"Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road. Personally, I’d rather be part of the steamroller." - Stewart Brand
I grew up a lower middle-income and rough-and-tumble California kid who was rarely on the right side of the law. It was hardly easy, being raised for a big portion of my youth by a single mother working three or more jobs with three kids to take care of at home.
Since it was unlikely any college would accept me (not that we could afford it), I enlisted in the Air Force when I was 17 and spent the next twelve years serving around the world. I learned multiple languages, earned several academic degrees up to my Master’s, and led hundreds of people in operational combat and peacetime environments.
In 2013, I chose family over my military career. I got my MBA at Rice University to make the transition to civilian life and I subsequently worked at Goldman Sachs for almost seven years, reaching the position of Vice President. However, a month ago, I quit Wall Street to embark on my third career: working on building the future of the internet at Edge & Node, a core developer team of The Graph. Am I scared? Hell yes. Am I excited? You have no idea.
I’m writing this to help you understand why I left a “dream job” at Goldman Sachs and why I believe that the blockchain/web3 space is the future and how it is changing the world for the better. Most importantly, I’m writing this to urge you to start paying attention to this growing ecosystem and to get involved as soon as possible.
What is this blockchain thing, anyway?
It’s best to understand what blockchain technology is before diving any deeper. It all started in 2008, in the depths of the Global Financial Crisis, when a pseudonymous entity who went by the name of Satoshi Nakamoto published a 9-page white paper detailing a new technology: an open-source, decentralized, peer-to-peer electronic system allowing for the exchange of Bitcoin on a digital ledger without the interference of any person, institution, or government.
Though the financial industry has repaired its reputation in a huge way since the Global Financial Crisis, many of the issues still exist today. Just to name few - a lack of transparency, limited access for the global population, misaligned agency and profit incentives for centralized parties in power, excessive risk-taking with potential tax payer parachutes, authoritarian control of accounts, assets, and transactions, privacy challenges, pervasive fraud - and the list goes on. Will Bitcoin disrupt the global monetary system? I have no idea. But when something goes from being worth nothing to around $1 trillion in market cap, owned by scores of millions around the world and surviving and thriving for more than a decade, it would probably be wise to pay attention.
Fast forward a few years: in 2015, Vitalik Buterin (along with seven co-founders) launched a project called Ethereum. In contrast with previous projects, Ethereum presented a new concept. As opposed to being a cryptocurrency to disrupt – let’s say – the dollar’s global hegemony, Ethereum empowered people to build decentralized applications on top of the Ethereum blockchain, empowering a free-for-all of innovation. This opened the floodgates for a Cambrian style explosion of tinkering via smart contract technology. It enabled creators to expand beyond the realm of Finance and potentially impact all industries across the globe (not an understatement).
As Ethereum scaled and the price of ETH soared, it became slow and expensive to transact. As time went on, other bright builders saw this scaling issue becoming worse over time and started to build both scaling solutions for Ethereum and competitive blockchains that could prove to be faster and more scalable, therefore potentially standing the test of time as this space gains adoption across the globe.
Now, dozens of Ethereum style blockchains are scaling fast, their communities and ecosystems are growing parabolically, and everything from supply chain to data storage to art to legal work to insurance is being disrupted. We have no idea of the potential for this technology and its ecosystem. But it is incredibly exciting stuff.
"So there I sat, uncomfortable being so comfortable in my Wall Street gig, realizing I probably had another 20 good years of creativity and energy to put to good use. In the depths of the COVID depression, I realized I would regret it for the rest of my life if I didn’t do something good for the world, for my children, and for myself. So I gave Goldman Sachs my notice and decided to find a new home."
So, what is web3? And why work on The Graph?
Out of all of the post-Goldman opportunities I could have taken, why The Graph? So many reasons but I’ll try to boil it down. Let’s start with an understanding of the evolution from web1 to web2 to web3 and why it matters.
The world has been digitizing almost everything for decades, ever since the advent of the internet. We have digitized the way we learn, our interactions with others, how we handle our finances, how we buy and sell things, even how we fight wars.
Most of this activity is carried out on the internet. The internet traces its roots to a small network of machines that allowed government intellectuals to share information. Over a few decades, this quickly evolved to allow individuals to have their own personal computers (PCs) and eventually access a read-only “web” of information. The technology was called the World Wide Web and with it a user was only allowed to see, not publish, information. This epoch is colloquially dubbed the web1 era. Allowing people to not only read but also write on the internet seemed a very logical next step and years later the internet evolved into exactly that: a platform enabling people to participate in the construction of the internet.
This was a game changer. Companies like Facebook, YouTube, Google, and other centrally- owned and controlled applications emerged and still thrive today, giving us access to the entire history of the universe as we know it in our pockets and - even more interestingly - allowing us to continuously update the history of ourselves, all from a tiny super computer that fits in our pocket. Let’s call this era web2.
But web2 has problems…and they are very, very serious problems. Firstly, we don’t own our own digital lives. I’m sure we all read the dozens of pages of legal jargon before we “accept” that Facebook, Twitter, Apple, and YouTube, etc. can control what we do using their technology, can shut down or change our activity at any time, and can share our data with almost anyone they want.
Secondly, the economics (aka profits) that have come from the ownership of this data are enormous and companies are making a lot of money off of our lives when we, who are responsible for this data existing, should at least have a say in what to do with it and, if we would like, potentially at the very least share in the profits from it.
Thirdly, institutions, like corporations, can now essentially live forever as tax paying entities, accumulating money and power, lobbying for regulations (or a lack thereof) that allow them to accumulate more money and power, and they can continue this process literally in perpetuity (yeah, I’ve seen the movie Wall-E…looking at you, Buy N Large). And we accept these trade-offs because these applications are integral parts of our lives and we have no other choice, right? But what if we did?
Enter web3. In essence, this next evolutionary step for the web is creating an autonomous and open internet where data will be interconnected in a decentralized way (aka with no authoritarian decision-making and tax-collecting entity). This is what the blockchain space is working towards…and so far, it’s succeeding.
I like to think of it this way: web1 was where companies created content and those companies profited. Web2 is where we created content, and companies profited. Web3 is where we create and we profit…and truly own and control the data and digital identities that we create. This is not just an idea; it is the reality and we as a community are helping it evolve in real time and I don’t think I’ve been more excited about something in my life (and I’ve done a lot of stuff in my 38 years on this planet).
Imagine if Facebook, Twitter, Google, Youtube, and other internet companies allowed people to not only own 100% of their own data and content they create but also profit off of it if they want to. Imagine if those companies also let people participate in the governance/evolution of the ecosystem so that a small group of wealthy individuals behind closed doors aren’t the only ones making decisions that affect the global population. Imagine if every transaction and every decision for these ecosystems were recorded on an immutable (aka unalterable) record stored across many thousands of anonymous data storage sites that anyone can host, see, and verify. Consider what that could change. Think of how government officials, corporate leaders, and the wealthiest individuals and entities could finally be held accountable. People could still choose to trust these people...but they could finally trust and verify. An option I believe this world desperately needs and deserves.
Now envision that this new web3 world and the data it creates is so disorganized across billions of transactions per day (eventually trillions) that someone has to manually sift through the rubble to find the data points for which they’re looking. Enter The Graph.
The Graph is working to decentralize data indexing and query services for all public data on all blockchains. What Google did for web2 in a centralized and rent-extracting way, The Graph is doing for web3 in a permissionless, open-source, and inclusive way. Since The Graph launched its decentralized network in July, a huge community of indexers are serving query requests, curating useful information, and staking to protect the network. And that number is growing every day.
Now imagine when the world wakes up to the encrypted and immutable potential of web3 technology. Imagine when web3 eats the world’s data due to it being a more fair and secure system with built-in encryption. Medical history, personal identifiable information (PII), all units of energy (e.g. hydrocarbons), financial transactions, real life asset ownership (e.g. cars/homes/collectibles), supply chain data, tracking of grocery items to help narrow down when there is an outbreak, and the list goes on. It gives me goosebumps just writing this.
The Graph will index all of this data and allow people to view it through the protocol’s explorer. Let me reiterate, all of the world’s on-chain data will eventually be indexed by The Graph, all happening within an ecosystem that is built to properly incentivize all participants, disincentivize malicious behavior and incorrect data providers, and – most importantly – allow everyone in the world to participate in a permissionless environment that makes The Graph an essential public good for the world, not just for a small group.
The Graph is truly one of a kind and is one of the most fundamental pieces of digital infrastructure that will allow the world to convert to a more inclusive web3 model. By working on The Graph, I get to pay attention to, learn about, meet members of, and help grow every single project building in this space. I get to be part of the truly historical rising tide and help make all of this happen. I’ve never been more excited, I’ve never been more challenged, I’ve never been more fulfilled, and I’ve never been more optimistic about the future of our species.
To wrap it up after my not-so-concise ramble (got excited…might delete later), life is short. Things pass us by extremely quickly, even faster when we’re not paying attention.
“The blockchain space is the closest I’ve ever been to being able to help build a more fair, transparent, and equitable future for the world.”
I had to leave Wall Street, my extremely comfortable life in high finance, so that when my son asks me what I do for a living I can finally say: “Changing the world, son. I am building a better future for you and your baby sister. I am truly changing the world.” I hope that you all can one day say the same.
If you have any questions, comments, feedback (I thrive on constructive criticism, gotta remain antifragile) then please let me know. If you want links on where to learn more, where to learn how to participate, or where to meet people in this space…or even if you just want to get a coffee (double espresso for me, please) and discuss what the world could and should look like within our lifetime, contact me. I’m always available and I’m always excited, thanks to my new life.
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