thoughts from my first year in crypto and on joining mirror
0x2Ae8
August 30th, 2021

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.

First Bankless Receipt
First Bankless Receipt

Life Before Crypto:

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.

"present" was probably more accurate than "teach" in the early days
"present" was probably more accurate than "teach" in the early days

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:

  1. identify the most commonly asked questions to enhance or auto-generate an FAQ page.
  2. match questions and answers to create an auto-response discord bot. The idea here was just to try and save the team time.
  3. identity the questions developers ask over time in the discord to map out when users try and develop with different features. This could help with user research and also product road mapping.

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.

How I Got Started:

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:

  1. Watch all of eth.build to understand wallets, transactions, and proof of work/authority consensus mechanisms in an interactive way
  2. Go through all six lessons of Cryptozombies.io (the web3.js chapter may be a bit dated, so skipping it and learning to use ethers.js could be better instead)
  3. Go through Austin's Bowtie Friday videos to learn scaffold-eth basics.
  4. Go through all of solidity-by-example to understand common use cases like transferring ETH and working with ERC20 and ERC721 tokens. This is also a good intro to some common security risks in smart contracts such as reentrancy.
  5. Participate in ETHOnline 2020 Hackathon (by the way ETHOnline 2021 is kicking off soon), creating a full-stack dapp in under 30 days while also pitching the final product to a panel of judges.
    1. I asked tons of questions in the hardhat discord to help me learn test suites and ethers.js concepts (thank you bunches @alcuadrado and @fvictorio)
    2. the hackathon sponsor list is helpful for both using bounties to define the project and also to motivate studying the various products and tooling available (I remember setting up this page at the start)
    3. after winning the Gnosis prize, my partner Diego and I ended up taking this to a UNICEF MVP over the following months.
    4. I wrote about my first Ethereum hackathon experience to cap it all off

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.

The Compounding Power of Learning and Contribution

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:

On LinkedIn, since that's where I networked for traditional finance
On LinkedIn, since that's where I networked for traditional finance

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:

  1. It isn't clear how things got to where they are today. For example, what are the different parts of the crypto wallet, and which were built first and why? How did certain communities form around or leave behind different problems?
  2. It isn't clear where things are going in the short or medium term. There are so many different solutions proposed and attempted every day that it's hard for a generalist to understand things at a glance. This was especially true for me when I was studying interchain bridges.
  3. I had no idea what I wanted to do within crypto, but I knew it likely wasn't going to be in defi. Spectral was much closer to the identity side of defi, which is what had initially piqued my interest.

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.

Community, Community, Community

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:

https://station.mirror.xyz/xlPSC6PYsazGxjo-pqyaV8M4ujtWapxhCmVQfBjmN9o
https://station.mirror.xyz/xlPSC6PYsazGxjo-pqyaV8M4ujtWapxhCmVQfBjmN9o

The new community-contribution driven flywheel I leverage is a linear and actionable version of the contribution <> consumption portion in the flow above:

Thanks to Emily for helping me put this together
Thanks to Emily for helping me put this together

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.

Looking Forward and Joining Mirror

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:

  • The Product:
    • So far I've only worked on/with various defi protocols, and seeing/using the creator block contracts produced by the team (such as edition crowdfund and splits) felt like such a breath of fresh air. I'm excited to see further iterations leverage what has been built in defi already.
    • There's a lot of creative space in NFTs and transactions that build connections to people instead of pools. This includes variations on the NFTs themselves, auction mechanisms, ownership structures, and much more.
  • The Team:
    • I've spoken with Patrick, Graeme, Jon-Kyle, and Denis over the past few months, and I found myself constantly inspired by our conversations. They have a lot more experience than me in building and thinking about products (especially in consumer), so I greatly look forward to learning more from them and the rest of the team.
    • The team has a rare balance I haven't seen that often, which is a willingness to think big but the ability to still execute quickly. I experienced this firsthand while working with them on the $WRITE token airdrop.
  • The Community:
    • Sybil resistance methods can be useful for a lot more than just unique identities, and I think the $WRITE race is a perfect example of this. When what you're signaling is much more than just "I think this is a real person," the implications on the strength of a community are tenfold. I still remember those who gave me even just one vote in the race, and I'm sure others feel the same. It's also probably one of the only "governance" functions that have an active voting participation of greater than 30% (without using delegation).
    • While right now I think the community is already very strong on Twitter and Discord, I'm very excited by how the physical world will eventually play a role in this too. I'd imagine one day we'd have a coworking space, and be able to work together with DAOs and creators who want to sit in for a day or two. I see Mirror as being a natural fit for this, given the product and community ethos.
  • The Data:
    • It goes without saying that the possibilities within the data played a huge factor in my decision. First and foremost that lies in the potential applications of graph data science, essentially analyzing our interaction networks on various levels for insights that further collaboration and contribution. The fact that the data could easily drive new products or economic distributions is extremely exciting to me.
    • Crypto-native UX research is also a fairly unexplored field, I think there are some very creative data and user group applications we can make here. For one, user behaviors can be put together from across various platforms (instead of just studying behaviors on my platform like you would in Web2). I can understand auction behaviors using Artblocks, Mirror, and Opensea data to get even stronger user personas to drive product development. I do hope to collaborate with other teams across crypto to collectively improve the UX of Web3.
    • Lastly, the creative space within data-driven design of tokenomics (with a focus on continual distributions) cannot be understated. Closely studying the repeated game theory and micro-economies that will come from Mirror should lead to some innovative token mechanisms and tools. I'm keen to explore how protocol token distributions can inform different approaches for creator/DAO tokens on the platform (and vice versa).

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 🙂

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