ Blockchain@Columbia

2021-2023

Ran reading groups, advised student research, taught workshops on Zero-Knowledge Proofs, on-chain gaming, etc.

Music Director @ Columbia Pops

2021-2022

Wrote and conducted music for symphony orchestra, managed dozens of other arrangements and put together our concert program. Culminated an over an hour of continuous symphonic music.

Pianist (Free Jazz) @ Columbia Jazz Performance Program

2019-2023

Arranged, composed, and performed jazz music in various ensembles and various genres. Currently playing piano in the Free Jazz Ensemble advised by Ole Mathiesen.

Service

SPARC (2020): Advised students as a junior counselor for a summer program for gifted high schoolers in mathematics.

Musical Mentors Collaborative (2019-now): Tutored elementary school students on piano and guitar. Advised on digital expansion endeavors during pandemic. Invited to join board of directors.

Casterbridge Music Academy (2019): Developed lesson plans and taught music for special needs students.

Kwantu Game Reserve (2019): Worked as a conservationalist intern doing manual labor.

African Angels Primary School (2019): Taught English to R1 students in South Africa.

Press and Writing

MIT Technology Review: "This sci-fi blockchain game could help create a metaverse that no one owns". 2022.

Logic Magazine: "Youth of Today: Jasmine Sun, Jasmine Wang, Alan Luo on Coming of Age in Silicon Valley". 2021.

Reboot Magazine: "No More Starving Artists: How crypto puts artists and creators in charge". Author, 2021.

Columbia Spectator: "Together, mother and son duo pursue Columbia degrees". 2021.

Honors and Awards

Egleston Scholar: Columbia's most prestigious engineering scholarship. The Egleston Scholars Program recognizes undergraduate students of Columbia Engineering who embody the mission of the School at large: “to educate socially-responsible engineering and applied science leaders whose work results in the betterment of the human condition, locally, nationally, and globally.”

Neo Scholar: Professional fellowship for technologists, incubating the next generation of innovators and founders.

Interact Fellow: One of the most prestigious professional fellowships for entrepreneurs, with mentors such as Laura Deming (Longevity Fund), Patrick Collison (CEO, Stripe), Dylan Field (CEO, Figma), and Alexandr Wang (CEO, Scale AI).