Coming after a three-year Covid pause, last week’s DevCon conference was the biggest in the event’s six-year history, bringing more than 6,000 Ethereum fanatics from all over the world to the convention center in Bogotá, Colombia. As someone deeply involved in blockchain technology and a decentralized internet–as well as an engineering manager at Loka, a company currently venturing into Web3–I was very excited to be there.
I appreciate being in the same room as leaders and innovators as well as old friends and colleagues (some of whom are the same people!), and it was a nice coincidence that Loka held its first-ever LatAm all-hands in Bogotá that same week. 🙂
DevCon provided A LOT of food for thought, which I boiled down to my top three highlights below, along with some general impressions. Dig in!
Of course I couldn’t resist the Matrix-style photo booth.
Six thousand people! That’s a lot of people, especially for a conference on a niche topic happening in a South American city. But DevCon’s popularity says a lot about the global interest in Web3, and it seems only right that it takes place in an often overlooked place like Bogotá, which by the way is home to 8 million people!
Bogotá, like other “emerging markets,” contains plenty of tech talent but only the beginnings of the kind of community found in more traditional tech centers. DevCon helped nurture that young scene. DevCon folks were mostly developers, but also a lot of VCs, UX designers, PMs and other positions from LatAm and the US as well as Europe, India, Thailand and elsewhere.
The Bogotá Convention Center is a cool building, kind of a giant cube built around a central atrium, situated in the city’s dense downtown corridor. I entered through the ground floor, which housed the information center, swag booth, food court, a chillout terrace and random games and activities. From here you could opt for the underground floor, which was a huge workspace for hacking and coworking, the fifth floor for major talks and panel conversations, or one of the other four floors for smaller events, company tables and booths and different chillout areas.
Taking in the venue and vibe from the second floor.
I missed the keynote speech by Vitalik Buterin, the principal founder of Ethereum. Buterin is perceived as a good guy, humble, selfless and crazy smart. Whether that’s an idealized picture or the real deal I don’t know, but either way people love him.
“The Future of Web3UX: A Paradigm Shift for Better Collaboration Between Design and Development,” a talk by Sasha Tanase
Sasha is currently the head of UX/UXR for the Threshold Network and has been a leading figure in UX design in Web3 for five years or so. In this talk she emphasized a hugely important sticking point in the evolution of Web3, one that I think this community needs to fix as soon as possible, which is why her talk felt so urgent.
In short, projects tend to be tech-oriented, with engineering and development taking the lead and user experience taking a backseat. Designers and UX teams come too late to the table and have their hands tied at that point, because anything deployed into the blockchain is immutable, making code updates difficult, if not impossible. This mis-prioritization sends a clear message to end users that they’re not top of mind and keeps Web3 from finding a wider audience.
Sasha explained that this issue would be reduced if developers focus on the user perspective from the beginning. She proposed applying the double diamond design process to future Web3 products. It’s not a new approach, but applying it to Web3 development is new, and I think it will work. I agree with Sasha and think it’s an excellent way to make sure this technology doesn’t end up accidentally eliminating potential users.
Sasha stressing the need for designers and UX to have a seat at the Web3 table.
Sasha proposed bringing the “double diamond” design process Web3 products.
Turns out you can help make DevCon climate-neutral! A page on the DevCon website (powered by Discarbon) allows attendees to compute the CO2 cost of their travel to Bogotá and then offset it by contributing to a pool of money to be used to fight climate change. In return for their financial contribution they receive tokens that allow them to vote on how the money will be used.
This doesn't solve all the environmental issues of hosting a massive conference; it’s mostly just throwing money at the problem. But to me this is a good illustration of Ethereum’s focus on environmental sustainability–and an absolutely necessary initiative within this growing community.
Many people already know that Bitcoin, that more famous blockchain-enabled cryptocurrency, is terribly energy intensive. What they might not know is that Ethereum recently migrated from a Proof of Work algorithm to a Proof of Stake, a shift in the way blockchain transactions are validated that reduced Ethereum’s energy usage by 99.95%. This is another step in the right direction. At this point in human history, ANY new technology/market/product we embrace must be sustainable, otherwise it should be rejected.
“Little-Known Web3py,” a talk by Marc Garreau
Marc is one of the top maintainers of the Web3py library, which is basically a storehouse of readymade, open-source Python code for developers to use to help shortcut their blockchain work. His talk was gold for any Python developer working in Web3, since Web3py is the go-to library to fetch data and interact with the Ethereum blockchain. Marc took us on a journey through all sorts of hidden features and customizations such as async and ENS support.
He also addressed the breaking changes caused by the Ethereum merge, such as block identifiers and block times, and offered solutions to address them. He shared some personal debug tips that might end up saving me hours of debugging code as well as some other useful Python libraries for Web3.
Today I received an attestation from the Ethereum Foundation by helping them do some user testing on their website. This small bit of work was a way to be more deeply involved in the conference, and from it I gained a kind of mini-diploma. To me this is really cool technology. It's a real-world application of a proof of attendance protocol, or POAP, and one of the most effective uses of blockchain technology, a form of certification that’s valid only for the person who holds it. In the future, maybe universities will do the same, or Amazon Web Services will provide POAP certifications for people who achieve a certain experience level with their technology. I love seeing this technology, which can seem invisible or intangible, appear clearly in real life :)
“Future of Smart Contract Security Audits: REKT or WAGMI?”, a panel with six speakers, including Gonçalo Sá
This security panel was fire! “Trust” is the Web3 keyword, and without proper auditing no project can claim that its user’s savings are secure within their smart contracts. Hackers exploit critical vulnerabilities all the time, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars. However, though they’re high impact, breaches are still low frequency events, so sometimes companies neglect auditing due to resource limitations. Plus there are several other ways a project can lose traction.
Hearing the experts on this panel unfolded a more complex reality. The speakers included Goncalo Sá, the founder of ConsenSys Diligence, one of the first and most trusted auditing companies in the Web3 space. He’s the man when it comes to security and smart contracts on the blockchain (and he happens to be an old friend of mine). And as he explained, on one hand a dearth of auditing and security talent has led to high cost and low availability. On the other, auditing quality is sometimes questionable and its effectiveness arguable.
Goncalo Sá is the man when it comes to security and smart contracts on the blockchain.
Auditors are human, and no human can ensure 100% effectiveness, so one shouldn’t have unreasonable expectations in the security field. But also anyone paying for a service would like some level of assurance that they’re getting what they’re paying for. The point is that security is complicated and expensive, but a lack of security is even more expensive–and, ultimately, unfair.
Today I skipped DevCon to meet with the CEO of Loka, Bobby Mukherjee, who was in town for the company’s LatAm all-hands. One of the main reasons I’m at DevCon in the first place is because Loka is launching RealTicket, a blockchain-enabled event ticketing application and another exciting, real-world use of Web3 technology. We want folks in the Web3 space, from developers to VCs to potential clients, to know that we’re operating at the forefront of this technology. And RealTicket, which started as one employee’s personal project at LokaLabs, the company’s internal incubator, is our PoC to demonstrate the quality of our work.
I don’t want to make any bold predictions about the future of Web3 or Ethereum. As a developer, that’s not my forte. I’m more interested in harnessing the technology NOW than trying to guess where it will go. That said, the impression I got from DevCon, in all its diversity and depth of people and ideas, is that the ecosystem looks healthy. There are many key players and companies that are doing really interesting stuff in the Web3 space. At this point it has probably achieved the status of “too big to fail,” but in this industry you never know what might come along and become the next big thing.