In this in-depth and insightful interview, our CTO Jim Myers waxed poetic about his journey into blockchain, the one accomplishment that shaped his career, the technology behind Flipside, the challenges of scaling product in crypto, and how blockchain projects can attract more developers from the traditional world:
1. When and how did you get involved in blockchain?
Jim Myers: My foray into blockchain began shortly before the public launch of Ethereum, in the spring of 2015. Around this time I was connected with a group of folks here in Boston that would get together and tinker with smart contracts on this new thing called “Ethereum”. Up until that point, I had only ever sent a few Bitcoin transactions, so this was a period of deep immersion for myself, tinkering and experimenting.
2. What would you say is unique about building and scaling product in blockchain vs more traditional industries?
JM: A lack of infrastructure and tools. Across traditional industries a plethora of mature tools and services exist that we reach for everyday to build, deploy, and maintain product.
Major shifts in technology create alien landscapes that require the right tools to navigate.
With the rise of cloud we’ve seen massive shifts in tooling (Docker, Kubbernetes, Terraform), infrastructure (Redshift, BigQuery, Kafka, Spark) and services (DataDog, Elastic Stack, Tableau, Twilio). We’ve seen this with the rise of mobile and further back with the rise of relational databases in the 1970s and 1980s.
Today, count yourself lucky to have a few services hosting nodes (Infura, Block Daemon, IBM). Infrastructure is only the tip of the iceberg. The very nature of blockchains, makes the data difficult to extract, process, monitor and manage, at least in a traditional sense. New tools are required to permit developers and organizations to interface with this new world and incorporate into current stacks.
3. Do you think blockchain needs a killer app to reach mass adoption? Where do you see the space in 5 years?
JM: Blockchain technology has many far reaching applications. To assume there will be one killer-app is a bit naive. Outside the public eye of bitcoin, many applications have already taken flight beyond the proof of concept phases. At the heart of it, blockchains unlock the ability to share data between untrusted parties. Money is data. Likewise shipping containers, bananas, your favorite cuddly kitty, can all be recorded and tracked as data. The real question is when will these different use cases have their moment. Five years is a lifetime in this space, though I suspect many uses of blockchain will proliferate as the engines under our hoods.
4. Could you tell us a little about the technology and the technology team behind Flipside Crypto?
JM: The technology we’re building is split into two camps, Chainwalkers and Analytics.
Chainwalkers was born out of many years of pain parsing, indexing, and accessing blockchain data. Our analytics business requires reliable access to blockchain data in a variety of formats depending on the analysis being done and the team leveraging it.
The Chainwalkers technology can integrate with any blockchain, rapidly parse it, standardize the data, and then forward that data to a variety of sources. To date dozens of chains have integrated Chainwalkers to power their analytics and business intelligence. We’re regularly pushing human readable, analytics ready, blockchain data to an array of destinations, from AWS Redshift, AWS Neptune (Graph Database), Google Bigquery, Kafka, Postgres and even Webhook endpoints.
The second camp is our Analytics. Our data-science group has spent the past two years building advanced clustering and labeling algorithms that allow us to identify high-impact behaviors not only within a single blockchain, but across chains. These behaviors form the foundations for our business intelligence solutions.
The team behind this tech is an eclectic group of engineers, hackers, statisticians, and mathematicians. Our skills are rooted in data pipelines, distributed computing and predictive analytics, with experience building technology at scale across a number of high growth tech companies and government agencies (DARPA, NSA).
5. Can you tell us about one accomplishment that shaped your career?
JM: At the beginning of my career, I helped build a company here in Boston called Smarterer that was acquired by ed-tech company, Pluralsight. Up until this point I was working on a 25 person team, the largest of any team I had ever worked on. Suddenly I was thrust into a 500 person company scaling at a break-neck pace. The company had just hired a new head of product, tasked with centering the entire company around an enterprise product that would take the company on a path to IPO. Developing such a product, from the ground-up, across a team of 100 engineers, with many different technology stacks, is not trivial, to say the least. During this time we aligned on how teams would organize, how teams would interface and how teams would work independently, yet deliver together. Kicking this into high-gear required a deep level of trust and ownership between each team. While in no way perfect, the experiences I gained about what worked and what didn’t work in scaling, guide how I think about building teams today.
6. Why aren’t there more developers building on these blockchains and how can projects attract developers?
JM: To the 99% of developers in the world, blockchain is a brand new paradigm, divergent from the past 20 years of traditional application patterns.
Blockchains (and companies in general) sometimes mistake, “developer-friendly” with superb documentation, abundant client SDKs, and simple APIs. Developer friendly really means the ability to equate new concepts with current known concepts to remove the cognitive roadblock to unlocking creativity and productivity.
The key is that after a few short steps I have a dev environment where I can begin experimenting in a trial and error loop. Feedback loops are critical for learning and triggering creativity.
7. Do you have a professional life philosophy or set of principles that guide how you operate in the world?
JM: I have two big ones that are top of mind daily. One, treat everyone as your client and, two, always be thinking about how to make the experience of others better. The latter applying to life as well.
At Flipside, we are constantly thinking and evaluating how we can build better interfaces between teams and people. To give you one example, we believe data scientists should be empowered to focus on what they do best, modeling data, rather than wrangling data. Our data engineers put in extra effort to ensure our data science team has clearly defined ways to access data for a variety of different modeling needs. In this way a Flipside data scientist is a client of data engineering. We’ve found this level of responsibility to one another helpful in promoting a sense of clear ownership and deep focus.
To learn more about how Flipside enables blockchain organizations to grow, visit https://flipsidecrypto.com/crypto-projects and access your free analytics dashboard today.