Bitcoin’s Real 2018 Bottleneck
Following a year of explosive price gain, forks failed forks and more, there’s much that can be said concerning bitcoin in 2017. Enormous strides were shot, and much has been learned. However, since we push further into uncharted waters, what happens from that point onward continues to be just as divisive an issue as ever.
Underlying both a lot of this year’s drama and lasted future doubt is a simple question: Could bitcoin scale as it continues to capture mainstream focus, or can it become a casualty of its own success, with alternative cryptocurrencies waiting in the wings to overtake it?
Obviously, no one can honestly answer this question with complete certainty. It’s not and cannot be repaired or predetermined. Rather, the future is being shaped and created slowly in the here and now by those disappointed from the present.
As George Bernard Shaw wrote:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
So, as we reflect on a stunning year and contemplate what challenges the future will hold, it is well worth paying particular attention to those ridiculous women and men that are doing the producing.
At the start of November, among the longest running and established technical conferences in the blockchain industry hosted its 2017 summit in partnership with The University of Stanford: Scaling Bitcoin.
With this long and deep experience comes an awareness of perspective and order of priorities which shouldn’t be ignored.
For those looking into the future of cryptocurrency and wondering what’s preventing us from getting there, there is no better place to get started.
Immediately notable to CoinDesk Editor-in-Chief Peter Rizzo was that despite the rare concentration of industry specialists, discussion largely ignored a lot of the latest hot-button drama controlling the cryptocurrency news cycle.
While the seminar stayed true to name with presentations focusing on possible Bitcoin Core optimizations and layer 2 proposals, the controversial topics of forks and block dimensions were rarely touched on during the course of the conference. Participants showed little apprehension for apparently pressing controversies like the Segwit2X fork, and most attendees, including myself, were convinced it could be dead upon arrival.
An opinion and attitude that was immediately validated when 2X was canceled the first week following the close of the conference.
Because of this, and for better or worse, bitcoin would not increase its base block size. The incompatible vision of much bigger block size limitations for bitcoin will, for now, embody itself just from the bitcoin cash blockchain. This has led to a lot of predictions that bitcoin cash and other alternative cryptocurrencies will overtake bitcoin because its block size limit becomes a bottleneck for adoption.
With just a few notable exceptions, the majority of Scaling Bitcoin’s attendees didn’t indicate that they discovered this for a notable concern. In the event, the wide-ranging topics of demonstrations were of any sign, far from it. However, one way or the other all participants did agree on a single, much wider, and more fundamental concern for scaling this still stuffy ecosystem: a drought of superior programmer talent.
As developer and attendee Jimmy Song put it plainly:
“Training more developers is the biggest bottleneck in the ecosystem.”
It’s quite appropriate then besides the positioning of Stanford, also unique for this season’s Scaling Bitcoin was a fresh effort by its organizers to immediately handle this issue.
Bitcoin Edge Dev++
The Dev++ marathon has been created by the Scaling Bitcoin organizers together with the only mission of teaching and assisting onboard aspiring blockchain programmers, and it achieved this with studded celebrity power.
For the Dev++ app, dozens of participants attended demonstrations and guided presentations from renowned titles from throughout the business.
This outfit of specialized specialists presented a crash course covering all of the cryptographic essentials of bitcoin, to the implementation and theory of both second-layer networks. The latter featured a live and interactive presentation of the Lighting Network applications on testnet by Dryja himself, co-author of their first white paper.
Maybe as enlightening as the Dev++ presentations themselves, nevertheless, was an off-hand remark by Dryja which amazed some cautious pupils, and told them they had to learn more about the demand for the occasion in the first location.
When asked if a little Lightning Network feature was executed yet, Dryja responded:
“No. I had the idea over a year ago and just haven’t had the time to implement it… But it’s all open source so if anyone wants to make a pull request, like, please. That would be awesome. I just haven’t had the time.”
Like all things it’s time, the scarcest of all resources. We have no control over the passing of time, however, what we can do is better manage it. Finding, encouraging and growing of these ridiculous people whom all progress depends upon is the only means to make the future closer and faster.
As Lightning Network developer Jack Mallers writes reddit “… I will say the one thing which may speed up Lightning is more engineers. I am the only dev behind Zap and I only spend some time that I can afford to spend. An additional dev on Zap and myself formally full-time would make a world’s difference”
This opinion is echoed by the CEO of Lightning Elizabeth Stark who states: “Time! We need more hours daily.”
Really, the number of full-time developers working on this a widely expected technology can surprise you: “There are 10 or fewer full-time programmers working across all implementations of Lightning,” says Stark. “Obtaining more contributors and individuals building out the protocol would help move things along.”
Time and talent
Given the fundamental importance of layer-two advancement from the continuing scaling debate, that there are just 10 full-time programmers working on the Lightning Network ought to be quite a stunning wake-up call for most. However, the issue of the unmet requirement for programmer talent from the cryptocurrency ecosystem operates much deeper.
Conferences like Scaling Bitcoin are hallmarked with their own uninterrupted lineup of demonstrations on a few of the most recent areas of development and research. It is tempting and common to come away too enthused regarding so a number of the innovations apparently on the cusp of consciousness.
But many understand better. Those in the area longest understand to temper their expectations, but it is people who have experience creating applications especially who know firsthand that forward progress is generally considerably slower and duller than anybody would like.
For all those who have any coding experience, this should not be a jolt. If it comes to some degree of programming ideas are simple, it is execution that is hard. Assembling even the apparently simplest program or attribute always shows hidden complexities and subset issues which has to be addressed and addressed.
Like this does not complicate forward advancement enough, there is still another issue facing programmers: determining what to work on at the first location.
With these huge unknowns comes spiraling chances, but also endless debate.
As Bitcoin showcased, there are a plethora of rival ideas being researched at any particular time, a lot of which draw public attention. What’s seldom observed by the general public, however, is that the vast majority of those ideas being marginalized in the future for more promising attempts, or tossed into the waste bin entirely.
Even though this may initially seem debatable, it’s an essential and desired outcome of exploring uncharted frontiers. Occasionally it’s clear whether a notion can or can’t do the job, but a lot of times it’s not.
You simply know when it has been manipulated and no more protected.”
This dynamic leads to a lot of disagreements regarding not precisely what technologies is likely to execute, but what needs to be executed, and where attempts from the area should be concentrated when various hazard models are taken under account.
The end result of this is that the impossibility of discovering any indistinguishable appraisal of the exact same suggestion or thought from any programmer in the area, let alone any consensus on which further research and implementation efforts would be rewarding. Extensive trial and error is hence the only choice left for us to ascertain what finally works and what does not.
A difficult road
This is just what Dev++ along with other applications like Chaincode’s residency program along with Jimmy Song’s Programming Blockchain try to tackle. However, while these efforts are slowly increasing the instructional tools, tools, and classes available, getting a blockchain programmer is a very long and hard road with several challenges.
For aspiring blockchain programmers, it isn’t hard to be intimidated by the automatically steep learning curve the area obviously introduces. As both a former pupil and succeeding Teaching Assistant in the Ironhack Fullstack Bootcamp, I understand first hand that intimidation is the single biggest barrier for any student seeking to master any sort of program development.
Paradoxically, such emotions may even be improved by the depth of comprehension of teachers like people at Dev++, as well as also the perceived futility of attaining the exact same level of command on the part of pupils.
This was exemplified when I requested Bitcoin Core maintainer Pieter Wuille exactly what the simplest method to get a programmer to add to the repository was. “Definitely code inspection.” He responded, before immediately qualifying his announcement.
“However it’s inaccurate to call it easy. It’s not. The standard for contributing and reviewing Bitcoin Core code is very high.”
There’s a quite good reason behind Bitcoin Core’s rigorous approach to code quality, and attaining the knowledge amount of subscribers such as Pieter Wuille and John Newberry might indeed look daunting. However every developer has to start someplace, and it is a huge error for aspiring blockchain programmers to confuse the large bar of the single repository with all the amount of ability required to create meaningful gifts to the ecosystem.
Countless jobs besides Bitcoin Core could benefit greatly from extra ability and can offer an avenue for less experienced developers to start receiving their feet wet.
Just as Elizabeth Stark notes:
“Luckily it’s a lot easier to learn how to build Lightning apps than to learn how to get involved in protocol development. That said, getting into Lightning app development can actually be a good entry point to learning more about the protocol.”
The extensive development and testing which stays to enable and completely investigate mainstream Lightning Network adoption is only one example of a possible starting place for greener programmers. However, there are other, even lower hanging fruits to seize on.
As a web developer myself, I was approached and solicited for feedback seeing no less than three individual APIs while attending Scaling Bitcoin. APIs at the area allow different developers the capability to utilize blockchain features, such as evidence of existence, without the intricacies of conducting a full node.
Construction and contributing to this sort of electronic infrastructure isn’t only essential for the growth of industry in the ecosystem but provides an excellent low hanging fruit for developers with small blockchain experience. Such opportunities provide a means of earning meaningful and necessary contributions to the ecosystem while familiarizing programmers with the deeper technology. There’s simply no lack of such work if one simply looks.
Securing the future
Price movements and business play will dominate headlines and mainstream focus because they always have, and are the catalyst for several clicks, tweets, and remarks.
Nevertheless, the actual and under-appreciated narrative will as always are the tinkerers, rather than just people contributing to Bitcoin Core or even the Lightning Network. Those beyond the limelight grappling with esoteric and nuanced issues are equally as significant.
They’re ones who despite barrier after obstacle without a fanfare, are fighting to gradually alter the condition of the planet and make a greater one. It is they who create the incremental and frequently seemingly insignificant improvements that, when taken collectively, push an ecosystem ahead.
The most crucial and foundational work has period horizons and payoffs far beyond the following calendar year. These efforts are concentrated not on the play, PR stunts as well as the tech itself, but on the men and women who are and who’ll be creating it.
As Jimmy Song clearly puts it:
“I believe bitcoin to be an anti-fragile thing, but its anti-fragile not because the software code is so smart but because there are really smart developers that are strengthening the network… and I believe that the more really good developers we get into the system the better it will be and the better store of value it will be.”
While traders can move the markets, it’s the tinkerers which will really determine the near future. As we start a brand new year, what we desire is a lot more of these.