The BlockBeam Experience: Nick Stanford

BlockBeam
13 min readJul 28, 2022

Hi! I’m Sam Scribner, the Content Lead at BlockBeam. As our ecosystem grows, I have been having conversations with program graduates to showcase their Web3-related accomplishments. I recently spoke with Nick Stanford who has had a profound crypto journey: from BlockBeam student to BlockBeam coordinator to Community Experience Lead at Reach. Here is his story:

Sam: Hey Nick! Tell me about yourself and what’s currently keeping you busy.

Nick: Sure! I’m a Software Engineering student at Arizona State University and the Community Experience Lead for Reach. I’ve been involved in several BlockBeam programs, I was a student in Gateway to Algorand 1 and I returned as the Content Lead Coordinator for Gateway to Algorand 2.

I came into the blockchain space a few years ago and was very interested in the potential that blockchain had and the claims that were being made about what it could do for the world. So I went down the rabbit hole around January 2020 and ended up at the Algorand network. Fast forward to just a few months ago. I got into the Gateway to Algorand program and was able to turn that Algorand obsession into a full-time career. Now I work for the Reach Blockchain Development Platform, with my role focusing on developer relations and community management. In this position, I am able to learn and teach blockchain development to other super excited and aspiring blockchain developers. In terms of the path from where I started to where I’m at, everything just moved so quickly after I got involved with BlockBeam and started meeting and interacting with other people in the ecosystem. It’s crazy to feel like that was only four or five months ago now.

Sam: That’s an awesome story, Nick. So how did this initial interest in crypto and Web3 begin?

Nick: Well, I think it began when a lot of other people started to become interested. There’s just so much noise and buzz around Bitcoin, so figuring out what Bitcoin actually is was the initial rabbit hole. And after I realized that we could start to build actual applications on top of the technology, I became interested in the bigger picture and what the implications could be from a global perspective. Blockchain unlocks the ability for many historically overshadowed players to now have a spot on the playing field because there are such low barriers to entry when you start talking about decentralizing these applications and taking out centralized middlemen that, for so long, have had control over everything. So this greater interest in the macro implications of blockchain and decentralization in addition to having a background in tech and programming just really invigorated my interest in crypto. I ultimately think the most interesting application of blockchain technology is those decentralized applications and building on top of the infrastructure that is blockchain in ways that are different from what we’re all familiar with.

Sam: Well said, I wish more people went from the transition of ‘what is Bitcoin’ to ‘how do we make this the future?’ But for most people, the speculation creates FUD.

Nick: Yeah, I feel like all of this speculation really puts us in a weird place. Because there’s a percentage of the supporters of the technology that are innovating. I mean, just doing amazing things. In fact, that’s what first blew me away about Reach, is what they claim to be able to do on their website. It’s like, wow, that would be great if you could do that. And then you see a live demo of it happening in front of you a few months later. It’s just absolutely mind-blowing and I had a hard time wrapping my head around it.

But then on the other side, there’s a large percentage that is here for speculation, and I think it spoils our space to a degree. While I think that it has done a lot to bring interest, I’m cautious to say that it’s the right type of interest. So as much as we have seen a lot of buzz and noise around that speculation, I’m always so much more interested in the innovation and who’s building what on this crazy, awesome technology. But until we have that next killer application that is built on blockchain, I think that speculation is going to continue to make a majority of noise in the space.

Sam: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. Even though we are in this massive recession, the building is still going on. And I think that’s what’s special. Something that I always look to is, ‘where is our talent going?’ And you’re seeing so many of these top students from prestigious organizations, and self-starters and go-getters flocking into crypto. So that’s why I’m bullish and it seems like the same for you. Circling back, you touched a bit on what Reach is doing. Would you mind elaborating more on what the company’s doing that you find innovative, as well as dive a little bit deeper into your specific role?

Nick: Yeah, I’d love to. I’ll dive into some aspects behind the real true power and innovation of Reach. The first thing is it’s a blockchain agnostic language. That currently doesn’t exist anywhere else. We can write our code in Reach and let Reach break it down to whichever network needs it. If we need it on the Algorand network, that’s Teal, if you need it on the Ethereum network, that’s Solidity. But these are low-level languages. They interact very closely with the hardware. We call it abstraction to get away from those low-level languages up into a programming language that is more familiar for a user to write in. The more abstraction, the further away we can get from the hardware and the less they have to focus on the ones and zeros and how that translates. So the further we can get away from that, the better our applications get. So that’s number one, abstracting away these low-level languages with a blockchain agnostic language.

Now we can write in this Reach language, but then Reach also provides security for these contracts and for the applications built on top of them. There’s what we call a verification engine that checks your code to make sure that there are not any common vulnerabilities or smart contract flaws in it. That alone does so much! You start to think about what that takes, right? The compiler takes in what logic you use in your program, and then starts creating mathematical proofs, based on all the possibilities, given what you told it. The compiler says, ‘okay, well this could happen, that could happen, this could happen, etc.’ and then it tries to break your program each one of those ways. If it breaks it in any one of those scenarios then it doesn’t compile. So that’s number two, the compiler aspect of it.

The third aspect is the deployment tool. Each of these blockchain networks has its own specific network of distributed computers. Well, that makes it extremely cumbersome for a programmer to deploy to different networks, because you have to actually spin up a node and tie that node to the network, and then deploy your code from your node onto the network. In Reach, this whole process is simplified into one step. It’s literally one command. You tell the program to give you Algorand and it spins up its own little node and sends code to the network for you. So now you see why we call it a blockchain development platform, because it’s all of these tools packaged into one and the goal is to make it easier for you to write smart contracts and to build decentralized applications that interact with the network. There’s so much abstraction going on which gives the user a lot of power because they no longer need to focus on the ones and zeros. They can now focus on the business logic of the application. That allows users to add more features because now they’ve got more time and they’ve spent less money.

My role specifically in the community management umbrella is to interact directly with the most engaged developers in our community. I ask questions such as, what are you having trouble with? Are there any features that you’d like to see us add? Is there anything particularly challenging about the language? So my role is to interact with them directly, and then more recently, to put out these hack challenges that we’re doing where we’re trying to get the programmer to start thinking about how to write programs from scratch. More specifically, these challenges test programmers on how to transform a word problem to a code solution because one day you’re going to have to sit in front of a business where somebody will say ‘Hey, I need my application to do this, that and this, they have no clue what the code looks like underneath of there.’ You need to be able to translate from that English into Reach code. And that’s sort of the whole goal with what we’ve been doing in regards to that. But otherwise, I love to be in the community and help people learn this really impactful technology with high potential to change the world. The more people we can get in then the more impact we can have in blockchain development. If you’ve been in this space for any amount of time, you understand well that developers are one of our key needed resources. We’re so starved for developers across the entire blockchain ecosystem.

Sam: That was incredibly well explained, Nick. It’s crazy how each one of Reach’s three main verticals could be an entire business entity of its own. You were the standout coding genius of our Gateway to Algorand cohort so I’m glad to see you putting those skills to use for such a well-regarded company. Taking a step back, how did you learn about and get involved with BlockBeam?

Nick: Yeah, so this is a great step back to take, though, having been in the Algorand network ecosystem for so long, I like to think that at that time that there wasn’t any news that got by me. I’m on Twitter, I’m on Reddit, and I’m just staying up on everything that is happening. I’m also in governance, and participating in DeFi everywhere that I can. One day I see this Reddit post about BlockBeam’s Gateway to Algorand, saying ‘here’s our program to teach you about the applications built on top of Algorand and how to differentiate you as a serious blockchain candidate.’ I turned my head when I looked at it and was like, ‘Oh, they wrote that to me, didn’t they?’ I knew I had to get involved here.

I did have a lot of technical understanding of the inner workings of the network and the consensus and all that, but then the program was pitched more as getting you ready for the business side of it, which was largely unfamiliar to me. I didn’t see a lot of business candidates interacting with blockchain. What you saw usually were, like we talked about earlier, speculative traders or really technical people who are into the ones and zeros of it. And then here comes this program that teaches people how to curate a company that focuses on the benefits of blockchain, rather than just the actual technology. I saw a lot of value in that. And after spending time in the first few lessons, I knew that it was going somewhere. With BlockBeam, there were 30 other people in my network, all with similar aspirations and interests, and we could all just flow about what we thought this future could look like. And I didn’t see a ton of that happening in the traditional blockchain realm. So I was just so excited to give more and participate in the program because of that, and I think that these are the type of things that are absolutely going to get us to where we think blockchain can be and what we think it can do for the world.

Sam: Absolutely! So how did how you take that leap from BlockBeam to Reach? What was the relationship between the program you ultimately being able to get that job?

Nick: So people probably are not going to believe me when I say this, but I don’t love public speaking. I don’t love these events where I’m the one talking to everybody. Some people really like that but it’s not really in my wheelhouse. At the end of the program, I was asked if I wanted to stay on with BlockBeam as a coordinator for the next program. At first I thought that wasn’t really me and was hesitant because of the public speaking required. I soon realized, however, that the more reps you do the more comfortable you get. I saw the benefit in my own reps with these live presentations, such that when we went to the Reach Summit, we all just clicked with each other. I was hanging out with the BlockBeam crew and a couple of other people that were in the cohort themselves, just talking about what Reach could do and what the future of blockchain could look like. And I think it was there that we decided I was going to work for BlockBeam, which ultimately gave me the entire leg up when it came time to start to look at Reach as a career opportunity. I obviously had a lot of enthusiasm for the language as a student but I think that the skills that I learned through presenting with BlockBeam really helped me to feel more confident about what I was learning with Reach. BlockBeam allowed me to see the connection between the technical and business sides of blockchain, which helped me better appreciate and understand the innovation in the space. The public speaking aspect made me more confident and I have landed a job at Reach largely because of this BlockBeam experience.

Sam: I think you’re really able to stand out when you can harness skills from both that highly technical development side as well as the more business side. Not the shilling and the speculation, but the ability to elaborate and confidently speak about something and transform a programmable idea into a vision and eventually a reality. What were your highlights from Gateway to Algorand Cohort 1?

Nick: There was so much excitement in the group! I still remember when we had our first group meetings and were starting to interact with each other, that nervous ‘I don’t know you feeling’ just didn’t exist. Everybody was so excited to talk about the program’s topics and just had so much energy. You look back and so many people from the cohort have Web3 jobs, have made connections in the space, or are working on blockchain projects. That atmosphere was always the number one standout thing for me. And I think actually building an idea about blockchain and having to really consider making the connection between real life problems is an amazing challenge. For example, you learn that blockchain provides immutable records. Okay, that’s a nice buzzword, but what does that mean for a real-world application? I challenge everybody to make sure you know all those buzzwords inside and out because they’re all over the place.

Sam: I couldn’t agree more. I felt like BlockBeam takes it to the next level because you’re able to speak and hear from these startup founders and then with the final pitch, actually forced to apply and implement that knowledge. I think the learning material definitely becomes a little more sticky after that.

Nick: Yeah, agreed. And again, it goes back to what I talked about abstraction, you’re dealing with a lot of high-level concepts. People stumble into blockchain like it’s just this speculative area. Yet there is so much innovation happening under the hood. The best minds in cryptography invented the solutions that we’re working with here. And to think that it’s just easily kind of digested, I think is naive, right? There’s a lot to think about when it comes to crypto and blockchain which is why I think most people misunderstand or are unable to understand.

Sam: What about the program do you think is most beneficial for a career?

Nick: What I talked about earlier, just getting in reps with the presentation and familiarizing yourself with many of the buzzwords and common concepts are two of the key benefits. I think also, we say it a lot but you cannot discount it, the connections that you make are invaluable. You have a resource pool, which, as these cohorts continue to progress, will continue to grow and add more people to your network. Graduates are finding jobs from other community members and pursuing their own businesses from BlockBeam’s final project. These are the key benefits and I think that the power to have an impact there at scale is mind blowing. That’s what it’s going to take to get this to this blockchain future that we all believe in to be a reality.

Sam: For sure, this impact at scale is definitely incredible and is only continuing to grow. Lastly, here’s a two pronged question for you. What advice would you give to those just starting out on their crypto or Web3 journeys? And then part two, for those applying to a blockchain bootcamp?

Nick: Yeah, so part one, ignore the speculation and find the information. There’s so much information in the space, so just focus on learning. Learn a ton about the technology and learn a ton about how people are using it. Then be critical of those use cases. How could you do better? For those looking to participate in any BlockBeam programs specifically, my number one piece of advice is to come out of your shell. It can be nervous, and it’s okay to still be nervous when you go to meet people and when you get into these new environments, but the more energy that you put into BlockBeam, the more benefit you’re going to get out of it. And I truly believe that was the case in my own experience.

Link to Nick’s LinkedIn

Link to Reach Website

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