As the crypto exchange FTX unravelled this month, the spotlight has remained firmly on its CEO, Sam Bankman-Fried, who cultivated a public persona as an altruist while lobbying top regulators and politicians in Washington.
But while SBF, as he’s universally known, was appearing on podcasts and testifying before Congress, a quieter personality was beavering away behind the scenes: Gary Wang, FTX’s co-founder and chief technology officer.
Wang is one of a handful of top executives at the exchange, which halted client withdrawals last week before filing for bankruptcy protection on Friday along with sister trading firm Alameda Research.
Yet, despite FTX’s profile, which saw it pay millions to sponsor the Miami Heat stadium and the Mercedes Formula One team, and Wang’s billionaire status — with a wealth estimated earlier this year at nearly $6 billion — he has almost no public presence.
A deleted page on FTX’s website described him as a software engineer who used to work at Google and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in mathematics and computer science. Uniquely among his colleagues, Wang’s profile picture didn’t show his face. His LinkedIn page has been similarly deleted and the website of FTX investor Sequoia simply lists Wang’s name with a picture of the back of his head.
For people who worked with Wang in the past, such reticence is typical. Speaking on condition of anonymity, four of them painted a picture of a quiet personality who liked to get lost in coding.
“Gary was always extremely distant from an employee standpoint, he would most often never be in the office,” said a source familiar with Alameda’s and FTX’s operations. “He liked to work from home, he was pretty much the only person that this was okay [for]. Everyone else always had to be in the office but Gary always had the exception.”
Wang’s only interest was sitting in a room and coding, the source added.
“Gary always struck me as someone who was like, ‘just tell me what to do and leave me alone,’” they said. “Whenever there was crunch time about ‘Sam’s talking to someone and we got to figure stuff out’ Gary was never around. Gary was just a weapon to be deployed.”
The Block reached out to Wang both directly and through FTX representatives. Neither Wang nor FTX responded to multiple requests for comment.
A lean development crew
FTX is known for running an extremely lean operation in its engineering team. The exchange was initially built by only two developers. Even by late 2021, it was running a crew of between 10 to 25 developers working on the exchange and all its subsidiaries, SBF said in an interview with Insider.
As a comparison, crypto exchange Binance is currently hiring for 185 open roles in engineering. OKX is hiring for 43 open engineering positions.
“Often you would hear SBF flex about this, right?” said a source familiar with Alameda’s operations. “We only have five engineers, right?”
“In retrospect, it looks like the reason this was because those people had basically root access that they didn’t want other people looking at it,” the source speculated.
According to Bankman-Fried, he wasn’t much good at coding himself so required help from his small engineering team to build FTX.
“I think most people assume I’m a good coder,” SBF said in the Insider interview. “I’m not. I don’t code. I’m trash. I have not written any of FTX’s code base. That’s all a lot of other really impressive people at FTX. That’s not me at all.”
However, Reuters recently reported that Bankman-Fried implemented a “back door” to FTX to change financial records and move funds without alerting others. He denied this in the Reuters report.
“If there’s a back door in the infrastructure it’s hard to think [Gary] wouldn’t know,” said an investor in FTX.
Another source familiar with FTX and Alameda’s operations concurred, saying Wang was one of only a few people who had “root access” to the code base.
“If it was literally not Gary putting the code in, there’s no way Gary could not have seen it and understood it,” the source said.
Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison told Alameda employees last week that she, Bankman-Fried, Wang and one other executive were aware of the decision to send customer funds to Alameda, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
Mysterious Github contributions
On Saturday, a Github that appeared to be linked to Wang started floating around Twitter. It showed the account making code contributions to private Github repositories throughout the week, even as the exchange entered bankruptcy.
As the repositories are private there is no way to tell what the code changes are for.
A source familiar with the Github account confirmed it belonged to Wang, which they said could be seen from Wang’s contributions to the Solana Serum wallet repository.
Who really is Gary Wang?
This same source said that while they had met Wang in person, they never spoke and “he rarely talked with people.”
“When you have to talk to Gary he batches all responses once a week,” said the FTX investor. He’s “hard to get in touch with.”
This is a sentiment echoed by the other sources The Block spoke to about Wang. One former FTX and Alameda employee said that Wang doesn’t talk much and doesn’t need much but remains very close to SBF, who is the person Wang spoke with the most.
Another said that Alameda CEO Ellison was one of the only people who could get a quick response from Wang.
“No idea how involved he was, he was definitely considered close circle back then and I have no reason to believe that changed,” said the former employee.
Wang lived in a luxury penthouse in the exclusive Albany community in the Bahamas alongside Bankman-Fried, Ellison and several others.
Marc Cohodes, a short seller famed for doing deep dives into the companies he targets, has been publicly warning people about FTX since May.
“Gary Wang doesn’t have any digital presence. He doesn’t have a searchable email, a phone number, and doesn’t talk to anyone that I could find,” Cohodes in a statement to The Block.
“That kind of behaviour raises more questions than answers. No one supposedly worth $11 billion hides like that.”
Source: The Block