Kristy-Leigh Minehan is an engineer, developer and coder. She's also the public face of ProgPoW—a proposed upgrade to the Ethereum blockchain that’s, arguably, the most contentious since the chain was forced to fork in 2016. In her years working in blockchain--she's been involved since 2008--Minehan has done a lot: She helped build one of the world’s largest GPU mining facilities, became a consultant for dozens of Fortune 500 companies looking to explore blockchain, and helped governments in Europe build distributed file storage and immutable ledgers. Below Minehan explores her journey into blockchain, and why startups should never forget the product.
How did you first get into blockchain and the decentralized web?
I’ve been involved in the ecosystem since 2008; I started getting a paycheck in 2010. I won’t say I’ve had a lot of experience in the decentralizedweb, but I’ve been poking around cryptocurrency in all its various facets for a while, with a focus mainly on the software side. That escalated into the hardware side, which escalated into the application side...and now, I suppose, I’m focused on the business side of blockchain.
When did you get involved in the project you are currently working on?
In May 2018, we publicly announced ProgPoW, but me and a few others have been working on it a bit before that.
What need does it serve?
ProgPoW is an extension of Ethash, and tunes it to a GPU card in order to keep the decentralized properties Ethereum originally intended. Your user base for a proof of workblockchain is defined by the hardware you target, and targeting a massively commercial piece of hardware is one of the keys to creating a diverse user base.
Have you worked on other blockchain projects before?
A few ppen source projects under a pseudonym “OhGodA_” that's targeted for cryptocurrency miners:
OhGodATool: A VBIOS editing suite for AMD Polaris.
OhGodAVolt: An undervolting suite for AMD Polaris (for Linux).
OhGodADump: A NVIDIA VBIOS Viewer for NVIDIA Pascal.
OhGodAMiner: A private, optimized cryptocurrency miner for ETH, ZEC, AION, XMR, BBR and GRIN.
Most notable works in the last two years are ETHlargement (increase your hashrate by 50% for ETH for NVIDIA cards!), and the latest being the “Vega Viagra”, which is turning into an all-in-one firmware editing suite for GPUs.
Can you give us a summary of your career thus far, how did you get here?
I’ve been working as a consultant since 2010--having the freedom to work on multiple things is important to me (I like to tell my boss I operate like a GPU, need multiple thread groups for full occupancy). The blockchain space back in 2010-2014 also offered you a lot of freedom, because people didn’t care about your real name, your gender, or your age--just your skills.
I got to work on some really amazing projects--rewrites of node software (my favorite was an LTC port to C!); rewrites of cgminer/bmminer; optimized CUDA and OpenCL kernels for GPU miners; some stuff for the FPGA scene back in 2013; digital design for BTC ASICs; analog design for XMR ASICs; firmware optimizations, etc. My favorite projects were always the “Whitepaper” ones: you were given a whitepaper (or sometimes just the algorithm itself), and told to build a CPU-based miner from it. I had about seven of those--ZCash remains my favorite.
Despite what side you take in the #ProgPoW discussion, I think it is important to remember that blockchain is a small space. We're stronger as one family. We have to support each other, not fight each other. Remember: we're humans, first and foremost. Be excellent to each other.
In 2015, I joined Genesis Mining as a cryptographic engineer and started trying out this whole ‘adult’ thing (it wasn’t what it’s all cracked up to be)--I went on to do some crazy things including help to build one of the world’s largest GPU mining facilities, and became a consultant and advisor for a lot of the Fortune 500 companies that were poking their heads in to see what the hell this whole blockchain thing about.
In 2018, I departed to go try my hand at running my own company - I spent some time in the Russian-bloc countries working with governments and private firms that were looking for solutions for distributed file storage and immutable ledgers. I built a few mining operations and not long after, Core Scientific sniped me as their Chief Technology Officer. I’ve been creating corporate chaos ever since.
What has been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in this space?
Oh man. It’s without a doubt been the backlash against ProgPoW. That has been creative, to say the least. I knew we’d face some colorful opposition from #TeamASIC, but the conspiracy theories have been something else.
What’s the best piece of advice you were given when it comes to being an entrepreneur in this space?
“If you have an idea, teach yourself to build it and just run with it.” Some dude on freenode’s #dogecoin said that, and it’s become something of a life mantra.
What advice would you give to someone setting up a business in the decentralized web?
Never forget the product. The decentralized web tends to draw a lot of engineers or engineering minds, and we have a habit of sticking our head into the code and having a different vision of what’s ‘cool’--but product is everything in adoption, and without a strong, user-friendly product, you’re not going to be able to have an impact.
What project or projects are you most excited about?
Ah! So many things at Core Scientific! And I can’t talk about a single one of them, but holy hell, we have some amazing stuff in the pipeline that’s going to shake the foundations of blockchain and artificial intelligence as we know it!
What’s the difference between setting up a company in the decentralized space versus regular business?
Be prepared to have paychecks sent to usernames instead of real names; be prepared to communicate only over encrypted messaging; be prepared to work with multiple time zones; be prepared to keep people entertained and engaged in order to keep the movement going on your products. Also, be prepared to only deal in cryptocurrency, and if you need to work with fiat, be prepared to fight with your bank every step of the way.
How would you describe blockchain to someone who has never heard of it before?
Oh man, someone on Twitter said it best: “Imagine if keeping your car idling 24/7 produced solved sudokus you could trade for heroin."
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