Chatroulette’s Andrey Ternovskiy: The “Next” Big Thing?

Andrey Ternovskiy may not be a household name yet, but his creation certainly is. Ternovskiy, 18, is the creator of Chatroulette, a site that lets people video chat with other random users until one of them has enough and presses the Next button to find someone else in the great digital beyond.

Chatroulette debuted late last year and has since exploded into a viral phenomenon. And if all the press is to be believed, this site either represents the next stage in the evolution of the Internet, or a breeding ground for all the worst aspects of the Internet, a perverted wasteland full of private parts and public stupidity. (In truth, the site has the potential to be the former but only if users and Ternovskiy can fight off the threat of the latter.)

So how did this Russian teenager come to build an Internet sensation? The short answer: he started out as a hacker and eventually dropped out of school. Not many success stories begin like that. Ternovskiy grew up on computers. His father, a math professor in Moscow, bought him a computer in elementary school with the belief that it was a valuable tool which Ternovskiy should learn to master. And soon enough he did.

According to a profile in the New Yorker, Ternovskiy started out by playing “reality-simulating” games and in fourth grade he started writing code. By the age of 11, he was a hacker, trained in the art of “cyber warfare.”

Using the handle Flashboy, Ternovskiy soon mastered the art of the denial-of-service attack, wherein a target system is paralyzed by a mass of incoming communication requests. Next came Web-site and e-mail hacking, a service he gladly performed for girls who asked nicely. By 2007, at the age of fifteen, Ternovskiy had learned about what hackers call “social engineering”—getting what one wants through deceit or manipulation. Posing as a teacher, Ternovskiy got access to some practice tests before they were delivered to his school.”

Unfortunately, Ternovskiy’s brilliance with a computer didn’t always translate into good marks in the classroom. He refused to do his assignments and his teachers considered him to be a lazy student as well as a disobedient one. Not surprisingly, he eventually dropped out of school.

Ternovskiy listed several inspirations for wanting to build Chatroulette, but according to the New Yorker, the main one may have been his time working at his uncle’s souvenir shop, where he got to meet tourists from all over the world. In fact, this desire to cross borders and confront other cultures seems to have been a part of Ternovskiy even before he had a computer. When asked by the New York Times if he always wanted to be a programmer, Ternovskiy had a surprising answer. “No, actually I had no interest in being a programmer,” he said. “I was always interested in language, I studied English and Chinese and I hoped to be a translator. Then I got a computer and saw that you could write code, so I decided to try it.”

Ternovskiy has been fortunate enough to combine his love of cultures with his passion for computers to create a site that may one day serve as the world’s foremost digital meeting place. For now though the question is whether Ternovskiy and his site will continue to build momentum, or fade away like so many other Internet phenomenons.

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