Reflections on 2021
2021 was one of the best years of my life for my career. It really allowed me to grow as a developer as I spent most of my time working on solidity and smart contract programming. For the first time in years, ENS had the ability to hire some new people and I had to get used to being in more of a position of responsibility. Since so many things happened, instead of making this a cohesive blog post, I’m just going to list the significant events of 2021 for me and a summary of what happened and what it taught me.
Being a best man
Early this year, one of my best friends got married. It was great being part of this experience. I got to reflect on our friendship over the years and write some very nice (and funny) things about them both for his wedding speech. It definitely helped me to reflect on appreciating friends and family. Afterwards it became more apparent to me that spending some effort to acknowledge and remember the times you’ve spent with them helps you to not take them for granted.
Since COVID started I have also been doing a weekly call with my entire family, and this scenario helped me to reiterate how important these calls are and that I should not take them for granted. We only have a limited time with our parents and that has become more and more apparent to me as the years go on.
The DAO launch in November will be an experience I will likely never forget. It helped culminate over 4.5 years of work that I have been putting into ENS. For many of those years we were a respected, but ultimately a small part of the Ethereum ecosystem. What the DAO allowed us to do was to reach many more people and turn what was an already growing ENS ecosystem into something I could never have comprehended.
One user tweeted apologising that he had sold his ENS tokens, because the dollar value amounted to a year of expenses for him and his family. The fact that something I was involved with could have such an effect on someone’s life is quite profound. .
We are now being more like public figures in the space and the weight of the responsibility that we are now a very important part of the web3 stack means it’s more than just about me and a paycheck at the end of the month.
Hiring a small team and being a team/tech lead
In June we hired our first front end developer (a close friend of mine) and our second in November (a complete stranger). For me this was my first time leading the hiring process and I’ve certainly got a lot to learn and improve. I never really thought I wanted to manage, but after going through the process I’ve realised that it is something that does appeal to me. I enjoy watching people grow and I enjoy the team camaraderie. We are a team and the goals that we set and work towards are completed as a team.
Also after years of working mostly solo, I’ve realised how fun it is to actually have a team environment. Being a team lead can mean mentorship, it can mean management and accountability and ultimately you need to mould to the shape of your team.
ZK has always been something I wanted to learn, but the idea of the moon maths always scared me. In April I made an attempt to start to learn, but I didn’t get much further than the high level. However in November, a course by 0xPARC appeared on my Twitter feed. Looking at the prerequisites for the course, I didn’t think I was qualified at all, but I decided to make the effort to fake it before I made it. Thank you to Chih Cheng, one of my oldest Ethereum friends in Taiwan for helping me out with the Maths to apply for the course.
What I gained most from the course was meeting all the cool people in the course. I was waking up 2-3 hours earlier than I usually do, working a full day for ENS and then doing another 1-2 hours at night daily and sleeping 4-5 hours a day. I haven’t worked this hard on something since I started learning Chinese almost a decade ago when I was working full time at Special moves and learning Chinese on the way and back from and on the weekends. It’s definitely not a sustainable lifestyle, but I was waking up relatively fresh and going a full day without caffeine stimulants. I think I haven’t been this excited by anything since the early days of Ethereum and it’s very nice to feel like his again.
And although it’s definitely humbling, it’s nice to be the dumbest person in the room. And it’s taught me to keep searching for that room
One of other things I learnt from the ZK course was how bad my Maths actually is. I think it definitely requires at least undergraduate maths to get a solid understanding of zero knowledge proofs, but alas even my secondary school maths has been forgotten. So I picked some maths books and I’ll be taking myself on that journey so I can get a proper handle on all things cryptography in the future.
My focus is related to learning for ZK, which includes modular arithmetic, algebra, linear to polynomial equations as well as all the syntactical madness that goes on when they write proofs for cryptography.
What have I learnt from this? Maths has always been hard, but if you have a reason to learn it, you can force yourself to push through.
Having been in the blockchain industry for the past 6 years, it’s been a little embarrassing not having a solid understanding of cryptography. Not that everyone needs to know cryptography to use blockchain or even work in blockchain. You can get away with treating everything cryptographic as a black box that “just works”. However the lower level I get with my skill set, the more embarrassing it becomes and it’s something that is a necessity to understanding zero knowledge tech deeper.
At first I started doing a course taught by Dan Boneh on Coursera. The course itself is great, and it’s free! However it’s a little bit too theoretical for me, especially because of my weak cryptography background. Therefore I decided to stop doing it half way through (after doing half of the 6 week course in 1 week during christmas) and pick up Real World Cryptography by David Wong. It covers many of the same topics, but stays away from the deep mathematical proofs, that I would like to go back to at some stage.
All in all, it’s been a great feeling to get a handle on how things really work at a lower level and I’m certain this kind of intuition will help with my smart contract development and my work at ENS and beyond.
Relearning old things like handstands
I’ve been able to do handstands for a very long time, since I started breakdancing in my youth. But in the last decade or so I’ve let that slip. Over time my passion for climbing has tightened the muscles of my forearms and it’s had an effect on my wrists. I’ve tried at times to get my handstand back, but the pain would always stop me. After seeing a class pop up in my feed for handstands, I thought I would try again.
After a month of practising I went from a 5-10s handstands to a 50s handstand, relatively pain free. It makes me realise that you really don’t lose everything you have learnt over the years, your mind retains so much of those neurological connections. Your body just needs to build those muscles again and you’ll be back to the level you were previously at in no time.
Getting coached for climbing
Climbing has been part of my life for the best part of a decade now. Since 2014 I have spent pretty much every week on the wall. Thinking about my progress, what I need to do to improve and how my training is going has always been a part of my routine. However over the last year or two as things have ramped up in my career, I have let that slide a little. Especially due to COVID. I have maintained my level somewhat, but the drive to improve is starting to wane and even if mid-year I get some bursts of motivation, it often peters out over a few weeks and I’m back to aimlessly climbing the new set of problems at the gym.
I’m at a stage in climbing where I can usually send most of the hard problems in Taiwan. One of the easiest ways you can improve when you first start climbing is to try and work your way up the set from V0-V7. But if you’re already climbing the hardest routes in the gym, you can’t be guided anymore by just the routes they set in the gym, you need to take training into your own hands.
Therefore I have taken on a coach that I have seen guide many of the top climbers in Taiwan. He has already helped me to think about my climbing differently than when I was training by myself. And it reminds me that even if you are advanced in whatever field you are in, you don’t live in a vacuum and learning from others in your sport is very important.
In late 2021, I decided that I would try therapy. Over the years I have spent so much time on my body, through sports, seeing physiotherapists, masseuses, doctors. Physical health is important to me, but I don’t pay as much attention to that for mental health. I find I am quite stable mentally, but I know there must be areas that I can improve on. So on that note, I decided to book a therapy session.
Deciding to do something is the first and hardest step, and who knows where it will lead. All I know is that it really couldn’t hurt to have someone else look at my healthy instead of having all the weight all on my own shoulders.
I would say all-in-all, 2021 may have been the best year of my life. Financially I am very comfortable, my body is good health, I have continued good relationships with my family and friends. I have taken steps to improve my knowledge is various pursuits, things that I have put off over the years and have taken more steps to delegate my own training (mentally and physically) to other people. Hopefully this will let me improve faster and with less stress. I’m excited to see how these decision affect my 2022!