Continuing our series on how to learn about Bitcoin and its more technical aspects, in this article, we will focus on presenting at conferences and meetups as a means to this end.
On the Ladybug podcast, Ali Spittel coined the term “conference-driven development.” Aspiring Bitcoin savants can pursue this sort of development by taking on the responsibility of presenting at a conference on a subject matter that lies outside their current area of expertise.
The Ladybug podcast hosts discussed their experiences with “conference-driven development” preparing and delivering presentations on as diverse topics as debugging, GraphQL and Gatsby. The podcast includes lots of great advice for anyone applying to speak at a conference or meetup. This includes the process of applying and preparing for your talk and tips for actually delivering your presentation.
There are a number of conferences tentatively scheduled for 2020 with technical Bitcoin presentations: Advancing Bitcoin, Stanford Blockchain Conference, Bitcoin 2020, MIT Bitcoin Expo, Building on Bitcoin, Bitcoin Edge Dev++, Scaling Bitcoin, The Lightning Conference 2 and Lightning Hack Days.
Obviously, when there are a number of renowned experts competing to speak on a particular topic at a conference, the chances that your proposal will be accepted is less likely. However, there are a lot of conferences out there, and in Bitcoin there are whole new fields of research and software projects opening up all the time. In 2019, we saw a vast number of announcements on everything from Miniscript to SNICKER. Plus, the existing subprojects of Bitcoin and Lightning are being advanced at a rapid pace.
Become a Wizard’s “Apprentice”
Often these fields of research are invented or announced by the usual suspects (Pieter Wuille, Greg Maxwell, Laolu Osuntokun, etc.) but they need others to pick up the mantle. They also need others to take on educational efforts and inform the community of the latest state of research. Wizards only have 24 hours in a day like everyone else and can only be in one place at any given time.
Some developers don’t see the value in the formal PowerPoint with bullet points format. But as Matt Corallo demonstrated at the 2019 Lightning Hack Day in Berlin, you don’t have to follow that format. Corallo live-coded the building of a custom Lightning node using the rust-lightning library. Bitcoin Core contributor Andrew Chow and c-lightning developer Lisa Neigut regularly broadcast remote presentations in their Twitch sessions, livestreaming their coding.
Even for existing wizards, conference-driven development can provide some motivation and accountability. Without managers and the freedom to work on whatever they want, whenever they want, even the most productive contributors sometimes need creative ways to hold themselves accountable to self-imposed deadlines.
In addition, some conferences actively seek out presenters who can explain the basics or foundations of a topic effectively. Some established experts aren’t always great at conveying the basics; neither are they motivated to do so repeatedly. Someone who is currently learning about Bitcoin or has recently mastered the basics of a topic, on the other hand, can often be more effective; they can remember what they struggled with or found difficult more clearly than the experts who learned the subject matter many years before.
If speaking in front of hundreds of people at a conference feels like a step too far, perhaps start smaller and commit to making a short presentation on a topic at a Socratic Seminar, requesting to lead the discussion at a Socratic Seminar or preparing a longer formal presentation at a local meetup.
So Why Should You Consider Conference-Driven Development?
The knowledge gap between the Bitcoin and Lightning wizards and mere mortals can seem insurmountable at times, especially when many wizards are extremely intelligent, have been making technical contributions to Bitcoin for most of the last decade, and have obtained funding to work on it full-time. In comparison, an aspiring wizard may be smart and driven to learn about Bitcoin but have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to knowledge and skills. They often have non-related, part-time or full-time jobs to contend with as well. So is it a case of mission impossible?
It is certainly difficult but this is where conference-driven development comes in. To reduce that knowledge and skill gap you really have to commit to spend the free time you do have as effectively as possible. You also need to seek opportunities to stretch yourself and get out of your comfort zone. There is nothing more motivating and procrastination-killing than the fear of embarrassing yourself in front of a crowd of people with only weeks to go!
In addition, the educational resources available today are vastly superior to the resources available when today’s wizards were first getting started. Books such Andreas Antonopoulos’ Mastering Bitcoin, Jimmy Song’s Programming Bitcoin and Kalle Rosenbaum’s Grokking Bitcoin are available, in addition to videos, transcripts and workshops from Chaincode Labs and the Bitcoin Optech newsletter.
So consider starting your new decade by committing to learning about Bitcoin by presenting at a conference or local meetup and take a small step toward becoming a wizard yourself in 2020.
Michael is the organizer of London Bitcoin Devs.