Joining The Team At MaidSafe

(This is a repost from the MaidSafe blog)

As we hurtle towards the end of 2017, it’s time to take stock. And the verdict’s in: it’s been a crazy year in the world of cryptocurrency. But thankfully, in most cases, that’s crazy-good, as opposed to crazy-bad. That’s certainly the case for me personally at least. And this is why…

Back in January 2014, I organised the first Bitcoin Meetup in Scotland. As I wrote at the time, it felt like a bit of a leap of faith. Not in terms of the organisation (thanks to Meetup). But because the prevailing view amongst those few who’d actually heard of this ‘magic internet money’ was that the whole thing was a scam and destined to end in tears.

Whether real or perceived, it crossed my mind that there might be a reputational risk in becoming so deeply involved as an organiser. I don’t consider myself risk-averse in any way. But as someone who had enjoyed/endured a legal career of more than a decade, I’m hardly the best person to judge. After all, the risk of loss-aversion has well-known effects on decision-making.

But try as I might, I couldn’t get past one simple fact. I’d spent many months by that stage falling deeper down the proverbial Bitcoin rabbit hole. Late nights wrestling with explanations about the technology, engaging with the economic implications, debating the future potential and limitations. To me, it was clear that change – at a fundamental, disruptive level that would resonate across multiple areas of everyday life – was coming. And yet, as far as I could make out, no-one in Scotland had got together in a room  to discuss what was going on. The decision was made. I might be left sitting alone in that pub one evening – but surely there had to be others out there.

The story of how the scene in Scotland developed after that first meetup (for which, to be clear, I claim no credit!) is an interesting one. But it’s not the focus here. Nor is the purpose of this post a chance for me to say ‘I told you so’ when we look at Bitcoin in 2017. I believe Bitcoin remains a technology in evolution with an indeterminate end state that has plenty of room left to run. The key thing here is the paradigm shift that’s taking place.

But that very first night in Edinburgh was important for another reason. I’m still in contact with many of the people that I met for the first time that night. But undoubtedly one of the most impactful conversations I’ve had was with someone who’d been one of the first to sign up for that meetup – a guy called David Irvine, who travelled all the way across from the West Coast of Scotland, from an outfit that went by the name of MaidSafe.

I’d tried to research everyone who’d signed up before the meetup. Not in a creepy ‘let’s-track-you’ kind of way. But in a ‘let’s-build-the-community’ kind of way. I wanted to help people to keep the conversations going after the event. And I have to admit, my feeble brain had struggled to understand what MaidSafe did before the Meetup. But that changed when I spoke to David on that evening. And I was dumbfounded by the fact that a project with such huge ambitions and such far-reaching implications was taking place pretty much under my nose in Scotland.

Since that time, I’ve been heavily involved in the Bitcoin/blockchain scene, particularly in Scotland. But I’ve always been convinced that something big was happening in the mythical shed in Troon. Throughout my travels, I kept pointing people in the direction of the SAFE Network and discussing what it represents. That included asking Nick (Lambert, COO) to give a talk when I put on the Scottish Bitcoin Conference in 2014, running a Maidsafe-focused meetup and also sharing in the rollercoaster excitement of the MaidSafe fundraising in April 2014.

Fast forward four years and I’m delighted to say that I’ve now joined MaidSafe full-time as Marketing and Outreach Coordinator. Most people who start at a new company talk platitudes about their new employers. But you’ll have to take my word for it in this case. I’d continue to sing the praises of the SAFE Network even if I wasn’t working here.

This is why.

MaidSafe’s mission is no less significant than building a new secure network that will revolutionise the way that every one of us uses the internet. Many years ago, David had worked out that we collectively needed a better solution. And MaidSafe is in good company, with none other than the inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, sharing similar concerns. In fact, Tim is working on addressing the same sort of issues with his Solid project at MIT.

Over the past couple of years, the problems of data storage and security have only worsened. The concerns so presciently raised by MaidSafe eleven years ago have intensified in the collective awareness of society. We now see daily examples of sensitive personal information and data being hacked or misplaced by third parties. Arguments over privacy and net neutrality dominate the news. And new concerns over the excessive power wielded by giant internet companies are raised daily.

In short, as the internet has increased in importance to our daily lives, so has the visibility of its major flaws. And crucially – these aren’t issues that will simply solve themselves. We can’t sit back and expect things to improve. Technologies such as Bitcoin and Ethereum have helped to bring the benefits of decentralisation to the forefront of discussion. And even amongst those who remain cynical, few still believe our current architecture remains fit-for-purpose when it comes to the next few decades of human evolution.

In addition to playing a small part in helping to build a solution to a problem that increases with each passing day, there’s another big motivating factor at play for me here. With the emergence of MaidSafe so early in the chronology of recent events, I believe that many over the past few years have simply not had the opportunity to spend  the time to find out what the ultimate success of this project represents. I’ve been a member of MaidSafe’s forum (https://safenetforum.org/) since it was set up (not by the company but by enthusiasts around the world, it should be noted) a few years ago – and I’m constantly bowled over by just how engaged, respectful, intelligent and enthusiastic this community is.

Over the past few years, I’ve given many talks on Bitcoin and the blockchain scene in general. But the reality is that my advocacy has always been a response to the level of community engagement out there. The more people that found out about the subject, the keener they were to explore further. The similarities to me are striking. Today, I don’t think most people are aware that the SAFE Network project has been active for eleven years. Just let that sink in for a moment. Pre-Bitcoin. The project even had a prototype crypto-currency before Satoshi’s White Paper. As I said at the start, in the context of 2017, the SAFE Network is so far from being a hyped product it’s not funny. But it’s clear to me what the SAFE Network is: an open-source project that’s open to all that invokes a passion and belief in a community who are all driving in the same direction.

Remind you of something?

As I start working with the team on a unique project, I can’t wait to get out and do my bit. I remember a comment David made years ago. It was along the lines of “It doesn’t matter who achieves our goal in the end – but it does matter that someone does”. Joining a team that have been toiling away at some of the hardest technical challenges out there for over a decade – for the most part entirely unheralded and under the radar – there’s no doubt in my mind that that’s going to change soon. And I can’t wait to get started.

If you want to get in touch and have a chat, please reach out. I’m pretty active on Twitter (@dugcampbell) or you can sign up and speak to thousands more via the forum (https://safenetforum.org/). In the meantime, we’re looking for some more people to join us at MaidSafe – so if you’re a UX/UI Designer, Software Support Analyst or Testing & Release Manager and fancy joining the team, please get in touch!

The First Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014

 

Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014 Poster
Scottish Bitcoin Conference 2014 Poster

Things have been a bit quiet around this blog in recent times as I’ve been involved full-on in a number of projects. Without doubt the most significant of these was the first Scottish Bitcoin Conference which took place in Edinburgh last weekend.

An Idea…

After returning from Bitcoin 2014 in Amsterdam a couple of months ago (blog post here), I was convinced that we needed a headline Bitcoin-specific event in Scotland for a couple of reasons:-

  • to act as a beacon to attract the community which seemed pretty disparate and more used to conversing behind a screen than in person.
  • to bring industry thought leaders to Scotland to inspire and network with people who didn’t have the time or budget to travel to conferences around the world.

I had no idea when I’d get a chance to pull this together in practice but the idea seemed clear (in my head at least). After a chance conversation with Jamie Coleman at CodeBase and organiser of the Turing Festival following a talk that I gave on Bitcoin to their startups in the incubator, it was clear that he shared my vision. And the wheels were set in motion…

Finding Support

Thanks to many people buying into this same vision, I managed to get a fantastic set of folk to Edinburgh to speak – including Jon Matonis (Bitcoin Foundation), Wouter Vonk (BitPay), Sveinn Valfells, Garrick Hileman (LSE), Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Daniel Masters (GABI), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Max Steele (Coinometrics), Nick Lambert (MaidSafe), Scott Maxwell….the list goes on.

The day might have been bootstrapped but it wasn’t cheap to put on. I’m immensely grateful to each of the sponsors who supported the day – partly because of the financial contributions, but also, crucially, because it showed that certain key organisations within Scotland are acknowledging that there is something of real significance starting to build in this sector. So hats go off to ScotlandIS, MBM Commercial, Johnston Carmichael, Signarama and CoinDesk.

And of course, in addition to the speakers, there are many other individuals who helped hugely. I hesitate to name anyone in person as I invariably then have to miss out others whose support was no less necessary. But huge thanks have to go to London CoinScrum organiser Paul Gordon, Pamir Gelenbe and Gulnar Hasnain of CoinSummitAndy Smith, Ryan Smith, Peter May, Matt Monach, Christopher de Beer, the Bitcoin Manchester guys…..the list goes on and on…

And….relax….

The Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
The Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014

Now that a few days have passed after the Conference, I’ve had a chance to think about what we’ve discovered – from the obvious (we’re still way too male-dominated as a community) to the more complex. I’m proud to have been involved in pulling an event together which brought so many curious minds into the same room together. It’s striking that so many people share concerns about the viability of the financial system that we’ve collectively built whilst simultaneously being hugely positive and optimistic about what the future could bring.

And even more striking (putting aside the not insignificant issue of gender disparity for a second) was the fact that there was no stereotypical ‘Conference attendee’. Many people in that room held different, and often conflicting, political and ideological beliefs (left, right, middle, nationalist, unionist, crypto-anarchist, capitalist, whatever). The labels were irrelevant. The only defining belief that was shared by everyone in that room was that a very simple one – that technology could be used to destroy the one shared enemy of inefficiency.

My thoughts

I opened the day with a few thoughts of my own about the current position. With the Conference taking place under a month before the country goes to the polls to take arguably the most important decision in its modern political history, I believe that there’s actually another far more important narrative at play. And that’s the fact that more people within this country than ever before are questioning the relationship that they have as individuals with both the currency and the state – in many cases for the first time in their lives. My point? Given this background, the result is less important than the fact that the collective societal lethargy has lifted.

I believe that the emergence of technological solutions such as Bitcoin provide us with the opportunity to forge a future in which we can build more resilient, equitable and – yes – consequently, even more valuable systems. There’s a collective responsibility to go out and seek answers – and where those do not yet exist, to create them as part of this new paradigm shift towards an increasingly decentralised society.

With a uniquely Scottish perspective, it is of critical importance that we build awareness and understanding around an often misunderstood topic to give us a solid foundation before we can really start to develop things to the next stage. In the UK, and Scotland, we have a great opportunity to build on the progress today. As things stand, we have a (UK) government that is engaging with the Bitcoin community on various levels. We are not simply seeing the more reactionary, knee-jerk reactions to entrepreneurship in the field of digital currency that are so visible in many other countries across the world. We’re not in the worst place to take advantages of the opportunities that are arising. In fact I’d argue, in Scotland, and in Edinburgh, we are in fact in one of the best.

Bitcoin can’t be killed. But the more people that we can bring with us on this journey from an early stage, in which we explore all of the potential that blockchain technologies provide us with, then the greater the collective benefits will be for all. We’re still at an early stage in the development of the technology but make no mistake – things are moving – and fast. Here in Scotland we sometimes forget just how important the contributions to the world have been from individuals in this country in the past. We have a proud history of being a nation of innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs; a hostoric pedigree of financial leadership; and a growing entrepreneurial network that is necessarily global in outlook.

Thanks again to everyone who got involved. We’ve now drawn that line in the sand. Where will we all be when the second Scottish Bitcoin Conference rolls around?

Here’s a few speaker photos from the day:-

Dug Campbell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Dug Campbell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Jon Matonis, Executive Director, The Bitcoin Foundation, addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Jon Matonis, Exec. Director, The Bitcoin Foundation, addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Garrick Hileman, London School of Economics addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Garrick Hileman, London School of Economics addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Lui Smyth (CoinJar) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Lui Smyth (CoinJar) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Matt Monach (Standard Life Investments) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Matt Monach (Standard Life Investments) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Max Steele (Coinometrics) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Max Steele (Coinometrics) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Sveinn Valfells addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Sveinn Valfells addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Nick Lambert, COO MaidSafe addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Nick Lambert, COO MaidSafe addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Scott Maxwell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Scott Maxwell addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014

 

Panel Session: Scott Maxwell, Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Daniel Masters (Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment Fund) - Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
Panel Session: Scott Maxwell, Lui Smyth (CoinJar), Mark Lamb (CoinFloor), Daniel Masters (Global Advisors Bitcoin Investment Fund) – Scottish Bitcoin Conference, Edinburgh, 23rd August 2014
Wouter Vonk (BitPay) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014
Wouter Vonk (BitPay) addresses the Scottish Bitcoin Conference, 23rd August 2014