It's been almost one year since I really entered crypto, which I count as the day I first subscribed to @bankless. It's been quite a fun journey, and I'd love to share the path I took and some of the lessons learned.
Before I entered crypto, I worked at a large investment bank in their rotational grad program. Over two years, I worked with different teams on everything from managing the bank's liquidity to our commercial real estate portfolio.
When I started there in the Summer of 2019, I saw there was a lot of unstructured data both public and internal that could be leveraged with the right tools. I quickly decided I needed to upskill from just Excel, and immediately began learning Python to do some time series forecasting for liquidity risk. I would read every day about autoregressive and moving average models, try to implement them for some basic dataset, and then do a presentation to my few coworkers to get their feedback. That feedback would lead to lessons learned on how I could better apply and communicate my findings, but also would usually end with "here's this other person who you can learn from about this". This would create multiple avenues of learning to then go down again, repeating the process. I eventually called this a
learn-build-teach cycle, and it helped me stay motivated and keep momentum.
After a while, I realized that I did most of my learning through reading other peoples' presentations on what they had already built (mostly on Towards Data Science). Around May of 2020, I wanted to try and give back to the data science community and write about the skills and projects I'd developed over time. This was a great way to learn in the open where I would get comments or messages giving me feedback, and also led to many new connections on LinkedIn who were farther out from my usual network.
I was heavily reliant on developer communities when learning various Python packages, and could clearly tell the difference between a product that was loved by its community versus one that didn't really connect as well with newer developers. Seeing the stark differences, I decided to go deep down the community software-as-a-service rabbit hole to find out what tools were being built to help dev tool product teams with building their communities. This research led me to conversations with builders like John Yen (Yeniverse), and Patrick Woods (orbit.love). They inspired me to try and improve the developer onboarding experience for dev tooling communities.
This started with building an NLP analysis product that could help with three things:
While that endeavor of mine didn't get too far, this had planted a seed in me to continue observing and thinking about community building. Fall of 2020 came along, and I began to tap into one of the most well-connected and vibrant communities out there: Ethereum. Right away I could see that everything was open, from the data to the code to the people. This was a large departure from traditional finance, where it often takes months just to get a conversation or data partnership going within the same bank.
It took many many tries over the years to start "getting into" Ethereum. In July of 2020 I took a more serious stab at it; I tried reading and re-reading the Ethereum and Uniswap whitepapers, digesting my transactions on Etherscan, and listening to various podcast interviews. Bankless helped me understand the people and ideas to follow, but things didn't fully click until I started learning Solidity. Some helpful soul linked me to a tweet from Linda Xie mentioning an Ethereum developer onboarding session happening over the weekend, and that one-hour session led by Linda, Trent, and Austin probably contributed a lot to me changing my career path.
I barely knew what "full-stack development" meant, since most of my experience up to then was purely analytics of financial statements (writing scripts that didn't even remotely resemble building an app). But in that short session, we were all walked through the smart contract dapp development process and tools, and then given a clear guide to start with. The exact path I took during that September to November period looked like this:
After this experience, I was convinced that crypto was indeed the future and I needed to go much deeper into the ecosystem. This was very exhausting though, with about 6-7 hours of learning and coding every day after work during that period.
As a side note, if I was to go back in time I would have started by looking at Dune dashboards before diving into solidity development since I think looking at data from events and function calls is a much easier starting point for learning Ethereum than reading contracts on Etherscan or trying to understand the protocol level elements right away.
I continued with on-off momentum through the rest of November and December, until I joined Kernel Block 2 in January. @KERNEL0x has an element of referrals/applications - but getting noticed happens largely through contributing publicly. @sm_judge reached out to me because I'd started participating more in hackathons with @ethglobal:
Shortly after KB2 started, Sishir found me in the KB2 slack channel and asked if I wanted to join the Spectral team to do solidity research and architecture - on-chain credit scoring sounded pretty interesting and close to my finance knowledge domain, so I joined them part-time. Around the same time, I took up a business analyst role at Consensys both to learn product management and to see how enterprises really thought about blockchain. By early March I was fairly comfortable with the basics of Ethereum/Solidity and was getting more familiar with the teams of many larger projects in the space.
This career shift from an investment bank to crypto/tech kicked off a three-month full ecosystem mapping period, which was formative for helping me figure out what problems there were to solve and which communities I vibed with the most.
There were three main reasons I needed to spend the time doing this:
The big idea I kept hearing about since day one was "composability", so I decided to dive in and see just how composable every part of the Ethereum ecosystem was. I think things were already loosely clear to me, but researching and writing it out helped me really understand which elements of the product stack were composable, how open communities means fractals form elegantly around problem spaces, and the incredible importance of infrastructure composability when it comes to both wallets and interchain bridges. All this exploration culminated in my research on the composability of identity, where I connected my thinking across all of the previous dimensions.
Along the way, I had many helpful conversations across a dozen communities and leaders, who gave me insight into how they thought about problems (or how they didn't). As I watched these communities grow, I started to notice a strong trend with their hires. Oftentimes, these new hires were already strong contributors within the community. This went against my notion that you should build up your resume first and then apply to a company/job. This is a very important frame of mind that anyone trying to break into crypto needs to quickly build up: contribute, don't apply.
One good example is @artblocks, which has one of the strongest and most vibrant communities in crypto. Their hires of @ponyo and @druid are perfect examples of contributors who were always present.
Another obvious shill for me is @DuneAnalytics. Becoming a @DuneAnalytics wizard 🧙🏼♂️ requires consistently showing up in the discord, making helpful dashboards or queries, and otherwise contributing to the community in a meaningful way. Over time, you'll be exposed to many bounty opportunities, get reached to by other companies looking for data/crypto experts, and maybe get tapped for hire by the Dune team. You can tell that the community and team are closely aligned and working together, purely based on the fact that outsiders have trouble separating the two:
My recent collaboration and constant engagement with the Mirror community led directly to my eventual hire. It all started with a single tweet analyzing the $WRITE race.
I want to stress that contributing can be literally anything: engineering product 🏗️, data analytics 📊, shipping memes 🍍, coordinating the masses ☎️, etc. Don't overcomplicate the task, but do take the time to find the missing links within or between communities 🔗. Once this contribution lightbulb clicks, you'll start to see opportunities everywhere and the whole crypto space will start to open up to you. From finding your way into a community to eventually joining the team, it's all about finding a way to contribute. Contributions may sound a little too transactional, so I like to think about it as community building.
Earlier I called
learn-build-teach a cycle, but it looks more like a branching tree because the work is spread over a wide breadth of topics and audiences (most of whom you never really interact with repeatedly). However, once you understand the connection between contribution and community you can build a learning flywheel that brings you closer to the community and its mission. In a great 0xSTATION article, this product flywheel came up in relation to a person's lifecycle in a community:
The new community-contribution driven flywheel I leverage is a linear and actionable version of the
contribution <> consumption portion in the flow above:
One example of this cycle is the story behind how I became a Dune Wizard. When I first started learning about Dune and hopping around the Discord in April, I noticed that most people were struggling with learning SQL, Ethereum, or both. Pointing to guides that taught only one of the two domains led to a large learning friction. So, I decided to learn Dune with some simple example queries, and then use those to write articles on how to learn SQL and Ethereum at the same time on Dune. I started with a beginner and then an advanced guide, which together has now garnered over 20k views on Medium (expert guide coming later this year). I've continued using and improving this teaching-as-contribution methodology over the last few months, doing deep dives with my friend 0xkowloon on interesting new protocols like barnbridge and fractional_art.
The larger point here I want to make about contributions is that what you create doesn't have to be crazy innovative or even tackle the core product/problem of a community. Building an intrapreneur skillset and perspective will serve you much better 90% of the time instead of focusing on an entrepreneurial approach when trying to contribute to a community for the first time. Since in crypto we see innovations every day, I think this creates a pressure that makes it hard for most people (me included) to balance the two ways of thinking. If this feels abstract, then think about it as building something for the ease of use or building of a product rather than just extending the use of the product itself. Intrapreneurs are usually born from environments where there are lots of silos and collective improvements that can be made. This is typically found at a large enterprise company, where a lot of your efforts are around making collaboration and knowledge sharing more accessible by creating a mix of solutions such as clearer standards, working groups, or dashboards/applications. Open communities in Ethereum make intrapreneurship a lot easier to learn as there is usually less bureaucracy around budgets and more political will to chase and implement changes, even though the communities are large in size.
Joining Mirror means that for the first time in my professional life, I'll be devoting all my efforts to one thing instead of multitasking many projects at once. It's a big decision for me, one that's driven by my interest to understand exactly what community building looks like over time and how the process can be made more fluid or fun.
I've thought for almost a year now about the kinds of issues communities face while growing, starting from developer communities and now more recently on DAOs. Over time, my goal has become more refined: I want to build tools that enable and incentivize contributions within a community, and also make it easier to see the full context of and leverage a community's social graph. These are key elements to strong community building, and I believe will be core to Mirror's mission. Having the opportunity to build up a strong community around this tooling is a huge motivator for my move as well.
Those are some pretty dense sentences, so let me break down my decision to join Mirror further:
Now I want to emphasize that there is no single path through crypto, but I hope that sharing my experiences and how my thinking/methods of navigating the space led me to my dream job will be helpful to someone out there. I want to give a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me and come along on this journey thus far!
Thank you to Elena for proofreading and providing very helpful comments 🙂