Why decentralization hurts the Ethereum Foundation

Marius van der Wijden
May 22 · 4 min read

The EF might lack proper guidance and structure.

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are my own and do not represent that of my employer.

First of all, I want to thank the Ethereum Foundation and their members for the amazing work that they have done over the years developing the greatest smart contract platform. However I had some issues with the way funds are handled by the EF. This story shall illustrate my pains and maybe start a conversation about a better organizational structure within the EF.

The Ethereum Foundation grant process:

I was part of the ethminer team which applied for a small grant (2 people for 3 month each) for a review and the integration into our open source miner for the progpow mining algorithm. We also wanted to write a more formal spec and test cases for the core developers to test their implementations against. We submitted our application on Oct 8, 2018.

We started working on the implementation immediately. Andrea Lanfranchi worked on a new proposal for stratum which would ease the transition from Ethash to ProgPoW (https://github.com/AndreaLanfranchi/EthereumStratum-2.0.0/), I worked on a python spec enabling developers of light clients to implement ProgPoW without having to look into the GPU-implementations (https://github.com/MariusVanDerWijden/progpow-wiki/blob/master/ProgPoW.md). And we started to work on the integration of ProgPoW into ethminer.

Paweł Bylica, K. L. Minehan, Martin Holst Swende and I met in Prague on Nov 5, 2018 and agreed to go forward with ProgPoW after we discussed some concerns with the existing specs. We had a meeting with the EF grants team on Dec 7. 2018 in which we were told that, although ProgPoW was a slightly controversial topic, we would get the money for our work and promised another call in two weeks. We asked for updates on Dec. 27, Jan 5, Jan 14 and Jan 23. We either received no answer or were promised an update during the following week which was never fulfilled.

During this time we finished our implementation and started the gangnam testnet with Martins help. On January 4th, the sentiment of the core devs in call #52 was “let’s go ahead [with progpow] if no major technical flaws emerge”.

I send an email on Feb. 3 in which I expressed our frustration over the lack of organization of the grants program. The response to this email stated that there “[has] not been any final decision made” and we scheduled a call for Feb. 8.

In this call we were told that we were not going to receive the grant as EIP-1057 was such a controversial proposal and the Ethereum Foundation does not want to influence the EIP-process.

While I can understand it, I think the grant program should be used to advance the ethereum ecosystem. We, especially Andrea Lanfranchi, put in a lot of resources both time and money. If nothing else, we would have liked the ethereum grant team to give us a clear statement early on, so that we could have cut our losses before we finished the software.

I think this lack of clear decision making is indicative for how a lack of structure hurts the Ethereum Foundation and with it the entire ethereum ecosystem.

The Ethereum Foundation prize process:

Another story I wanted to share is about hackathons. I attended the EthParis hackathon 8th — 10th of march 2019 and created GPUSnarks (https://github.com/MariusVanDerWijden/gpusnarks), a proof-of-concept on how to accelerate Zero-Knowledge proofs with GPUs. I won the second prize, $500, from the Ethereum Foundation in the scaling category. After not being contacted by anyone about the prize, I reached out to the judge via gitter on March 25. He asked me to send him my address via email.

The judge submitted my request to the Ethereum Foundation on March 27 and told me to contact him again if it was not solved within two weeks. I contacted him again on April 6.

The judge then included the EthGlobal team, who send an invoice for the prize to the Ethereum Foundation on April 10. However they stated that they “do not have a timeline” for the payment. I contacted them several times over the following month. At one point they decided to pay me out immediately and not wait for the Ethereum Foundation anymore. However I still have not received the prize after more than two months (today is May 22. 2019).

This is especially frustrating since I could really use the money to focus on the development of GPUSnarks and the price of ethereum more than doubled since March 10th.

I think the Ethereum Foundation should generally send the money to the organizers of a hackathon beforehand or at least streamline the process of distributing funds and prizes.

Conclusion

I want to stress that I do not think that my problems with the Ethereum Foundation are due to a single person. I believe everyone I interacted with tried their best to help and support us. However I think that there is a general lack of structure and guidance within the Ethereum Foundations way of handling money. If the grants team is to small to handle all the application, the foundation needs to hire more people.

Support & Discuss

If you want to support the development of GPUSnarks, you can! The repository is here: https://github.com/MariusVanDerWijden/gpusnarks. I am currently working on a GPU library for calculations in finite fields.
If you want to support me otherwise: 0x57D22B967C9dc64E5577f37eDf1514c2d8985099
I would be happy to discuss these issues on my twitter https://twitter.com/vdWijden

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