From No Knowledge to Zero Knowledge Proof

In 2000, I was coding custom themes in an object-oriented programming language (S2) — but I didn’t know it. The pressure to manage my digital identity within my LiveJournal communities led me to begrudgingly digest the Style System manual while wondering how I got from HTML cut-tags to conditional branching. Little did I realize so many others were negotiating the same.

In 2012, I coded an override to a Linux kernel — but I didn’t know it. I installed Ubuntu on my partner’s PC after finding Cory Doctorow’s devotion to its Mac-like UX. When it didn’t operate as planned, I obsessively perused through FAQs and cried out unto IRC until I was armed with sudo commands and a functional OS.

Even back in 1992, I was writing lines of code in DOS — but, again, I didn’t know. Like most children with a PC and an affection for point-and-click CD-ROM games, my play-time was dependent on my ability to locate the D:\drive and guess executable file names. DOOM was easy, but Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis required a systematic testing of each noun until D:\ATLANTIS.EXE cued John Williams’ suite in 4/4 and 8-bit.

Through all of these instances, and in between, I always considered myself incapable of programming. I didn’t clock them as technical accomplishments, but a means to an end.

So how did I end up here? Working my way from No Knowledge to Zero Knowledge proof — or at least working towards a comprehensive understanding of it along with the ecosystem — in the blockchain space?

Finding Free Culture … & Losing Myself

As a student I was enthralled with peer-to-peer sharing, the architecture of BitTorrent, and the social contract of its users. The sentiment of distributed data, content, and culture, beyond the interests of larger industries pushed me on a path to study copyright law and Net Neutrality. I produced panels on free culture, digital rights management, and public policy, and hosted events with speakers from Creative Commons, the Future of Music Coalition, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation — but I was not considered technical.

In fact, for every step I took toward those in tech, the world drew bolder lines between us. When I looked into Interdisciplinary CS programs at Mills, I faced the reality that my BA was lagging in math pre-requisites. When I enrolled in Ruby Intro, I found that the other students were already fluent in C. When I attempted to Learn Python the Hard Way, I was easily stumped on exercise 17. A bailed Lynda class here. A failed Outreachy contribution there. I didn’t feel welcome, motivated, or capable. I didn't feel like myself.

I know that it wasn’t malicious that I didn’t find access and encouragement to pursue avenues in CS. And since I’ve now held positions building community strategies for product teams and e-learning environments, I realize that these programs failed to deliver the community that was inherent in those early years of accidental coding — a community that meets the user at every level of their curiosity: intentionally, incidentally, and otherwise.

Safiya Umoja Noble PhD, author of Algorithms of Oppression
Safiya Umoja Noble PhD, author of Algorithms of Oppression
Safiya Umoja Noble PhD, author of Algorithms of Oppression

So I backed off. I continued to admire open-source and public-interest technologists from afar. I volunteered as an editor for the Ada Lovelace Foundation. I devoured material by Dana Boyd and Safiya Noble. I tracked projects by Eva Galperin, and the teams at Mozilla, AccessNow, Allied Media, Clarity Conference, and RightsCon. And I loved following their plans to effect real change, even if all the while I wondered where I could fit in.

Suddenly, Blockchain

When I heard whispers of a mysterious new technology determined to upend the Internet, it sounded like the evolution of P2P with the tenets of FOSS. And with every new article on how this could begin to repair numerous social issues that our digital infrastructure failed to address — access, equity, transparency, etc — the echoes of my free culture days grew louder.

I immediately began researching every project. I joined channels on Telegram, Discord, and Slack, and found wonderful groups like the Community of Communities and All Women in Blockchain. White papers? Yellow papers? Beige papers? I set out to decode them. I bought my first bitcoin, and ETH, and novelty assets like Crypto Kitties. I began to learn about wallets and identifiers like uPort, and attended conferences like Consensus, Crypto Invest Summit, and EthDenver.

And with luck, I learned that my skills in community strategy, digital marketing, and audience acquisition were useful to Ethereum projects.

So I got to work.

But I know there’s so much more catching up to do.

So what’s the plan?

I’m going to learn more about the blockchain industry with a current focus on Ethereum, responsible data, and public interest projects.

I’ll aim to:

  • Document my experiences as I learn.
  • Assess dapps from the perspective of a new user.
  • Discuss community and governance and use cases beyond the space.
  • And dive into diversity and inclusion.

Like my previous experiences, I don’t know if I’ll find a home in this world. But so far, I already feel more like myself: engaged in a community, feverishly learning, and stumbling, but moving forward.

And as long as I can find a community to stumble with me, I’m all in.

Hell, I even made it through a MOOC!

Certificate in Digital Currencies, University of Nicosia

Growth & Community Acala, Karura