Brett is the most recent wizard to join the team
This Team Interview focuses on Brett, Aragon’s new EVM/Solidity Engineer— how he came to work at Aragon, what he thinks of Ethereum and the decentralization movement as well as what this coding wizard uses in his work set up.
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Hi Brett and welcome to the team! Could you start by telling us something about yourself, like what do you do on your free time?
Hi everyone! My name is Brett, and I’m officially a joining as a EVM/Solidity engineer for Aragon. I’ll be taking some of the work off Jorge’s shoulders going forward; responsibility for most aspects of the aragon/aragon-core repository and other smart contracts will be transitioning to me.
As a Canadian, I totally fit the stereotype of someone who loves ice hockey. I try to watch my home team at least a few times a year, but it can be hard when you live in Europe and the games are broadcast at 3am. At the very least, I’ll go through the highlights after each game and read a recap on reddit.
Otherwise, I’ve played volleyball casually for a long time and used be a half-decent swimmer. I’m always getting into new things though; this summer was mostly eaten up by motorcycle this and motorcycle that. I travel frequently, although this year maybe a little bit too much: I will have been on five continents and called four different cities home for more than a month by the end of the year.
I hold two Bachelor’s Degrees — one for computer science and one for business — because I went through a double-degree program jointly held by the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.
Despite ending up with what most would call very good grades, I definitely became disillusioned with the “promise” of university. I probably would still go through it again if I had another chance, but it’d certainly be with a different perspective. At the end of the day, it’s not really about the formal education; rather than stick to the books, I likely would’ve gained more from the experience had I sought out the really eccentric kids, across as many disciplines as I had time for, to see what they were doing. It’s way more probable you’ll learn some really cool things about the world, e.g. crypto, from them than in class.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I forgot to mention that I’m a huge fan of Carlos Matos and the most a-amazing-i-n-g album in cryptomusic to date!
What made you decide that you wanted to work on Ethereum and especially on Aragon?
Funny story — I actually applied as a front-end engineer after noticing the dust accumulating on the aragon/aragon repository, but the Solidity opening challenge looked too good to pass up and I guess my go at it impressed Jorge. The team said they wanted a wizard, so I guess since I’ve been hired… I’m also a wizard?
I think like many in the space, the applications for this technology just seem endless. It’s a really weird feeling, like an endless epiphany. These days, I’m fairly confident telling my friends that I expect every fabric of society — perhaps even reality — to be touched by Ethereum.
There is only so much one can do and influence as an individual. That’s why we’ve organized ourselves throughout history into tribes, clans, city-states, nation-states, corporations, and now, perhaps, Internet-states. Society is built not of individuals, but of communities and organizations.
Aragon is all about reducing the friction to organize. It will allow us to question the mechanisms that provide value to an organization and, from those questions, create new designs. Of course, I believe the governance, formation, and organization of individuals to be some of the cornerstones of human existence. Gone might be the days of bloody revolutions or classes of discarded people when a collective decides to test its own governance and embedded values. Aragon will enable the world to experiment and play with new types of organizations and governance models that we’ve never even dreamed of — famously, “at the speed of software.”
And that’s why I’m helping to build Aragon! And I can’t wait to work on The Aragon Network! Once we’ve brought the new front-end client to you, of course 🙂
What has your experience with Ethereum been like and what piqued your interest in it?
For the better part of Ethereum’s existence, I’ve kept myself at arms-length because of how dangerous a Turing-complete environment seemed when it could be directly coupled to real-world economic systems. Software will always be buggy; now we’re starting to think about putting direct control of our entire livelihoods in arbitrarily-complex software. When The DAO hack happened, I think a part of me was relieved that I had kept my distance.
However, my thinking around this has obviously changed in the last year. While not every system requires Turing-completeness to provide value (e.g. many “blockchain-for-a-database” upgrades in traditional businesses only really require cryptographic permissions and atomic transactions), there are whole realms of societal-status-quo challenging applications, like Aragon, where a general-purpose computing platform will either be outright required or required in the sense of greatly lessened engineering efforts. It’s this type of inertia-breaking innovation that I think has attracted a lot of super bright minds to Ethereum and other similar platforms, and I’m no different 😉
Another incredible thing about Bitcoin, and now Ethereum, is their technical simplicity at the protocol level; to an outsider they might seem like impenetrable behemoths of genius-level computer science, and they really are awesome feats of engineering, but when you sit down and look into it, the core concepts should be readily graspable to most university/college sophomores. The economics and mechanisms, maybe not, but hey, that’s where the fun really begins.
What are your thoughts on this decentralization movement that we’re a part of?
Ethereum, and the whole movement towards decentralization, is amazing because it has given humanity the tools to question every notion of value, power, ownership, and governance we’ve become accustomed to and, especially in the developed world, been spoon-fed without much choice.
I think a lot of hype today is generated by decentralization, but, in most use cases, simply being decentralized provides little value to end users. It’s the disintermediation made possible by trustless interactions that will empower us to rewind the historical momentum of society to centralize. This shift will provide us an opportunity to create opt-in economies rather than be tied to born-in societies.
Value, and power, will start to dissolve from the archaic and heavily safeguarded citadels of the few towards the many end participants. Rent and asymmetric value extraction schemes will likely topple in the wake of new, open, and unstoppable protocols that don’t expect an arm and a leg because anyone is able to service their contracts.
The important thing about disintermediation is that we’ll be able to remove not only the expensive intermediaries, but also the painfully awful actors. This has huge ramifications for those bound to jurisdictions that are either corrupt, inept, or both. People previously stuck to such barriers, who lack the proper infrastructure needed to support their dreams, will finally have the chance to opt-in to jurisdictions that can provide them value.
Which other Ethereum projects are you interested in and following currently?
I’m keenly interested in a few projects, and try to follow them as much as I can (while also learning about other interesting projects!):
- Status: I think that, like everyone on the team agrees, Status is what will probably bring Ethereum to the masses. Like literally, into their hands. They also use Clojurescript, so that already makes them worthwhile to check out 🙂
- Augur and Gnosis: Prediction markets have a lot of potential. I’m not fully convinced they’ll be as good as everyone’s promising them to be, but that’s the amazing thing: we’ll finally get the chance to see this experiment unfold at a global scale.
- Orchid: Most people don’t think about it, but as we increasingly become reliant on the network to do anything and everything, we’re actually becoming increasingly reliant on the towers of power held by centralized service providers. These providers can, at any time, pull one over us (or the entire collective, e.g. China) and ignoring this problem is like ignoring your own will slowly disappearing.
- Numerai: OK, they’re not really an Ethereum project aside from having a token with real utility, but they’re seriously smart. They’ve got ridiculous ecosystem plays up their sleeve, from monopolizing collective intelligence to an endgame aimed for AI domination. Not to mention that their model could apply to all sorts of information, not just stock ticker data, presenting an opportunity to turn traditional data silo businesses (e.g. most of Silicon Valley) completely on their heads if the correct incentive structures are built.
- Identity: There’s no clear frontrunner out there yet for self-sovereign identity, but I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open. Being able to control your own identity, and the data associated with it, is one of the highest leverage plays for improving real life user experience via technology.
You applied for a front-end developer position and ended up writing code in Solidity, that’s quite diverse. Which programming languages are you familiar with?
I’ve gone through a fair number, partly because of diverse opportunities, and partly because of interest.
Which are your favourite tools when you’re working/coding?
I love the tools I use a lot, which include vim, tmux, zsh, git, and Chrome. I’m always aiming to learn something new to improve my mastery; thankfully, learning something new in vim will probably be possible even if I never die. To keep things fresh, I’m one of those weird Anki users who’s always trying to make flash cards of stuff.
There are a lot of other tools I find really important for a modern developing experience, such as linting, static analysis, testing frameworks, debuggers, etc. I like to extend Hanlon’s razor to: “Never attribute to stupidity that which is adequately explained by a lack of proper tooling.” From experience, I would highly recommend first acquiring a proper set of tools before ripping out screws from a motorcycle 😉
Which attributes do you think are the most important for a distributed team such as ours to stay focused on the shared goal?
This is a hard one. Every team is different, and will have different levers for cohesion and cooperation. The two most important traits are probably a shared sense of responsibility and a team-first attitude that’s held by everyone. You can really tell the difference between teams who sacrifice individuality to benefit their peers and teams that are more singular; each have different merits and use cases in different environments and projects, but I’m more commonly left awestruck by the former.
For me, the key metric I keep in mind when working in a team is the team’s velocity. Having high velocity usually helps motivation because you see a constant stream of improvement. It also creates forward momentum, so that any temporary roadblocks are seen as just that: temporary.
What would you like to say to the people reading, especially those who might not be developers or even tech savvy?
Become a part of the community! If looking around the Internet is too abstract, go to a local meetup! Everyone I’ve met in this space has been super smart and impressive, and the great thing is, they’re all looking for help 😉
Thank you for the interview Brett! Your skills will surely help Aragon on this journey toward a decentralized world!
You can also follow Brett on Twitter!
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