Peter McCormack: Alright, good morning John.
John Newbery: Hi Peter.
Peter McCormack: This is going to be a very English episode, English men in New York!
John Newbery: Excellent!
Peter McCormack: We should’ve got tea, we should have got muffins!
John Newbery: Well we still can.
Peter McCormack: It’s a bit late now! We’ll do this. What a beautiful and amazing setting. I think you had Marty Bent in here recently, didn’t you?
John Newbery: Yeah, he did one here, looking out over Manhattan and the Chrysler building, it’s very nice.
Peter McCormack: I don’t want to leave! I think this is a very inspirational place to come to work every day.
John Newbery: It’s nice. Yeah, it’s pleasant.
Peter McCormack: All right, so there’s a lot to talk about. I want to talk about Chaincode, I want to talk about some of the tech sized Bitcoin development, but I also just want to know a bit about your past, especially as your an Englishman like myself. I want to know your journey into Bitcoin, how you ended up sat here right now, with me doing this. You don’t have to give me everything!
John Newbery: Okay, well I first got interested in Bitcoin back in. I’d heard about it before then, but not really paid attention and not really thought it could scale to be anything interesting or useful. But what really kind of changed my mind about that was payment channels, Lightning and the idea that you could use Bitcoin as a secure base layer and then build on top of that and achieve scale that way.
So it was early 2015 I think when I first started digging in, heard out about it, started listening to podcasts, reading blogs, downloading the code, reading everything I could and very quickly figured out that I needed to quit my job and spend all my time working on Bitcoin. That happened in 2016, I quit my job and was set up to move. I was living in Australia at the time and decided I’d move back to London and work on Bitcoin somehow.
Very serendipitously at about that time, Matt Corallo announced the first Chaincode residency and I applied. I hadn’t been writing code day to day for a few years at that point, but I applied anyway and to my surprise, they accepted me. I came to New York for a month, was amazed that I could spend my days talking about Bitcoin and working on Bitcoin and looking at Bitcoin code.
At the end of that month, Suhas and Alex who run Chaincode, asked if I’d come back and work full time. Obviously the answer was yes, because there’s nowhere better in the world to work on Bitcoin than Chaincode! So it took a couple of months to get the VISA and then I moved out here at the beginning of 2017 and I’ve been working on Bitcoin ever since.
Peter McCormack: Wow! So you kind of a latecomer in some ways to Bitcoin based on that timeline, especially if you compare it to… You’re very well respected in the industry, I obviously speak to people before I do interviews and I’d just made the assumption like everybody else I interviewed who’s on the tech side that you had been working ferociously at it since like 2011, but no.
John Newbery: Yeah, well you could say I’m late. You could say we’re all early if this thing does become what we hope it will become, then we’re all very early.
Peter McCormack: If? You mean when!
John Newbery: I mean if! I’m hopeful, but it’s definitely not a sure thing. So yeah, many of the very important influential Bitcoin Core developers have been working at this since 2012, 2011. So I do feel like I’m quite new still.
Peter McCormack: I have that. I have impostor syndrome.
John Newbery: Oh yeah, everyone does, of course we do!
Peter McCormack: Well, firstly, I’m not very technical. I always try to improve my knowledge. I say it over and over again now to the point of it becoming a meme. But yeah, I mean my journey started really January 2017 if I’m honest. But what an incredible place to end up. What were you doing beforehand? What were you working on? You were obviously a programmer of some kind.
John Newbery: So out of school, out of university, I joined a software company called Metaswitch and they do telecoms and network software. So they’re based in north London. I started out there and then I moved into their support organization.
So I was supporting customers, running projects, running support teams, ended up moving to San Francisco and from there to Malaysia and then Australia. Our customers were companies like AT&T, BT, Deutsche Telekom, Verizon, Sprint, and I was on the voice side, so we were doing voice networks, which is I guess important, but seems pretty mundane compared to Bitcoin! But then everything seems mundane compared to Bitcoin.
Peter McCormack: Well, if you think about it with Bitcoin, we are live watching the evolution of money. We’re watching the nature of money change before our very eyes. We’re watching the President tweet about it and hearings in front of the Senate and the house in the US, discussing Bitcoin and Libra and the nature of money. There are very few things like this that will happen in our lifetime. We had the Internet of course, and Bitcoin could be something that changes everything. So it’s fascinating. Why would you want to work on anything else?
John Newbery: Yeah, that’s what I think!
Peter McCormack: And why would you vote for anything else?
John Newbery: Can you vote for Bitcoin?
Peter McCormack: I think you make a vote by buying Bitcoin. I think that’s your vote for being part of it. By buying it, holding it and doing whatever you do. You code, I ask questions and put out podcasts, lots of people contribute in different ways. I always struggle to get people over the hurdle from hearing about Bitcoin to get to the point where they don’t have to be as far gone as you and I, where we’re like, “this is our mission”, but to the point where they realize how important it is. I struggle to get people past the point of “it’s internet money that some people got rich off.” How do you do it?
John Newbery: I don’t try anymore.
Peter McCormack: Okay, interesting!
John Newbery: My perception of my ability to talk about Bitcoin to non-Bitcoiners, the longer I’m in Bitcoin, I feel the worse I am at it! I don’t know if that’s true, but when I knew less about it, I was able to talk to people more freely about it I think. But now if I meet someone and they say, “I don’t know what Bitcoin is”, I really struggle to find a way to bridge that, because I’m in it 24/7, I’m always thinking about Bitcoin.
I don’t know how to explain to someone what it means to me and why I think it’s important. I try, but it’s such an all encompassing wide ranging thing and it means different things to different people. Different people who are attracted to Bitcoin for different reasons. For me, I’m interested in it as a money, but also the technical side of it was a real hook for me.
I started looking at the code and I was like, “wow, this is fascinating. I’ve never seen anything like this” and I couldn’t get enough of it. I just needed to keep reading and digging and digging. But that’s not true for a lot of people, because they’re not interested in code or not interested in the technical aspects.
So I don’t know! It depends on who you’re talking to. There’s lots of hooks there. There’s the technical side of it, there’s the economics and monetary side of it and I think you’ve got to understand your audience if you’re trying to get them interested in Bitcoin.
Peter McCormack: On the tech side, why is it so different? What’s so different about it? Is it the code structure itself or is it the fact that it is a essentially decentralized development environment? What is it that so different?
John Newbery: Lots of things. So Bitcoin is built around this consensus engine and the way that the ledger is updated is through this dynamic group of miners, who are essentially anonymous or can be anonymous doing work, which is burning computer cycles to produce a valid block and the system that develops from that is just fascinating.
It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before, as kind of decentralized consensus where the rules are set by each individual node on the network and somehow they need to reach the same state or come to an agreement about what the state of the ledger is.
The problems that throws up and the questions it throws up are fascinating and I don’t know of any other system that’s like that. I don’t think there is one. So we’re kind of 10 years into this experiment and we learn new things about it all the time. It’s just fascinating in many, many ways!
Peter McCormack: I agree, I find it fascinating myself. Probably for different reasons because I’m not a techie, as has been said a million times. I don’t understand the tech.
John Newbery: Well you understand it better now than you did last week and better than you did a month before that.
Peter McCormack: Maybe I should do a residency?
John Newbery: Maybe you should or maybe you should read the Optech newsletter or come to PR Review Club. There’s lots of ways that you can up your knowledge. I’m still learning. I wouldn’t call myself an expert, but every day I learn a bit more about it and if you’re interested, so can you.
Peter McCormack: The bit I find most fascinating, especially now, is the State versus Bitcoin. How various countries and governments react. What happened in China? What’s happening in Malta? What happens here in the States, how they react and how that’s going to play out. I find that more fascinating than anything else. We talk about it, I mean you said it’s an experiment and other people have said, “will it survive?”
I mean nothing’s guaranteed to survive forever. We don’t have those home telephones anymore. I only have a mobile. There’s lots of things in the history… There’ll come a time where people don’t drive cars because it will be illegal because it’s too dangerous, because it’s safer to auto-drive. So Bitcoin will have a life cycle, whether it’s 20 years, 1000 years, who knows?
I think it’s very difficult to say anything will be here forever, so at what point do you think we start to change maybe the narrative? We stop talking about it being an experiment, we stop talking about, “will it survive” and treat it more like it’s here. Do you understand the question?
John Newbery: Yeah I do understand the question.
Peter McCormack: Because I’m there by the way.
John Newbery: Good, I like your confidence. I think as people who are looking at the code and thinking a lot about incentive structures and the long-term viability of Bitcoin, we have an adversarial mindset and in some ways we’re pessimists. We try and think of the worst possible outcome. I don’t know if that will ever change. If we care about Bitcoin, the technical community, we will keep thinking about ways that it could fail and talk about those and try and figure out if those will happen or if there’s anything we can do about them.
For me, one of the big questions is, is Bitcoin’s incentive compatible in the long run? So right now miners are incentivized to build on the longest chain and put their compute power towards extending the chain, because they get paid a subsidy or they get paid a reward for each block, which is made up of the block subsidy, currently 12.5 Bitcoin plus the transaction fees of all the transactions included in that block.
That obviously decreases over time until around 120 years, it will go away entirely. But long before that, it will be insignificant because it halves every four years. So maybe in in about a year it will halve, in a further four years it will halve again.
So maybe in nine years, that’s three more halvings, that subsidy will be pretty small compared to what we hope the transaction fees will be, which is not much runway. That subsidy, we’re burning through it really quickly. Between now and next year we’ll burn through, I think a fifth more of what’s remaining. Is that right? You can cut out the silence, as I’m doing the mental arithmetic.
Peter McCormack: No, I’m going to leave it in now, because it’s fun. I’m sitting here, so for those listening, John’s not in his head. He’s kind of closing his eyes and doing the math.
John Newbery: Yeah, so every four years, we burn through half of it and in the last year of that four year, we’ve been through like 20/25% of all of the subsidy that’s remaining. That’s a really fast burn rate and the question is, in the long run, can Bitcoin be incentive compatible? Will miners be incentivized to continue mining? Will there be strange edge cases where miners are not incentivized to extend the longest chain, for example?
We don’t know the answer to that and I don’t think there’s really a very satisfactory way of figuring that out without running the experiment, which is letting Bitcoin run. So I worry about that. We just don’t know. I don’t think anyone has the answer.
Peter McCormack: So I guess the disaster scenarios, in that scenario, is that one of them is that there isn’t enough miners providing enough security to the network, which makes it easier to attack. So that’s one threat, I guess that’s the main threat?
John Newbery: Yeah or maybe it’s more profitable for a miner to do a deep re-org. So instead of continuing to extend the chain, do a re-org of 100 blocks deep and make a competing chain. If that continues to happen, Bitcoin kind of breaks down because the chain doesn’t extend and no one can get enough security on their transactions. They can’t be sure that those transactions won’t be undone at some point in the future.
Peter McCormack: If they did a deep re-org, that’s essentially creating a fork?
John Newbery: Yep.
Peter McCormack: Do they do that in the hope of catching the other chain and people joining them? Or is it just a fork and they fork the network and we could have a chain split?
John Newbery: The scenario I’m talking about is they hope they will overtake the main chain and they will be the main Bitcoin chain.
Peter McCormack: But that’s still very hard to do, because you still have to have over 51% and you have to co-ordinate 51% to do that.
John Newbery: Correct, yes.
Peter McCormack: And hopefully between now and then, something like BetterHash from Matt Corallo would get us away from the risks of that scenario.
John Newbery: Hmm, maybe. You don’t really need more than 51%, you can do attacks where you have less than 51%. So there’s an attack called selfish mining, where you are mining but not releasing those blocks to the network in the hope that you’ll get two blocks. If miners start doing that, then the effective hash rate on the network drops, because not all of the hash rate is going towards extending the main chain.
So things start breaking down a little bit because competing miners are adversarial miners, then is able to attack the network for less than 51% of the hash rate. I don’t know what it looks. This what I’m saying. We can look at Bitcoin now and we can say, “okay, it’s been running for 10 years, so we have some evidence that right now, it’s incentive compatible.”
It’s survived various problems over the last 10 years. Miners have continued to mine, so it looks good, but things will change and it will be a different Bitcoin in five years time, in 9 years time, in 13 years time and we just don’t know what it looks like.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I’ve also explored having the potential of doing a show where we discuss the subsidy and whenever this topic is broached, it gets met with a lot of hostility because, what are the options? Move to a different consensus mechanism? That’s something I wouldn’t know anything about. But one thing I would be able to debate is, do we have to change the subsidy?
Do we have inflation? And that’s often met with a hostile, “no, Bitcoin will only ever be 21 million. That’s it.” But if there is no subsidy and there aren’t enough transactions, we have a problem and as you say, 9 years is not a long time. I think there’s nothing wrong with having the debate.
John Newbery: No, I think there’s something wrong with suppressing that debate and it being taboo that we can’t even talk about it.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, there will have to be a solution if there aren’t enough transactions, if there isn’t enough subsidy. That’s interesting. So that’s obviously something that’s on your mind. What are the other big things that you, as John, think about?
John Newbery: What I said, we’re pessimists, but obviously we’re also optimists because we spend all our time working on this thing that we hope can be better than the system we have right now. So the things that I think about are, how we can make Bitcoin better? That might be in the technical realm, Schnorr Taproot would be one example, Lightning is another example.
But I also spend a lot of time thinking about how I can help make the development and technical environment around Bitcoin better. So the residency that we’re holding here at Chaincode is one example of that, PR review club, Optech, just making the Bitcoin developer community that I want to see. I spend my time building things that I want to see exist, because it’s an open source world and if you’re not building it, then it probably won’t get built.
Peter McCormack: If you make the community developing on Bitcoin better, you make Bitcoin better. You made Bitcoin stronger!
John Newbery: Yeah, if Lightning is layer two and Bitcoin’s layer one, then layer zero is the people using and building Bitcoin and we need to invest in that. If we’re thinking about long-term investments in the strength and robustness of Bitcoin, it starts with the people and the education. So that’s what I spend a lot of my time thinking about!
Peter McCormack: What’s quite interesting for me, is that you’re the first person I’ve ever heard say they got into Bitcoin at the point they realize what could be achieved with Lightning. You’d almost dismissed it, until you heard about payment channels and understood what’s happening with Lightning.
That itself is not something I’ve ever heard from anyone else before you. I mean, you may have, you may have bumped into other people. I like Lightning. I’m not 100% convinced by all of it. There’s things about it that I have issues with, which we can get into, but I just find that really interesting that that became the compelling point for you.
John Newbery: Yeah, I had heard about Bitcoin prior to 2015 and I hadn’t dug into the details, but what I did know was this was a system where I was running a program on my computer, that was validating every transaction that went through the system and that just made no sense to me, in terms of a money. I hadn’t really thought about money deeply at that point either, but I was thinking about, “okay, imagine this becomes money and people use it to buy coffee” or whatever other example you want to think of.
Someone in Calcutta buys a cup of coffee and my computer sitting here on a desk in San Francisco is validating that transaction. It doesn’t make any sense to me, because there are far more people buying cups of coffee in the world, than my computer can keep up with. Naively, I didn’t think about the numbers, but it just didn’t make sense.
That’s one of the reasons I dismissed it, because it didn’t make sense to me as something that could scale to be useful. Payment channels and Lightning changed my mind about that, because suddenly the idea that one transaction on the Bitcoin network was a payment, was no longer true.
A transaction on the Bitcoin network could embody many, many economic transactions in the real world or economic payments and suddenly that becomes a system that just might scale to be something that’s useful and interesting. So I wouldn’t say specifically Lightning, but the idea of contracting and building second layer solutions on top of Bitcoin, is what changed my mind about it being useful and interesting.
Peter McCormack: Okay, let’s talk about Lightning. I’ve done a number shows on it now, I spoke to various people. I’ve had my experience with it as well. So let’s talk about my experience with Bitcoin and Lightning. So I use Bitcoin quite regularly. For my sponsors, I will invoice them in Bitcoin, especially if they’re in the US and I’m in the UK. For two reasons, one it’s just quicker. Usually I’m paid within the hour or I can see at least see the transaction, I don’t see a full confirmation. So that for me is useful. It’s also nice just to support Bitcoin by doing this.
But also what I do is I only convert 80% back to pounds now, for the operations of essentially my business and I keep a bit in Bitcoin, which I quite like as well. So that’s really cool. I also pay people in Bitcoin. My use of Lightning is I tend to receive more in that, as occasionally people want to subscribe and you can get an ad free version of the show, $60 for the year. They’ll pay Lightning, I’m more than happy to receive it. I myself don’t really use Lightning that much because I think it’s too complex at the moment for me.
It’s got too many things that I’m having to learn about, that I don’t want to learn about. So when I’m thinking of end users, which I always do and I’m thinking of my friends, I don’t want them to ever have to hear about or think about payment channels, channel capacity or any of those things. So with Bitcoin, say I introduce my dad or a friend, I get them to buy a hardware wallet.
I send them some Bitcoin and say, “if you want to send it to me, all you have to do is put this address in here and it’s with me,” and they create the transaction, that’s very easy. With Lightning, I have to somehow say, “well firstly you have to create an invoice. I’ll send you the invoice. The invoice has a time restriction on it. You have to have it paid in the certain time.
Also you’ve got to make sure you’ve got the right channel capacity”. There’s too many things, I’m just like, “urgh!” I totally understand we have to be patient. I totally understand this is a huge project, I get that. That’s where I am at the moment. That’s my current frustration. How do you respond to that? There’s no real question in there!
John Newbery: Well you’re talking about Lightning as it is right now. We could also talk about what Lightning will look like in a year’s time or two years or five years. I expect Lightning will be easier to use than on chain Bitcoin within the next year or two.
There’s a whole class of problems with Bitcoin transactions, that just get eliminated by Lightning, confirmations, underpaying or over paying fees all of that stuff just goes away. I personally don’t have a huge amount of experience transacting Lightning in the real world, but someone who does is Sergej Kotliar at Bitrefill, they were one of the first merchants, probably actually they were the first to accept Lightning payments.
Peter McCormack: They were yeah!
John Newbery: He has given several talks including one at Optic about his experience with Lightning and why he thinks it’s the future of small payments on Bitcoin. They’re really great talks, but essentially instant is infinitely quicker, than having to wait for the confirmation, so that’s nice. But also the way that Lightning invoices and payments work, lends itself to having a much better user experience eventually.
You don’t need to worry about on chain fees, you don’t need to worry about overpaying fees or underpaying fees, you don’t need to worry about confirmations. You make payments and hopefully, it’s not true right now, there are still issues with Lightning, but hopefully you make a payment in Lightning and it’s done. It’s much more like doing a contactless payment with your credit card. So your complaint about Lightning not being as easy to use as Bitcoin, I hope will go away and in fact will reverse over time.
But also your argument about, it just being too difficult, could also be applied to Bitcoin compared to traditional banking. There’s a lot of people who probably don’t use Bitcoin, because they perceive it as difficult to use. I think over time that will reverse and Bitcoin will be seen as easier to use than banking, because you don’t have to jump through all the hoops and fill out forms and wait until Monday morning if you want to use the banking system.
So again, it’s early. Bitcoin is only 10 years old. Lightning’s only 2 or 3 years old. So patience and these things will get better. They have got better very quickly over the last year. There are technologies in Lightning, things like splicing, multipath payments that will make that low level management of channels, capacity and liquidity, much less visible to the user. Hopefully it would just be the wallet managing all of those things and as a casual end user, you’re never ever going to need to know about channels. It will just happen.
Peter McCormack: So you see a scenario, say if I was to get a new wallet, that I could buy Bitcoin on it, but they’re Lightning Bitcoin. So I could say buy 1 million sats and they just appear. That’s all I see, is just the balance and I can spend and receive without ever thinking about anything.
John Newbery: I hope so, yeah!
Peter McCormack: So the other thing I never understand in that scenario, if that is the case, who is the owner of the on chain Bitcoin at that point? Is essentially the sats a loan to me?
John Newbery: There’s different ways you can do it. So I think you’re talking about the idea of custodial versus non-custodial wallets. For me, the important thing about Bitcoin is everyone has the option to “be their own bank.” Everyone has the option to run a full node or as many people as possible have the option to run a full node.
As many people as possible have the option to own their private keys and fully own their Bitcoin. I don’t think it’s essential to Bitcoin that everyone must do that. I think it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to be running a full node and running a Lightning node and doing all that. Quite frankly, most people are not interested enough to do that.
Peter McCormack: Luke Dashjr won’t be happy with you saying this. He wants 80% of us to have a full node!
John Newbery: Luke has his own ideas about what Bitcoin should be. I don’t think it’s very useful to talk about what other people should do. We need to build a system where people have the option to do those things. That’s the best we can do it. It’s not a coercive system, it’s decentralized. So I, as a Bitcoin developer, try to make a system where it is possible for people to run full nodes and it is possible for people to run custodial wallets.
But the Bitcoin ecosystem as a whole over time, I expect will be one with greater diversity in that, where people have the option to use custodial solutions because that’s more convenient for them and they have a hundred other things in their life and Bitcoin is not the most important thing in the world to them.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, I think the custodial experience right now with some of the wallets, is actually fantastic.
John Newbery: Yeah, it can be and it’s always easier to build a centralized system. But for Bitcoin to be healthy, we need options that people can run non-custodial and own their own keys and run their own full nodes.
Peter McCormack: All right, so let’s talk a bit about Chaincode. So Chaincode is essentially a nonprofit?
John Newbery: Essentially. It does not exist to make a profit. I think it’s an LLC, so it’s not legally a nonprofit, but we don’t have revenue. We don’t have products. We don’t have customers. We exist solely to support Bitcoin and the main way we do that is by hiring engineers. There are seven engineers now who work at Chaincode and we work on open source Bitcoin projects, mostly Bitcoin core, but also things like Rust Lightning and various other projects.
Peter McCormack: How are the decisions made, on what to work on and priorities? Is it group decisions or does it tend to be an individual or just like a hybrid?
John Newbery: It’s an individual decision. So there’s basically no structure here. Alex and Suhas are the founders of Chaincode and fund it entirely. Alex did an interview on Epicenter, I think about two years ago. So for listeners who want really the in-depth story of the founding of Chaincode, that’s a good place to go.
But they started it because they wanted to support Bitcoin and they hire people who are passionate about working on Bitcoin and allow them to work on Bitcoin in whatever capacity they think is important or useful. So we don’t have management, we don’t have structure. We don’t have people telling us what to do. They hire us and we work on what we think is important.
Peter McCormack: I guess if you have seven engineers here, there’s obviously some engineers at Blockstream working on Bitcoin core. We’ve heard the great news that Jack Dorsey and Square are going to, I think hire four or five and I think they’ve just taken on Steve?
John Newbery: That’s right, Steve Lee.
Peter McCormack: He’s a great guy. Obviously there’s various different operations around the world which are financing developers to work on Bitcoin. This is really important. The actual having the people focused and dedicated to financing this. It’s people doing this without a direct financial return. They are doing it because Bitcoin needs this.
John Newbery: Correct. It’s great that there are companies out there who are financing Bitcoin development with no strings attached. I’d add Xapo to that list, they fund one or two developers. There are individual contributors, John Pfeffer funds developers. So there’s already some diversity. On the other side of that coin, there are companies that have made substantial profit from Bitcoin and who do not contribute at all and that’s a real shame.
Peter McCormack: Yes, you fuckers! Put your hands in your pockets!
John Newbery: Pete’s a bit more direct than I am!
Peter McCormack: Yeah, put your fucking hands in your pockets and start helping fund developers who’ve made you wealthy. I don’t care, I’ll tell them! Okay, but we still have this. So is there any coordination between the different groups? Are you talking to Blockstream and Xapo and will you talk to Square Crypto? Because there must be some efficiency on working on ideas together.
John Newbery: Right, I wouldn’t term it as Chaincode talking to Blockstream or Chaincode talking to Xapo.
Peter McCormack: Dev to dev?
John Newbery: Yeah, so the Bitcoin core project is very open. Basically every discussion that is had around the software is out in the open. Whether that’s on GitHub through the issues and PRs or through IRC or the decisions made, are out in the public and those decisions really are, “I’m going to work on this. Who wants to help? Who wants to support me working on this thing?” Then once it’s reached a level of technical maturity, is it ready to merge into the code base?
Essentially those are the decisions to be made and those decisions are made over IRC. So if you go to Freenode and go to #bitcoin-core-dev, you can see all of those discussions and that’s how we coordinate. We have a weekly meeting on IRC on Thursdays, that’s really mostly the extent of it. We also have occasional in real life face to face meetings with regular Bitcoin Core contributors roughly every six to nine months. But again, those are transcribed by Bryan, so all of that’s right out in the open as well.
Peter McCormack: His transcriptions are incredible!
John Newbery: Yes, they’re such a service to the ecosystem.
Peter McCormack: By the way, I get scared by you all getting together. In case something happens! What would happen if you were all wiped out? We’d be fucked!
John Newbery: Other people would start developing Bitcoin.
Peter McCormack: I know, but it still scares me. I know the answer to this is going to be no, but I’m going to ask you about, are there enough people working on Bitcoin core directly?
John Newbery: No.
Peter McCormack: Of course, but is it a case they would never be enough or is it that there aren’t anywhere near enough and therefore this is an important issue to keep working at it and keep trying to find funding? If you could say… For example, running my podcast, if I had three people working for me, one doing production, one doing engineering, one doing research, I’d be very happy.
I could have six, but I know with those three I’d be content. That to me, I’m like a 100% efficient. Where do you see us in the scale on the amount of developers you have, to the amount you think we need? It’s a really tough question.
John Newbery: It is a tough question. I don’t know if there’s a magic number that I would be happy with. I want more eyes on the code, I want more people reviewing the code. But outside that, I want more diffusion of the knowledge. There’s this concentration of knowledge in the regular Bitcoin core contributors. I want to keep pushing that out, keep pushing it out more and more.
Peter McCormack: But the numbers isn’t say dangerously low?
John Newbery: No, it’s not dangerously low. In fact the project is in pretty good health I would say. Every release we have more contributors and there are always people coming up and getting more involved in the process. So that’s healthy. But that doesn’t just happen by itself. There’s a reason for that and it’s that we keep pushing and trying to make Bitcoin core development welcoming and a place where people want to contribute their time.
Peter McCormack: How does Chaincode work? Is it based on donations in and therefore, should there be a rallying call for these wealthy Bitcoins to support Chaincode? Is that possible?
John Newbery: No. So it doesn’t work like that. Alex and Suhas fund it entirely themselves. We don’t take donations or payments or anything. But there are other organizations, I know that in China there’s a fund called the Hardcore Fund set up by Dovey Wan and Kevin Pan I think, to fund developers. There’s BitDRA I think in Switzerland to fund developers. I don’t know exactly the right place to channel money, if that’s all someone wants to do.
It’s difficult to match that money with where it will be most effective. But it’s something I think about and fundamentally I just want to see more developers and more diverse contributions to Bitcoin geographically and in terms of the contributors. Just to decentralize it and to make sure that we’re getting the widest possible range of people and ideas coming into the Bitcoin core project.
Peter McCormack: What kind of other contributions in this diverse contribution scenario that you talk about, do you think are missing? So for example, the only thing I think is that we’re quite weak on UX. That’s the area that I have a bugbear about. It’s not terrible, but I just personally think that that’s an area we’re lacking.
John Newbery: Pete I thought you were direct? It is terrible!
Peter McCormack: It is and I think I know why. Very good UX people are very rare. Jeremy Welch has hired a great guy, works over at Casa, which I think reflects in their products. Some of the other companies who are building companies outside of Bitcoin, have some great UX.
I’ve got a lot of flack when I was very critical of the UX on Wasabi wallet. I got a lot of flack when I was very critical of the UX on Blue Wallet and generally speaking, when I’m critical of UX, I get told “you’re a fucking idiot Pete! You don’t know what you’re talking about.” But I used to be a UX designer, so I understand it.
John Newbery: So you do know what you’re talking about.
Peter McCormack: Yeah I do, because I did it and I always approach things like that. I always refer to this book, which is a great book by Steve Krug called “Don’t Make Me Think”, and we have to think a lot when using Bitcoin and Lightning.
I think we need more UX people. I think the problem getting them in, is they are very few and far between and I think they have different incentive structures, than say for developers. I think with developers, and I could be wrong, but money’s not the be all and end all. They want to work on things that are cool. UX people just usually want to get paid.
John Newbery: I don’t know enough of either to make a sweeping generalization like that. Let me give you an alternative theory, that a good user experience requires a singular vision of how it should be. Bitcoin core, the open source development process is not a singular vision. It’s not one person or a group of people saying this is how it should be and you all follow this design pattern, like this is exactly how it needs to be.
Peter McCormack: Should we get a leader then? No!
John Newbery: I don’t think that’s quite right, that’s not exactly what I was saying.
Peter McCormack: We could bring Craig Wright back?
John Newbery: Yeah! Bring Satoshi back! I think something exciting that’s happening in this area is Square Crypto. Steve Lee was the first hire and he’s building out the team there, and central to that team will be a designer and there’ll be very design and product focused. So they’ll be tackling this problem head on.
So that’s really encouraging to have a group working on that specifically and hopefully pushing out best practices for design and UX in the space. That could change things about. But I think fundamentally open source has not had good UX and good design in many projects. So it’s not just Bitcoin.
Peter McCormack: Okay, let’s talk about the residency because obviously that’s where you started. Didn’t Pierre come and do a residency as well?
John Newbery: He did the Lightning applications residency that we did in November last year.
Peter McCormack: So what’s the structure? How does it work? How do people apply? What do they get out of it? What kind of people are you going to be looking for? Just tell me about it all!
John Newbery: This is our fourth residency. We’re currently running one this summer. The first one was the one that I attended as a resident, that was September 2016. The second one was February last year. Then we ran something slightly different, a Lightning applications residency and now this is the fourth one. So the three main ones have all been focused on Bitcoin protocol development. This one, we also have Lightning protocol development.
But the idea is that we bring people in who are smart, passionate, motivated and want to work on Bitcoin protocol development, and we give them the tools and the knowledge they need to be an impactful contributor in Bitcoin open source development. The first one was four weeks long. There were four of us, four residents and it was run entirely by Matt Corallo because it was something he wanted to do.
He wanted to make this welcoming and inclusive way of getting into Bitcoin core development, because it’s intimidating, right? It’s difficult, it seems really complex and even if you really care about Bitcoin and you read the code and you want to get involved, it is very scary to jump in and open a PR or leave a review comment.
So he wanted to grow the Bitcoin developer community and that’s what he did. There were four of us. So it was me, Alex Bosworth who now works at Lightning Labs, Neha, who is the director of the MIT DCI and Stan who lives in Paris. That was the first one. After that I was hired at Chaincode and after working at Chaincode for a while, I wanted to repeat it and make it bigger, so that’s what we did. We ran a four week residency in February last year.
I think we had around 11 or 12 developers come in over the course of four weeks and a bit more structure, more speakers. James O’Beirne was one of our residents who we subsequently hired, Johan Halseth who’s at Lightning Labs, can’t remember all the names, but yeah, that was pretty good. Then later that year I wanted to do something more focused on application development because I saw Lightning was developing, it was becoming more stable and I was personally really excited about the idea of Lightning apps.
So we did a week long residency where we had external speakers come in. We had Christian Decker, Alex Bosworth, a few other speakers and the idea was just a very quick one week thing where people came in and built their apps out of that. So we had Pierre Rochard at that one, we had Will O’Beirne who did the Joule extension, we had…
Peter McCormack: Is James his brother?
John Newbery: Yes and André Neves who worked with Koala studios. So that was pretty successful, really enjoyable and we put all those videos online. Then this one, this is our biggest and most ambitious to date, now being run by Adam Jonas, who has much grander ambitions and has done a much better job than I would have been able to do by myself.
We have eight developers for the entire course in the summer. We had a three week seminar period with lots of talks, which we’ve recorded and will go out online. Then the residents are here for two months working on projects, working on open source Bitcoin and Lightning projects and they’re all really cool, really exciting projects.
They have mentors who are long-term Bitcoin protocol contributors and the idea is by the end of summer, by the end of next month, they will have delivered something substantial and impactful. So some of them are working on Bitcoin core projects, some on Lightning, some on eltoo, just a whole range of things!
Peter McCormack: And they may get recruited, but there’s no guarantee? Is it more like if someone stands out?
John Newbery: None of them have been a recruitment tool for Chaincode. It’s just a way for us to contribute and after the first one, I got hired because I guess they wanted me to keep working here. Then after the second one, we hired James.
Peter McCormack: It’s not part of the structure?
John Newbery: No, this is not an interview. We’re not trying to hire people, but obviously we want people who come out of this to continue working on Bitcoin, wherever they are working on Bitcoin. So a couple of them are kind of secondment from their Bitcoin jobs, we’ve got a couple from exchanges, one is working at goTenna on mesh networks and he’ll go back to that. We hope the other five will continue to work on Bitcoin and be hired.
Peter McCormack: So it’s really just about adding to the strength of Bitcoin, providing these people with a deeper knowledge to take to wherever they’re working on Bitcoin, but bring more developers into the ecosystem. It’s really cool!
John Newbery: I think so, I love it! This is really important to me personally because it’s how I got into Bitcoin development and so seeing it expand and get bigger and better is just really exciting for me.
Peter McCormack: I guess they all come in pretty excited. How many applications do you get?
John Newbery: So I don’t know about the first one, because that was run by Matt. The first one that I ran, we had 70. The Lightning applications developers, we had 140 applications and this one we had 210/220.
Peter McCormack: This is scaling up!
John Newbery: It seems to be linear, yeah.
Peter McCormack: But that’s promising as well. It’s a great signal!
John Newbery: It’s a great signal that developers want to work on Bitcoin. So as well as the 8 we had, another 6 or 7 who came in for the seminar period, just the two or three weeks. So we took I guess around 15 people in total out of that 210.
Peter McCormack: Do you think that’s going to keep growing?
John Newbery: The number of people applying? I expect so.
Peter McCormack: Coming in a couple of years and this place will be full!
John Newbery: I don’t know how much we can scale it in terms of the people we take here. Their experience is really important to make it… To maximize return on investment, they need to have a good experience and they need to get the attention and then have a good working environment where they can learn and build stuff and we probably can’t scale up that much in terms of numbers here.
That’s why we want to put all of the material online and make it freely available to the ecosystem. But we could run residencies in different places maybe, I don’t know. I don’t expect we’ll do anything much bigger than this, in this location.
Peter McCormack: It’s very cool! Okay, the other thing I wanted to talk to you about a bit, I wanted talk to you a bit about the tech. I know there’s some things coming, Taproot’s coming, Schnorr’s coming, Graftroot’s coming, Mast’s coming.
John Newbery: Well Mast is kind of wrapped in that group.
Peter McCormack: I’ve covered them before already with Andrew Poelstra and whist we could go into it now, I do want to speak to the residents, but the one thing that I’m really interested in and I’m becoming more interested in, is anonymity. I’m starting to feel that it’s becoming more important, because I’m worried with all the government regulation of on-ramps and chain analysis, I’m just worried that this won’t be what it was meant to be.
Too much analysis, too much monitoring, too much control, too much surveillance. I know on chain anonymity is very difficult, because detection of an inflation bug is the biggest risk. If it happened, you can’t verify the 21 million, even though you can use zero knowledge proofs.
This has all been explained to me before. I always expose my technical prowess at a time like this, but at the same time, I would really like to have a version of Bitcoin, which is an anonymous to use. Where is that in the vision? Where is that in terms of the importance as a priority for you, priority for other developers? Would it ever be possible? Where are we with anonymity.
John Newbery: I’ll rephrase that, as privacy, because I think that captures it better, because it’s a scale, right? It’s not binary. It’s not like you’re private or you’re not, there’s degrees of it and if we think about where Bitcoin is now and where we want it to be, there’s quite a large gap between how private it is and how private we want it to be.
It’s really important! It’s one of the things that we spend a lot of our time thinking about. Schnorr/Taproot is one way to improve that. Lightning is potentially one way to improve that. Coinjoin and other techniques are ways to improve it.
Peter McCormack: I was told even Coinjoin can be analyzed?
John Newbery: Yes. So you can’t make overarching promises about any single technology and say “this gives you privacy.” It’s a scale and Coinjoin helps, but it’s not perfect and there are various attacks against it. So the fundamental premise of Coinjoin is you join this pool of other people and put your money into this hat and then take it out and no one can link who put it in or who took it out. If there’s 100 people and in fact 99 of them are the NSA and you are the 100th, then you don’t get any privacy at all. So that’s one way you can attack Coinjoin.
We need to keep working on the base layer to make it more possible to build privacy. But I think ultimately privacy will be provided by layers on top of the base layer. Bitcoin is a universal ledger and it’s a record that never goes away. So using that base layer for privacy is quite difficult, because there’s always data out there and it will last forever. Things like Lightning, might be a way to improve privacy a lot, because in Lightning, the only records are between you and the person you’re paying and some data is leaked to, I guess the hops in the middle, but we try and minimize that.
It’s really important, and I’ll add to the examples that you gave, if you’re reading the news right now in Hong Kong, there are lots of protests. I don’t know if you saw these images of people lining up to pay for public transport tickets with cash. People don’t pay for for things with cash in Hong Kong usually, but they know that if they use their credit cards, those payments will be tracked and the government will know that they went to those protests.
If we lose cash and we don’t have an alternative to make private payments, then we can be surveilled for everything. It’s a really scary world. So to often offer an alternative to cash before cash disappears, which looks like it’s happening, is really important and it’s a really, really important part of Bitcoin. It’s one of the reasons that people work on Bitcoin and get so passionate about it.
Peter McCormack: Though the government could ban a bus company from accepting Bitcoin and Lightning?
John Newbery: Yeah, maybe.
Peter McCormack: I get what you’re saying, it’s important for privacy, it’s a wider issue, but the government could always ban usage in certain scenarios. I was actually read about today, that there’s been an 80% drop in the use of cash in Sweden and they think by 2023, it’ll become a cash-less country.
But that causes huge problems for financial inclusion. So at the moment, you can’t take a bus in Sweden and pay cash. The buses just won’t accept it. But if you don’t have a bank account, that means you can’t take a bus? So there’s threats to going cashless as well.
John Newbery: Yeah and if you’re in China and you get a bad social rating, you can’t take a bus.
Peter McCormack: That scares the shit out of me, what’s happening in China. I covered that with Alex Gladstein this week, we were talking about it, all the social scoring and that’s another rabbit hole to go through. All right, so before we close out this and I start going to talk to some of the residents, this is your chance to close out and appeal to anyone who might be able to help and support what you’re doing. Anyone you want to hear from, what people can do. Do you want to give a shout out?
John Newbery: Yeah, don’t be intimidated by getting more involved in Bitcoin development. The residency is I think a unique and wonderful thing, but it’s small. We can only reach 8 or 15 people directly here and some more through putting those videos online. But I think even if you’re not at the residency, there’s a lot you can do to increase your technical knowledge and get involved in the process.
One project that I’m involved in is called Optech. We have a weekly newsletter for the technical news in Bitcoin. If you’re interested in what’s going on in the developer community in Bitcoin and Lightning, you should subscribe to that newsletter and read it every week and just try and follow along with what’s going on. That’s bitcoinops.org.
Another thing that I started recently is the PR Review Club. So every week we will take a PR from Bitcoin core, a pull request and as a group we’ll discuss that pull request and we’ll have a weekly meeting where people can ask questions and just talk about what they found, whilst they were reviewing. So that’s a really great way, if you’re just trying to find your way in the Bitcoin core code base, take a look at that. That’s a bit of a difficult URL to read out, but we can put it in the show notes.
Peter McCormack: Yeah, no problem. I’ll put it in the show notes.
John Newbery: Just come and join in. You don’t even have to ask questions. You can just listen and learn about the process of contributing to Bitcoin Core.
Peter McCormack: And all you tight fisted, wealthy Bitcoiners who’ve made a lot of money off this hard work, but your hands in your pockets!
John Newbery: Hire a Bitcoin dev!
Peter McCormack: Or we’re coming for you! So I’ve got 3 residents from Chaincode with me, which is exciting. Okay, can you each take your turn, we’ll start with Fabian and move around to Carla and then you, Amiti. Just firstly introduce yourself, tell us your background and how you ended up with your residency.
Fabian Jahr: I’m Fabian, I’m a freelance software developer and consultant from Germany, living in Berlin right now. I got interested in Bitcoin a while back, but what specifically spiked my interest in it even more over the past couple of months was Lightning network. So I started out building some applications on it in my free time, like a vending machine for example, from scratch.
I also heard about the Lightning residency, which was the last residency. A couple of people that I was following on Twitter went there. Then I heard that there was going to be an even bigger one this summer. So, yeah, that’s when I decided I should apply. Being a freelancer I have the flexibility to do it. So yeah, now I’m here!
Peter McCormack: Awesome, and you Carla?
C. Kirk-Cohen: Hi, I’m Carla. I’m from South Africa. I work at an exchange and wallet over there and I’m on the crypto operations team. So I’ve been working with Bitcoin for a while and Ethereum, which is the other crypto we support. I got into Chaincode residency through starting to integrate Lightning in our wallet product, which is a project I worked on last year.
As a result of that, I got really involved on the Lightning LND Slack. I put some PRs into the repo and then I came to hear about the Chaincode residency and I must admit, when I first heard about it, I thought I’d made it up in my head because it was such an incredible opportunity! I applied pretty much on the first day applications opened.
Amiti Uttarwar: I’m Amiti. I have been working at Coinbase and earlier this year I got really excited about contributing to Bitcoin core, so I’d made a few PRs. They’re all pretty small, but the residency just really appealed to me to have more time and space and interact with people who are prolific contributors and learn about Bitcoin core. So it’s been really awesome to be here!
Peter McCormack: So I heard it there was over 200 applications, so it’s not easy! You’re also get into work on a financial revolution and you’re in possibly the most amazing office I’ve ever been in, in New York! I mean look at this view. Do you feel like you’ve struck gold Amiti?
Amiti Uttarwar: Oh yeah, definitely!
Peter McCormack: Are you looking forward to going back to the zombies of San Francisco?
Amiti Uttarwar: I would say that my biggest problem right now is that this summer is going to end, which is a pretty good problem to have.
Peter McCormack: Are you feeling the same Carla?
C. Kirk-Cohen: Yeah, definitely and it’s pretty different for me cause I don’t go back to the San Francisco zombies. I go all the way back to South Africa and something that’s really blown me away about being at Chaincode, even just being in New York, is how many Bitcoiners there are around.
I met more Bitcoiners in my first day in New York than I’ve met in South Africa in three years. So that’s been an amazing community to get to know and get to go to events like BitDevs. It’s just been totally unreal for me.
Peter McCormack: And Fabian, you’re in the coolest place in Germany, probably even Europe. Berlin is a bit like Shoreditch in London, right? It’s like the cool place? It must be great being here?
Fabian Jahr: Yeah, well I mean the city of New York is still completely different than Berlin. I mean I love Berlin, but New York is awesome. What’s especially big here for me is that I have time to work on Bitcoin and Lighting related stuff full time. As a freelancer, you always have to juggle working for clients, acquiring new clients and that’s just completely out of the way here. So yeah, I will definitely miss that and look for ways to do the same when I go back.
Peter McCormack: Who’s your team in Germany? Who’s your football team?
Fabian Jahr: I’m from Frankfurt so my team is Eintracht Frankfurt.
Peter McCormack: My team’s got a German manager, I’m a Liverpool fan! So we have Jurgen Klopp, who’s been great for us. All right, so of couple other things I want to ask you. Start with you Fabian, firstly tell me what it is about Bitcoin that you like. What gives you conviction that this is something you should work on?
And then within Bitcoin for you, there’s a lot of things you can work on, there’s Lightning, you can work on privacy, there’s so many different things you can do. Where are you drawn to? Where’s your passion within Bitcoin?
Fabian Jahr: So one thing about me, like I have, partially at least, an economics background as well, but I’m not so big on that. I’m very interested in the technical aspect right now. What makes it fun, of actually working on it day to day, is the technology, but like bigger picture, I think it really has the potential to help people in more distressed countries than we are right now.
We have a huge privilege and that’s why we don’t necessarily, or most of us don’t really need Bitcoin in the sense that it’s all been really big problems for us. But if you live in a country where you have hyperinflation for example, or you need to flee the country, then Bitcoin can particularly solve huge problems for you.
That doesn’t mean necessarily that I believe that Bitcoin will be like the world currency someday, but it can put pressure on countries that are in these situations and who slip into these situations over and over again. So yeah, that’s like the big picture of what gives me the conviction basically to work on it.
Peter McCormack: And you Carla?
C. Kirk-Cohen: Kind of echoing what Fabian said, I studied economics and computer science, so I was actually first drawn to Bitcoin from an economic point of view. But it also hits pretty close to home coming from South Africa, I really vividly remember the hyperinflation period in Zimbabwe.
I went to school with Zimbabwean people and it was an incredibly awful time for people who lived in that country. Learning at a very young age, the fact that the money that you work really hard to earn, actually does not maintain its value, and I didn’t really understand why at the time, is quite a harsh lesson to realize.
So I was definitely attracted to that aspect of Bitcoin. But more recently I’ve been working on the Lightning network. I think I had the light bulb moment that everyone who kind of starts playing around with Lightning does have, when I used Satoshi’s Place for the first time. Didn’t even draw something I’ve seen! So I was very proud of myself for being mature enough
But just being able to make a payment that you actually cannot physically make in our existing financial system, that kind of blew my mind, that you can pay these tiny amounts of money and just the opportunities that opens up for sort of a new economy and a new set of businesses that we can’t even conceptualize.
On top of that, those payments are very private, so that’s incredible for me and it’s hit pretty close to home why we need Bitcoin and what’s special about Bitcoin for me recently. So we’re very lucky to receive a stipend from Chaincode while we’re here, so that we can all leave our jobs and our work to work on Bitcoin and Lightning.
I’m here on a J-1 visa, so I cannot open an American bank account. So I’ve been cashing paychecks out to cash, which I actually can’t get home to South Africa without Bitcoin! So my plan is currently to buy Bitcoin and send it home and it’s just really made the use case for it, when you’re not in a traditional economic situation very clear to me.
Peter McCormack: That’s absolutely fucking brilliant!
C. Kirk-Cohen: I’ve always believed in Bitcoin and then I came here and I was like, “wow, I’m actually unbanked!”
Peter McCormack: You’re actually having to use Bitcoin as part of your residency, that is fucking brilliant, I love it! Apologies for my language, but I swear a lot. Amiti, you as well?
Amiti Uttarwar: So what originally drew me to Bitcoin is it felt so radical to have a new trust model. Historically we’ve only really seen two trust models. One is direct, I get to know you, I build trust with you. The other is hierarchical, I trust you and you trust so-and-so, so you have that indirect. With Bitcoin, this is the first idea of being able to come to an agreement of what happened, without actually having to trust that other party or know them directly and I think that’s really radical for the implications that that can have on our society.
But lately my thinking has been that, the biggest problems that we are seeing, as citizens of the world, is that they’re all problems at a level that affect everyone in the world. It’s global problems and we don’t have any forms of organization that is big enough to expand to a global society.
I think that in order to thrive, that is where we need to be headed and having a global money is the first step in that direction. So for me, Bitcoin, I mean it’s got a long way to go and it’s still very experimental, but it shows a lot of promise and I think that it’s a really important experiment to be engaging in.
Peter McCormack: Okay, so if people are interested in getting into developing on Bitcoin, firstly, what advice would you give them? Also if they are interested in a Chaincode residency, tell me about what it’s like to do it, what your experience is like here and then afterwards just reiterate how sad you’re going to be when it ends!
Amiti Uttarwar: There was a lot in there! I mean I think that if you’re interested in contributing, the most important thing is to find how to contribute along your own learning curve. There are so many different ways, whether it’s participating in mailing list conversations or answering Stack exchange questions or finding good first issues on GitHub projects or writing blog posts.
There are infinite amount of ways that everyone can contribute and for Bitcoin to succeed, it’s really an ecosystem that we’re trying to create. So looking for how you can advance your own learning while also giving back to helping others engage, I think is really important. So that’s what I would advise is don’t… I think it’s really easy to just get caught up in the breath and try to keep up with everything, but it’s literally impossible.
It’s many lives over in order to keep up with everything that’s happening in the space. So finding a little niche that just excites you for no real rational reason and digging deep into it, such that you become more familiar than anyone else and you can help and find your own path is really what’s important.
Peter McCormack: What’s it like working in the residency here?
Amiti Uttarwar: It’s been such a privilege! We started with…
Peter McCormack: I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone smile so much smile! Look at that smile! Do you think you will smile that much when you get married? Maybe!
Amiti Uttarwar: I’m like this all day!
Peter McCormack: I’m just going to say this for anyone who isn’t sat in the room with me right now, actually I should take a photo! You just sit there with these smiles, I’ve never seen three people so happy! I think you’re happier than I was when we won the Champions League, Jesus! Carry on, please tell.
Amiti Uttarwar: So the program started with a couple of weeks of seminar where it was just a fire hose of information from people who have been working in this space for a really long time and came and shared learnings and open problems and engaged us in code exercises. It was really wonderful. Then after that, for the past few weeks, we’ve been working on our projects and digging deeper.
But it’s incredible to have the time and space to focus on the open source work, that’s great. But also to be able to have access and random lunchtime conversations with both the established contributors, as well as this set of residents, where we’re all trying to learn and everyone’s just… I think that it was a very careful thought process of who was selected and everyone’s so engaged in making meaningful contributions, but also very kind and fun. Every day is unreal!
Peter McCormack: It’s just so beautiful to watch. Okay, Carla, same question?
C. Kirk-Cohen: Okay, so I’d say just to build on what Amiti said about getting into working on Bitcoin or Lightning, I think that there’s definitely, at least I experienced a bit of a freeze when I first thought, “okay, I want to work on this thing. How do I get involved? How did I do this?” I really just want to encourage people to just ask, just go on GitHub and look at the help wanted and add a comment then, see if anyone wants you to pick that up or reach out.
There are so many channels and people are so receptive when you want to contribute. There’s IRC, there’s Slack communities, so really just find one thing and do it. Then once you find one thing and do it, you can find the next thing and it really is incredible how people support you and they spend their time giving you meaningful review. I’ve been absolutely blown away by that. In terms of how the Chaincode residency has been, it’s been a dream, it’s unreal.
I can’t stop smiling and Amiti jumps up and down next to me while we’re working in the middle of the day, because we can’t believe we actually just get to work on whatever we want on Bitcoin! It’s incredible. Being here with all the Chaincode employees and other residents, our lunch time conversations are crazy.
They get ridiculous. We get to hear about exactly what’s going on in the space all the time. We’re around some of the best minds in Bitcoin. It’s really just an absolute privilege. I have loved every minute of it and I will be devastated when it ends!
Peter McCormack: Oh, I wish it didn’t have to end for you! And you Fabian?
Fabian Jahr: Yeah, just to add on that, also something Carla that you said earlier, I am pretty sure that I applied on the last day and it still worked out, so don’t lose hope, even if you think you’re not the perfect candidate and you don’t have everything ready yet. I definitely was late, because I wanted to achieve some more stuff, like finish some stuff that I was working on, in order to show that. But yeah, like I said, don’t worry about that too much.
You could get started like I did if you have, for example, a web background of building stuff on top of it, to get more into it, but then definitely just start looking into it, build Bitcoin yourself, just just play with it and ask questions. That’s definitely also the biggest learning from here and in general this year, that people are super approachable and happy to answer your questions.
Working here, also I could just echo, like it’s huge to have these people around here that have contributed so much and that really know, not all the answers maybe but a lot of the answers and can help you when you are stuck, which makes you just much quicker in your development.
Peter McCormack: Okay and the last thing just for Carla and Amiti. I’m very, very reluctant ever to talk about gender or bring up gender space questions, one, because I’m crap at it and I’ll ask really awkward, weird, stupid, badly put questions. But you’re the first two female developers I’ve met in Bitcoin.
So firstly, that’s kind of cool. I think it’s good to have diversity in Bitcoin. Is it more difficult for girls to get involved? Is it harder? Is it more intimidating? Am I talking nonsense and bringing up something that doesn’t even need talking about? Is there something there?
Amiti Uttarwar: Well, we definitely need more.
Peter McCormack: So why do we need more? What are girls better at?
Amiti Uttarwar: Who knows? I mean, it’s just such an obvious imbalance and I think that in order to make Bitcoin the best Bitcoin it can be, we need diversity, not just of gender, but of backgrounds and cultures and like perspectives of socioeconomic statuses. I think that gender is just one way in which it’s very apparent that there’s an imbalance right now. Whether or not it’s harder, I have no idea. I haven’t lived any other life than my own.
Peter McCormack: You haven’t found it intimidating in any way at all?
Amiti Uttarwar: Oh, I’m terrified all the time! But maybe that would be true if I was a dude too, I don’t know!
Peter McCormack: I’m terrified even asking the question. How about you Carla?
C. Kirk-Cohen: Oh yeah, I’m also terrified all the time, but it’s really difficult to know if everyone is terrified in equal amount. I think what was quite interesting when all the residents arrived, we have something which I’ve got to shout out, it’s called Feelings Friday and it’s at 4.30 on a Friday.
We all grab a beer, we kind of unload our weeks’ emotions and we go around the circle and everyone says what they’re thinking and no one replies. It’s just really much like a release for everyone to kind of stay sane in this crazy process.
Peter McCormack: What are you feeling today then? Cause it is Friday?
C. Kirk-Cohen: I’ll tell you at 4.30 if you stick around!
Peter McCormack: Well, I’ve got to go! So we’re going to do What Bitcoin Did, midday Feeling Friday.
C. Kirk-Cohen: I think what blew me away at Feelings Friday almost especially in the first few weeks, is that every single person here felt like they couldn’t believe they were here and they weren’t good enough and they had incredible impostor syndrome. So it’s really hard to quantify your imposter syndrome, relative to everyone else’s impostor syndrome, so you don’t really know if yours is much different anyone else’s.
But I think in terms of diversity, it’s sufficient. I want to use that economic word, but everyone experiences the world completely differently. So to only have a group of people who are more similar along a set of traits, surely you’re going to be missing out on some thinking? We want Bitcoin to be the absolute best it can be. So it must have absolutely everybody thinking about these problems, because otherwise we might miss something that someone would have picked up.
Peter McCormack: I think we all have… I have imposter syndrome without doubt! I absolutely have that. I was listening to a podcast the other day, I think it was Sam Harris and Ricky Gervais, but I might have the wrong one. They asked him what the best advice he ever received was. He said, “nobody knows what the fuck they’re doing. We’re all the same. Nobody does!” So I think we all have that. What are you feeling Fabian at midday Friday?
Fabian Jahr: Well, I mean Friday is great, but I think what everyone’s kind of feeling of the group and me as well, is like we have one month left and so yeah, everyone kind of assess projects that they work on and goals that they want to achieve. We are far over the half time of our stay here. So yeah, everyone I guess kind of feels a bit pressure? Like I definitely do feel a little bit pressure.
Then being a developer, sometimes you just achieve huge things on a single day. Then on another day, it feels like you’re stuck and you don’t get anything done or even you do take a step back and then the next day your PR gets merged and that’s huge. Then there’s another day where you can feel stuck and so yeah, Feelings Friday you can just share that.
Peter McCormack: Amiti, are you feeling anything this Friday? Anything you want to get off your chest?
Amiti Uttarwar: Not a personal feeling, but something I just wanted to reinforce from this conversation, is as I’ve interacted with more contributors to Bitcoin, the space, it’s been incredible to me how receptive everyone has been to any sort of curiosity or willingness and desire to contribute.
I think that it’s so natural to have imposter syndrome, especially if you’re convinced that Bitcoin matters. It’s just been amazing, both within Chaincode, but also other experiences, like I’ve literally cold emailed people, whose email I pulled from their GitHub account and they responded!
Going back to how you would encourage people to get started is just try stuff and be curious and be respectful and it has amazed me how willing and generous with their time and knowledge every single person I have met within the world of Bitcoin and Lightning has been.
Peter McCormack: Well, I’m very blessed to have met you three. That’s what I’m feeling today. Also I’m feeling Iron Maiden in Brooklyn tonight, I’m feeling like I should go and see that, so I might do that as well! But look, thank you so much all three of you. Hopefully someday in the future, each and every one of you will come on the show individually, because you’ve got something to come and talk about, that the audience will want to listen to. I’m an impostor.
I couldn’t do what you guys do. I can’t code for shit. I feel blessed to just do this, to meet people like yourselves and learn about what you’re doing and contributing to the Bitcoin. Congratulations on your residency! I wish you all a bright future. If I can ever do anything for you, get in touch, I mean I’m not sure I can, but feel free and yeah, thanks for coming on!
Amiti Uttarwar: Thank you!
Fabian Jahr: Thank you!
C. Kirk-Cohen: Thanks for having us!