You can't grasp the fundamentals of Ethereum without knowing key people within the field. Either members of the Ethereum Foundation, or external experts, these people have significant influence on public sentiment and many are actively guiding Ethereum's growth. If you're looking to invest in Ethereum, or are an active trader, it's definitely prudent to follow them and listen to what they're saying.
You can't have a list of important people in Ethereum without Buterin on it. Ethereum is his brainchild. Buterin published the Ethereum idea in a white paper in 2013 and it has since grown from a mere idea to the second largest cryptocurrency today with a $20 billion market cap.
It is not difficult to call Buterin a prodigy. He's 23 today and he proposed Ethereum when he was only 19. What were you doing when you were 19? Most people were either cramming for their finals, partying like there was no tomorrow, or playing video games nonstop.
Buterin attended the University of Waterloo in Canada. He dropped out when he received the Thiel Fellowship with a cool $100,000 to pursue the development of Ethereum. You know who else dropped out of college to pursue their ideas? Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, and Bill Gates to name a few.
Buterin is currently living in Singapore and heavily involved in Ethereum's development as a member of the Foundation Council within the Ethereum Foundation. He leads the foundation's research team working on future versions of the Ethereum protocol.
Wilke is one of the founders of Ethereum. While Vitelik is the mind behind Ethereum, Wilke is the creator of Ethereum. He started the first implementation of Ethereum using the Go programming language in 2013 and continues to lead Ethereum development today.
Zamfir is a developer at the Ethereum Foundation. He works closely with Vitalik on Ethereum research for the longterm. He's currently focused on Proof of Stake research.
Zamfir is a very active writer on Ethereum. He has strong opinions and tends not to sugarcoat his opinions. Take, for example, this tweet in March where he states that "Ethereum isn't safe or scalable. It is immature experimental tech".
Zamfir clears up this bearish statement in a Medium post where he says that he's ultimately bullish on the coin, but it's still young and there's a lot of things to do to improve Ethereum's scalability and immunity to attacks. Blockchains are not toys. They aren't get rich quick schemes.
Zamfir is a core member of the Ethereum development team and very vocal with his ideas. Definitely follow him closely if you want to understand Ethereum and what it's future might look like.
Antonopoulos is well respected in the cryptocurrency world. He's had heavy involvement in the Bitcoin scene for many years. He's the author of "Mastering Bitcoin", an incredibly popular technical guide for Bitcoin.
Antonopoulos has founded a number of Bitcoin businesses and launched several open-source projects. Currently, he's a consultant on a few Bitcoin-related startups.
Although heavily involved with Bitcoin, Antonopoulos is widely considered an expert in cryptocurrency as a whole. He's an active cryptocurrency blogger and speaker and often focuses on Bitcoin and Ethereum. You'll find many of his speeches on his YouTube channel. They're quite informative and I've personally enjoyed listening to them.
Ming Chan is the Executive Director of the Ethereum Foundation, appointed in 2015. She is a Swiss-born Chinese American and an alumni of MIT.
Stephan Tual was the former Chief Commerical Officer at the Ethereum Foundation. He is now the founder and CCO of Slock.it.
Joseph Lubin was the cofounder of Ethereum Switzerland GmbH (which is now defunct and replaced by the Ethereum Foundation). Lubin also had a hand in creating the Ethereum Foundation.
He left Ethereum in 2015 to found ConsenSys, a company that aims to develop software services and applications that operate on the Ethereum blockchain. The company has since grown to more than 150 employees.