GI Joes? No. Nothing about the playworld of plastic dolls held much purchase for Michael Borohovski, a New York native and the only son of Russian immigrants who’d hooved it out of the Soviet Union for Israel as soon as they could. His interests trended toward the mysteries inside machines: “erector sets I could put together, or little calculators and computer toys I could take apart and play with,” explains Borohovski on a recent Sunday in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. “I was interested in why and how things worked, rather than just that they did.”
An impulse that led to semi-typical pre-teen pursuits like magic, juggling and keyboards, but also really atypical ones. At 9, Borohovski started figuring out Visual Basic and COBOL, inelegant programming languages that still have the power to baffle but that he was teaching his college sophomore sister. She never used them, largely due to a lack of interest, but Borohovski? A totally different story.
“It was a eureka moment for me because I could actually make my computer do stuff,” says the now-30-year-old. A Pentium 133 that Borohovski split the cost of with his parents was now making pretty algorithmic light shows. He was also using it for games, Sub 7 to be exact, and then, presciently, hacking games. “My best friends and I would have wars with each other where we’d steal each other’s accounts and try to one-up each other,” he recalls. “That was actually how we got better.”
Hacking is not a technical issue, it’s a political one.
The “we” being Borohovski and a friend who formed Intense Beta Elite, or IBElite, a site that posted screenshots of and info on leaked Microsoft beta releases and had tons of traffic, according to Borohovski — until the pair got girlfriends and started high school. Borohovski got into Stuyvesant High School — the most selective of New York City’s nine specialized high schools — that gathered kid geniuses from across the…