MolochDAO Interview with Pooja Ranjan of Ethereum Cat Herders
Grantee Interview Series
While in conversation with Zayi Reyes, of ReallyBoringGuild, over Zoom, Pooja Ranjan, of Ethereum Cat Herders, glanced out a large window, every now and then. The room behind her had clean white lines and live green plants.
She smiled easily and expressed appreciation for the Ethereum community and enthusiasm for the PeepanEIP series, of which she is a major contributor.
Zayi Reyes: It would be great if you could give us an overview of Ethereum Cat Herders, what that is, and describe any services we should be aware of regarding the project.
Pooja Ranjan: Ethereum Cat Herders is, as we like to say, a decentralized project management group for Ethereum blockchain. Eventually, we evolved and started looking into the process improvement part of the Ethereum governance.
We started with a group of volunteers, back in January 2019, to document notes for the Ethereum bi-weekly meetings. Eventually, not only just meeting notes, we started looking into coordination, communication, and other aspects which were required to keep the chain moving, keep communication ongoing and keep everyone on the same page.
In the past three years, we’ve grown a lot. We started with a small group of people and now we are over 15. These are the people who are part of the community and want to contribute to the Ethereum blockchain in any and every possible way.
Yes, we do provide a few services. We organize and facilitate meetings. There are execution layer clients and consensus layer clients. Besides that, there are process improvement meetings and Stateless Ethereum meetings, and all different sorts of meetings about research and development work that developers are doing.
There is also an education series that we call the PEEPanEIP, which is about improvement proposals, where we try to educate people on what Ethereum Improvement Proposal (EIP) is coming up with the next network upgrade.
When it comes to network upgrades, we communicate what people can expect from the upgrade as well as share timelines for when the update will occur. If there is any contentious proposal looking for conflict resolution, we try to get the community on the same page by organizing open meetings, inviting different participants and stakeholders, like miners, developers and researchers, so they are all discussing, talking and solving issues.
Ethereum Cat Herders plays an important role in Ethereum blockchain governance.
ZR: That sounds like it’s very impactul. How did Ethereum operate before Ethereum Cat Herders?
PR: I would like to give a big credit to Hudson Jameson. He has been managing a lot of stuff. He was the coordinator of All Core Developer meetings and he used to communicate with the project management side, as well as the community side.
The developers group started growing. Ethereum had new clients joining in. Besu, which was also known as Hyperledger Besu, then Trinity was there, then Nethermind joined. All these clients coordination lead to the need for a project management group.
Because Ethereum is decentralized, every client had their own project management team, which was good for them, but the teams required communication with the community. We started to help with ACD meeting notes, but then we felt that with the development work on the Eth2 side, the community could use other meeting notes and we need more contributors. There were also processes that needed to be set up, so it became easier for any newcomer to come and join the community.
ZR: How would somebody join the community, if they were interested, and how do you figure out governance within yourselves?
PR: How we are trying to do it is, if anyone wants to join the Ethereum community, there are two major Discords that operate as of now. One is the Ethereum Cat Herders Discord and another one is the Eth R&D Discord. If you have questions on the research or development part, or if you’re working on implementing a proposal and want to get some information, Eth R&D Discord is your best fit. If you need anything else, or if you are a beginner and you want to learn, or you want to contribute and you’re still wondering where to start, Ethereum Cat Herders is the Discord for you.
We have tried to get every client team member on Ethereum Cat Herders Discord. We have EIP editors, we have project team members and we try to provide answers to the questions, which are coming from the community.
For the technical part, if people are building a project, they can say, okay I’m stuck at this point, I need help at this place. Someone will jump in and help them out. Those that are non-technical tend to wonder where to go and what to do. We have provided answers to their questions on the Ethereum Cat Herders website and provided different fields where they can contribute. They can always come to the meetings and say, “I have this kind of background and I want to contribute” and we would love to help and send them in the right direction.
ZR: Let dive into a few things within Ethereum Cat Herders. The PEEPanEIP series, I assume, is part of the awareness campaigns that you’re creating. Do you want to talk about that at all?
PR: Yeah I would love to.
Back in the summer of 2020, I thought, people need education on EIPs! That is what inspired the proposal of this video series to the ECH group.
In January of 2020, we started the EIPIP group, which was formed to collect the grievances from the community to solve their problems and build a new process for the community.
While doing that I realized that there was a gap in the understanding of EIPs, which I like to call the building blocks of Ethereum blockchain. It’s important that when a proposal is about to be accepted and launched on mainnet, instead of evaluating it at the end, we start discussing in the beginning, when the proposal is proposed. It’s important that the idea of people talking about a proposal is integrated into the future network upgrade process.
We have three major types and categories of Standard Type, but we talk mostly about the upgrade proposals which are selected for the network upgrades.
There was this proposal, EIP-1057, Prog POW, which was inactive discussion. Many people may have heard about it. Miners were supporting the proposal and developers were not supporting it, so there was a conflict. The worst thing was that this conflict came up at the time of the Istanbul upgrade. The dev community was looking for a resolution. In the end, that proposal could not make it to the final status. That was a lesson for the community that we should start talking about it in early stages of the proposal documentation. That experience brought us close to the concept of the Ethereum Improvement Proposal discussion and awareness.
So that’s how it started and I’m very happy to say, today I recorded the 55th episode and people are so loving it.
ZR: I saw one of the accomplishments was lowering a lot of the pull requests that come in. How does the team handle these types of requests?
PR: Regarding the EIPs Github, there we see a lot of issues and pull requests coming up every week. Over 400 pull requests, over 400 issues, it is simply unmanageable. The idea is to follow the revised EIP standardization process to add any new proposal in the first place. There are different eip-bots that we were building. One is “Stale bot” that takes the “Stagnant” pull requests away, (PRs that aren’t active for six months) and “Close” respective PRs. If you want to work on one of these proposals, come talk to us and we will help you push it to the final status.
So that was the first step, but again when we did that, it only solved part of the problem. Complaints and grievances were always there so this process was created to address their issues.
Then we started discussing each proposal, one by one. To improve the process, we shared a lot of documentation around the process. These processes existed in the background but weren’t documented, so people were not able to follow it properly. With the help of manual intervention and editors, we started managing the pull requests.
ZR: I’m curious about where the name Cat Herders came from!
PR: I assume that the name was given by Hudson Jameson, because it was before my time. A group of people met in Prague, I believe, and they choose Ethereum Cat Herders because they thought that it would be like managing cats. Cats, intrinsically, are not bound to follow instructions. Dogs can be trained, but cats can’t be trained. The community was doing whatever they wanted to do in a decentralized fashion. People involved in this group are free to do whatever they want to do, so they thought the name cat herders could bring everyone together.
ZR: It’s such a specific niche, actually working on the builder side of Ethereum. How did you find Ethereum Cat Herders?
PR: My background is a great motivator here. I am a Computer Science graduate, but I also have a Masters degree in Commerce and Business Administration. I was on extended maternity leave. Before coming into Ethereum Cat Herders, I started a website EtherWorld.co, a website for educating the community about the blockchain.
Back in 2016, when I first heard about Ethereum, I found it very interesting, but I knew that many people were not aware of it, so I started writing about it on my website and shared it so people could learn about it.
When the Ethereum team was looking for people to document notes for Ethereum All Core Devs meetings, I volunteered. I found some openings on Reddit and volunteered many times to document and publish on EtherWorld.co. When they formed a group, I was literally pinging them, saying that I’m Pooja, I have written a couple of notes for Ethereum ACD and I want to contribute more. They invited me to the Gitter channel and we started talking from there and I joined Ethereum Cat Herders. It was very simple for me.
Before I went on maternity leave, I was working for Accenture, back in India, where I’m originally from and where I did my education. I also lived in South America before we moved to the United States. When we moved here, I started exploring new things to return to work and discovered Ethereum and I loved it.
ZR: Did you feel like the lifestyle was also part of what you enjoy about it? Does working remote make things easier?
PR: That’s right, that helped a lot, because after I delivered a baby it wasn’t as easy for me to go out and look for work. I started my own website, so I can work from home and contribute in any way. I appreciate when I worked for Accenture, which has a very beautiful work culture, but after a long personal leave, the big gap in my resume made it hard to get back into a traditional industry job. With Ethereum, nobody cared about experience. They said, oh, you have the knowledge, you want to contribute, come join us. I think it’s a very good thing for any woman who wants to come back to the workforce. Yeah, I love this flexibility. It has helped a lot. For me, it has played a major role in staying with the Ethereum community. I don’t have to go out; I can do everything from my home.
ZR: What is the status of the project? You applied for a new grant. Please update us on what it’s all about.
PR: Yeah, I’m really thankful to MolochDAO, because, since Ethereum Cat Herders’ inception, MolochDAO was the first grant body that provided a grant for documenting notes. Since 2019, we have had more people working on it and they are getting paid. That was the first grant that we received from MolochDAO. It was only for documenting notes, but, eventually, they started recognizing our work and increasing the grant.
The last one that we received was in summer 2021. That was like a token of appreciation, because we were funded by the Foundation, so they just said that we want to share that we love your work and this is a support for your work. That was cool and it’s so great!
That grant was for some of the new initiatives that we started, besides the usual project management. We started process improvement because we wanted EIP editors on board so they can actually review the EIPs. It’s very important because they are the standards based on which project is being built. We want these to be really high standards and people should find them easy to implement in the project.
In 2019 and 2020, we had less editors, because people who were initially editors are now heavily engaged in the development work. There was Vitalk Buterin, Nick Johnson and many great people who were involved as Editor earlier, but very few people are available now to look into the editing part. MolochDAO grant helped us get more editors on board.
Now we are trying to help with the engineering, like building bots and other stuff. The grant we applied for this time, is to increase the number of contributors. We are working with the protocol layer proposals and looking into application layer proposals editing. We want to look into the application side, NFT standards and other projects regarding NFTs. We are adding more resources and trying to serve all of the major domains of Ethereum blockchain.
ZR: I wasn’t going to ask this but now I’m curious, does the price affect the building in Ethereum? Have you seen any trends over the past couple years?
PR: Oh well, I must say that the Ethereum developers community are like really no, no, about the price. They do not entertain any kind of conversation on price. When you join the Ethereum R&D Discord, there is a list of things that you can and cannot talk about and one of the things you can’t talk about is price.
Obviously, price is an important part for many discussions. When the price is really high, people seem to be talking about a lot of good things, but when price is low or isn’t doing good, or the price of gas is high, maybe because of an airdrop, which increases the transaction cost, people start saying, please do something about the gas cost, do something about it.
There are proposals which are being worked on in the background, but because Ethereum is such a big blockchain, they cannot just make any change randomly. There has to be a lot of testing. An example is The Merge that we are planning. It is my understanding that most of the clients are done with their development part and are almost done with the testing part, but we are still not expecting the merge in less than three months. What I see, we can expect it at the end of Q1 or the beginning of Q2, 2022, but not before. It’s important that every change should be tested. So when people come and talk about the price of ether or the price of gas, we have to be like, okay, we can manage that at some point.
ZR: Has Ethereum Cat Herders received funding from elsewhere prior to MolochDAO?
PR: No, MolochDAO was the first one. Before that, in the early years, and for a very long time, I was volunteering.
ZR: Any other update you want to share on how the deliverables are going?
PR: Our deliverables are on a month-to-month basis. We publish a newsletter, which comprises all the information about the protocol layer. Since our meetings are bi-weekly, we also try to keep our newsletter bi-weekly, so that it provides the latest update.
For the PEEPanEIP series, we try to push at least one episode every Monday.
Besides that, we are planning a couple of new things, like we are adding a new set of talks with core developers and we are planning to invite the application side devs to talk about what they feel is important. We want to hear both the developer and application layer point of view. I think it’s going to be very useful to show who is working on the projects and what they are focused on.
ZR: Thanks for sharing that update. You already mentioned that there’s a newsletter and the PEEPanEIP series, is there anywhere else that people can go and check out more about Ethereum Cat Herders?
PR: So the first thing I can say is that the Ethereum Cat Herders Discord has the most active communication. We have different channels based on people’s interest, like if people are looking into a process, or if they want to talk about any specific upgrade, for example, and if they want to talk about any specific proposal. Because it was a very big proposal, we created 1559 channels, based on the active discussion. Before any upgrade, we try to create separate channels for different tasks.
Ethereum Cat Herders has a Medium blog and a YouTube channel. We are planning to move to Mirror, but all this information is updated regularly.
ZR: How did you find MolochDAO? Were you aware of it before you looked for grants?
PR: I think, Hudson Jameson was the key person here. He was from the Ethereum Foundation and was a member of MolochDAO, so he knew about the DAO when we were looking into different options. We didn’t get the funds from the ESP, at the time when we requested, so MolochDAO was the first grant from where we started. Since then we have come a long way and the support of MolochDAO has been incredible for Ethereum Cat Herders.
ZR: Yeah and it seems like it’s just going to continue moving forward, which is great.
PR: Yeah, I’m hoping to increase the number of people. If we keep on building, and more people keep on supporting, we hope to serve and facilitate as much as possible.
ZR: You recently joined ReallyBoringGuild as well. What was that process like and why did you join?
PR: Back in summer, when we were looking for a grant, I met with Yalda and she talked about this guild concept. She was working on creating different guilds and ReallyBoringGuild was one of those. At the time, I was super busy with some upgrades; we did London and Berlin and then Altair. Oh my God, this year was a year of upgrades.
Later I saw that ReallyBoringGuild was still looking for help and I thought that I’ll be a part of it. DAOs are something new to me. I thought that it’s going to be a different experience, so I started contributing. My contribution isn’t as much as other members, but I try as much as I can.
ZR: We really appreciate all the work you’ve done. Is there anything else you want to include, Pooja, anything we missed, any important things to talk about?
PR: I want to say thank you to every community member of the Ethereum ecosystem and to the people who are supporting us in different ways, not only just financially. For example, for a Gitcoin round, we don’t look at the total amount we receive but we look at the number of contributors who supported the group. If we receive $400, from 400 contributors, that matters!
We want people to know that anyone can join the community. If you are a student, or looking to return to work after taking time off, or even if you are non-technical, we value everyone’s support. Let us know what you want to learn, or how you want to help. We are here; reach out to us in the Ethereum Cat Herders Discord.