Building a Developer Community

Key Takeaways from a Year of Ethereum Hackathons

Open source protocols and platforms can easily be forked, but it isn’t easy to recreate a developer community. Hackathons are a valuable way of gaining developer interest and bringing people from around the world together to share ideas. In the crypto space, it’s important to follow where the developers are going, and I’ve been excited to see this through the lens of the Ethereum community.

ETHGlobal is an organization that helps put on Ethereum hackathons around the world. The 36 hour events are filled with technical workshops, educational talks, and are entirely free for hackers. Over the past year, I’ve participated as a judge at the events held in Waterloo, Denver, Buenos Aires, and Berlin (unfortunately I couldn’t make it to the one in India). I will also be judging at the ETHSanFrancisco hackathon on Oct 5–7, 2018. Attending these events has been one of the best ways to understand the developer community, see firsthand what the technology is capable of, and learn about the unique pain points developers entering a new ecosystem face. This post will share some of the key takeaways from my time participating in the ETHGlobal events.

ETHWaterloo (Oct 13–15, 2017)

Hanging out with Alvin Lee and Jesse Pollak from Coinbase at ETHWaterloo
“[We learned] how big the possibilities are in this space and how powerful everything can be when various existing ecosystems and infrastructure components are combined.” — the t0x team at ETHWaterloo.
  • Decentralized exchange was a major theme with 13 out of 72 teams building on 0x, a protocol for decentralized exchange of Ethereum tokens. The 0x team (then a team of 8 people, now a team of 26) was ecstatic that someone had managed to build a 0x relayer in under 36 hours.
  • There were 11 teams that worked towards integrating a stablecoin into their project using Sai, the beta version of the stablecoin Dai, as Dai hadn’t even launched yet (Dai later launched on Ethereum Mainnet in December 2017).
  • Platforms were very new and still buggy. Teams building on the mobile dApp browser Toshi (now renamed to Coinbase Wallet) had issues accessing web3.js functions so a few had to abandon building and switch to working on something else. These were valuable lessons learned on improvements to make for the future.
  • Teams new to Ethereum found it challenging to know what best practices were and had issues with Solidity, transactions, and networks. Luckily, there were many technical mentors at the hackathon to help teams out but this showed how difficult it can be for developers new to Ethereum and that there needed to be a lot more work on documentation and infrastructure.
  • Among the 8 winning projects, I was particularly excited about the MetaMask integration into Brave. See Manuel Araoz’s thread on all of the ETHWaterloo winners.

ETHDenver (Feb 16–18, 2018)

Elena Nadolinski leading a workshop on creating ERC-721 tokens at ETHDenver
“As new Solidity developers, we were the victim of truffle migraines. Understanding how to interact with other smart contracts from our main smart contract was difficult. The process of setting up our test networks and loading them with test erc-tokens, test-eth, took way too long.” — the Not Shapeshift team at ETHDenver.
  • Non-fungible tokens, which are unique digital assets, was a major theme among the presentations I saw. Many teams used the non-fungible token standard ERC-721 to create things like trading card games and marketplaces for collectibles.
  • There was a lot of discussion around the potential use of token curated registries (TCRs). TCRs are lists that are created and maintained by a group of token holders. The list can be anything from the top 50 restaurants in New York City to a whitelist of Ethereum addresses.
  • Dharma.js, the JavaScript library for Dharma, a protocol for building lending products, had launched the day of the hackathon. While it was brand new and there were still bugs that needed to be fixed, Dharma saw several teams build the first applications on top of them.
  • Among the 8 winning projects, I was particularly excited about the KeySplit project that aimed to make key recovery easier. It used Shamir’s Secret Sharing to create shards of a wallet seed phrase that you could then share with 5 trusted contacts. If you ever lost your key, you just needed to bring together any 3 of the 5 shards to access your wallet again. It was a great showcase of using social contacts for key recovery and I hope work on this area continues (Nick Neuman, a member of the KeySplit hackathon team, later joined Casa, the personal key management system). See Lane Rettig’s post on all of the ETHDenver winners.

ETHBuenosAires (May 25–27, 2018)

The UltipleX team presenting their “dancing” CryptoKitties at ETHBuenosAires
“The Ethereum ecosystem is growing rapidly and there is still so much to learn and build. The projects built on Ethereum are constantly pushing the technical limits of developers. One area we need improvement in is education.” — the Aragon Building Block team at ETHBuenosAires.
  • A major theme at the hackathon was building on aragonOS to create and manage decentralized organizations and ZeppelinOS for developing and operating smart contracts. It was especially clear that both Aragon and Zeppelin have enormous respect from the community.
  • One developer who presented her project Aragon DonationApp told us she ran into issues while building because the Aragon module doesn’t work in Windows. It showed there was still a lot of work left in order to foster a strong developer community around the world.
  • It was valuable having the hackathon take place in Argentina where there is a high inflation rate of over 30% and the potential impact of crypto creating an open financial system was even more apparent.
  • Non-fungible tokens dominated the winners. Among the 5 winning projects, I was most excited about Tu Cédula Digital which aimed to create identity services for Venezuelans so they can access conditional cash transfers from the crypto community. While collectibles are fun and interesting, it was great to see a real world use case that could help people. See Lane Rettig’s thread on all of the ETHBuenosAires winners.

ETHBerlin (Sept 7–9, 2018)

Remco Bloemen and Leonid Logvinov presenting Ethstonia Identity at ETHBerlin
“As far as we know, we are the first in the world to transact on the blockchain using a government issued ID. We are the first to sign transactions with a recognized, legally binding signature.” — the Ethstonia Identity team at ETHBerlin.
  • ETHBerlin was the first ETHGlobal hackathon where I felt there were no major themes in what was being built. I saw a huge variety of projects from a game of Battleship using SNARKs to a smart contract alerting system to an autonomous artist. This was a positive sign as it showed more diversity in ideas and experimentation.
  • In general I was blown away by the crypto community in Berlin. There was a strong focus on building and collaborating. Full Node is a workspace in Berlin where many crypto teams work. A tip if you happen to be in town visiting, you can get a day pass to work out of their community space.
  • Among the 8 winning projects, my favorite was Ethstonia Identity. It allows people to use their Estonian e-Residency ID card to sign Ethereum transactions. You can actually transact on the blockchain using a government issued ID which can be useful for signing legally binding contracts. See the TrustNodes post on the ETHBerlin winners.

It was an exciting year attending the ETHGlobal hackathons. While it is clear we are still in the early stages of building, I have enjoyed watching the developer community grow and progress through each event. I’m looking forward to what gets built at ETHSanFrancisco (deadline to sign up is Sept 23, 2018). Hope to see you there!

Thank you to soona amhaz and Will Warren for reviewing this post.

This post was originally featured on Token Daily.

Disclaimer: Linda is a managing director at Scalar Capital, an investment firm that specializes in cryptoassets. Scalar Capital currently holds Ethereum and tokens built on top of Ethereum.