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Transitioning to Crypto

with Lewis Tuff, VPE @ Blockchain.com

January 18, 2022
Transitioning to Crypto
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ABOUT LEWIS TUFF

Lewis (@tuffleuk) is the Vice President of Engineering at Blockchain.com where he is responsible for the technology underpinning Blockchain.com’s services. As the 2nd engineering hire at Revolut, he scaled the team to 50+ and spearheaded the initiative to bring cryptocurrencies to Revolut. He built the first of its kind crypto offering within a challenger bank over the course of a couple of months and was responsible for bringing $300M+ trading revenue in due course.

In March 2018 Lewis joined Blockchain.comas an engineering lead to be part of one of the most important companies in crypto infrastructure, rising to the Head of Platform Engineering as the company and industry grew. That same year he was included on Business Insider’s “35 under 35” in fintech. Lewis began his career building trading and risk technology systems at Goldman Sachs and UBS. He lives in London.

"And I think you have to have an innate technical curiosity to want to jump into this space because you can't just go on Stack Overflow and look up the answer to your problem. Many of these problems that we're solving are unprecedented and so you need an engineer, actually, that really loves getting into the weeds, diving into root causes of problems, and coming up with these elegant but commercial solutions.”

- Lewis Tuff   


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SHOW NOTES:

  • Patrick’s FOMO after learning his dad owned Doge-coin… (2:03)
  • How Lewis went from traditional finance to a career in blockchain/crypto (3:35)
  • One question to help you gain career perspective as an engineering leader (9:36)
  • The principles behind blockchain technology that led Lewis to “go all in” (10:34)
  • Are blockchain engineering challenges harder to solve? (13:03)
  • Unprecedented (but not unsolvable) problems in blockchain (14:56)
  • Staying lean & focused while balancing team size & scope (19:47)
  • Making the transition from "centralized" to "decentralized" thinking (24:07)
  • How to use Github to source great engineering candidates (28:07)
  • Do engineering leaders need to be domain experts to manage teams in blockchain/crypto? (30:15)
  • How engineering leadership is similar in blockchain companies & crypto’s ethos of “paying it forward” (33:29)
  • Why it’s not too late to start a career in blockchain/crypto (36:14)
  • How blockchain leverages the power of community (38:44)
  • The first thing you should do to explore a career in blockchain: Try out the products & technology! (45:25)
  • Where are the hottest markets/locations for cryptocurrency right now? (46:46)
  • Rapid-Fire Questions (47:41)
  • Takeaways (50:20)

LINKS AND RESOURCES


TRANSCRIPT

Patrick's FOMO after learning his dad owned Doge-coin...

Patrick Gallagher: Two really short stories I wanted to share, just to set some context where I think I'm coming from, into this conversation. Which is very much the role of an outside observer within the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. And so I'm interested, but I'm definitely intimidated.

There seems to be like a big, I guess, knowledge leap to make, to become familiar in the space and did it to get involved. And so. I recently had like a big "I'm missing out!" moment because this week, literally I was telling my dad, "You know, we're doing this interview." And he goes, "Oh yeah, like I own Bitcoin".

And I'm like, "What?" And he goes, "Oh yeah, I also own Dogecoin". I'm like, "Dad, are you kidding me? It took you a year. And you've never told me this." And so I was like, okay, I'm definitely missing out. My dad is involved in this space now. And I'm like, what? So that was like a huge moment. And then the other was, this week also, is catching up with an engineering leader.

He lives in Europe. And he's kind of going through a career transition. And so he's been working mainly with like big institutions, like big tech companies. And he told me like, oh yeah, I'm exploring blockchain. And I'm really interested in cryptocurrency and what that means. And so I'm trying to figure out: one, is it actually interesting to me? Or two, how do I even break into that space?

And I was like, oh man, like these are signals that I am definitely missing out. And so I think part of it into this conversation is like, I think there's a lot of people in this space who probably feel the same way that I do in terms of like: "Am I missing out? What am I missing out on? But if I want to get involved and if I am interested in, how do I do that?"

So first off, really excited to talk with you about that.

Lewis Tuff: Great.

Patrick Gallagher: You started off within the investment banking world, and then you moved over to Revolut as the second engineering hire. And then since that point, you became an engineering leader and then over the last few years or so, now becoming the VP of Engineering @ Blockchain.com.

How Lewis went from traditional finance blockchain/crypto

Patrick Gallagher: So you've had a, also a fascinating journey that a lot of people may also relate with in terms of not necessarily being intersecting with the space and now, you know, playing very much a big role in it.

I guess Lewis, the perfect place to begin is like: how the heck did you get into the Blockchain and cryptocurrency space?

Can you tell us your journey as an engineering leader and how you got involved here?

Lewis Tuff: Yeah, sure. Will do. So I guess it starts, as you say, in the investment banking, traditional finance world. Coming out of university, getting sucked into that space. They had like great career stands and people coming through and to university campuses, telling you all about it kind of low latency architectures, high throughput volume, and really kind of solving hard technical problems.

So I started off my journey there, but having spent a few years at both UBS and Goldman, started to rethink about, okay, I'm not really doing much really to my academics and my, maybe my personal passion projects. Where else can I apply myself and really kind of impact more people at scale?

And at Goldman, one of the things that kind of triggered me to get into actually figuring out and finding out about the Bitcoin white paper, was like in those heavily regulated environments, there is not much that you're able to invest in. And if you want to buy a single stock, it has to go through an approval process. You have to have a brokerage account that has been pre-approved and there's only like one option and it's paper-based. And there's no digital version or mobile app.

And so I came across this asset - Bitcoin - and people were talking about it, read the white paper. And I was like, "Hey, I should definitely get exposure to this and try it out firsthand".

And from there, I became a little bit of evangelist to of my friends and was just telling them at every opportunity, "Hey, this is really exciting. This is the future. You should try this out." Even though my first attempt getting some exposure, I had to send funds through three different accounts and then jump through all the hoops to finally actually buy my first Bitcoin.

That was around the time where I was thinking about my own engineering future. And then I had this opportunity to join a startup and I hadn't really considered joining the startup space before. Wasn't really aware of many of the opportunities that were available there and the kind of diverse range of problems that people are trying to tackle.

And I'm already excited by - met the, uh, co-founders of Revolut at a time. They just had hot desks in a coworking space and they're talking about how they want to build this travel card, fee-free effects, anywhere in the world, and really make it more accessible to travel at scale, without having to think about your currency at any point in time. So lowering the barriers across borders.

And that triggered in my mind like, "Hey, hang on a minute. If they can do this for foreign exchange why can't I do this for cryptocurrencies?" So the first thing I did within the first month of being there was create this proposal on how we can add Bitcoin into this banking product.

CEO loved it. Unfortunately, the regulator at the time was not quite ready for us to embark on this weird and wonderful world and mission. This was in 2015. And so it got parked for a couple of years.

And January 2017, ETH starts rising from $4 to $12. Bitcoins starts getting some tracks from, from a hundred, a couple of hundred dollars to like a thousand.

I turned to the CEO. I'm like, Nick, this is the time to do it. Like, we're going to miss the bandwagon. We need to jump on this.

It still wasn't a core proposition of the company, right? We're building this challenger bank. We're trying to reinvent and innovate how you interact with your money globally and create this kind of cross-border account.

Adding cryptocurrency still was unheard-of. Around that time, you had the Netflix documentaries on Silk Road. That kind of got a lot of people scared about this shady underworld that it never heard about before.

And again, a lot of people in incumbents were very much kind of worried about this advent of this technology that potentially was fueling this underbelly of society. So, what did I do? I decided I'll just build it anyway. But I'll do it on my own time.

Not on company time, evenings, weekends. And I'll just, I paired up with a mobile engineer. We just built the whole thing end to end and spent a lot of that kind of year convincing everyone: colleagues, investors, the board, partners that, Hey, this wasn't gonna blow up the company. This was like a managed risk and actually is the start of something much greater than like the company itself.

So yeah, we - fortuitous timing - launched in Q4 2017. Overnight, that kind of 10x'd all of the numbers: revenue, users, engagement, activation, you name it. And yeah, got me on the radar of a Peter Smith at Blockchain.com who reached out. And we had a few conversations around what blockchain was doing. I was a long-time user of Blockchain.com. I'd use Explorer, used the wallet for many years and it was going to get excited to find out, okay, what's on the roadmap for the company?

And he said, "Hey, why don't you come on board. We want to bridge the gap between this crypto native world and experience and traditional finance. And your experience at Revolut is kind of applicable here as we kind of embark on it's more regulated mission. And kind of, I get to go all-in on cryptocurrencies."

So he actually asked me the question at the time was like, Hey, Lewis, are you ready to go all-in?

Patrick Gallagher: It's a good question.

Lewis Tuff: Yeah, I hesitated for a moment and I was like, "Wow. Yeah, that's a big question. Risk everything? Let's... let's do this!"

I mean, I think that I've been following space for a long time is moving fast. And yeah, I'm a big believer in, like, if you're the smartest person in the room, you're in the wrong room.

In this case, the domain knowledge I had on cryptocurrencies and this one colleague of mine, we knew the most about the space within the context of the company I was in at a time. And I really wanted to be around people that knew way more than I did and go far deeper into space than I had.

And so for me, it was kind of a no-brainer to then jump in, join people who've been in the space kind of since inception. And really we're trying to build with a lot of really interesting technology on top of this new set of protocols.

One question to help you gain career perspective as an engineering leader

Patrick Gallagher: I have so many follow-up questions, Lewis. Jerry, it also looks like you have a lot of follow-up questions, so I can open it up for you first.

Jerry Li: The going all-in on this, that's a really effective and interesting question to convince someone to join. Because it's... although it sounds intimidating, but it actually, it feels very inspiring and encouraging.

Is that how you feel, Lewis?

Lewis Tuff: No. I agree. I think that it really kind of put in perspective what was it that I really wanted to do here? And where do I - did I think that I could derive the most value by focusing my time and energy.

And so the question is a clarifying question rather than one of intimidation. So no, for me, yeah. I think it's effective. And I think that I often find myself asking the same question to many candidates and colleagues now. And it really kind of, yeah, gets people to think for a second. "Hang on. Yeah, actually, what I want to do here and how do I spend my time effectively?"

The principles behind blockchain technology that led Lewis to "go all-in"

Patrick Gallagher: I love that. So, related to that question, you know, you shared that you were then early evangelists to your friends. And so I think one of the questions that I had, related to like finding the answer to the, are you ready to go all-in question? what were some of those principles or dynamics around blockchain that, that really resonated with you? That's like, "this is it."

Lewis Tuff: Yeah. Great question. So for me, I guess the underlying thesis and ethos now for myself, and one of the key principles is around democratization of finance? And so like really making financial infrastructure and the economy more accessible on a global scale.

And so that was one of the reasons for joining Revolut, right? Accessing a cross-border account with no effect. You don't limit or restrict who can jump on board. And basically, cryptocurrencies are doing that on a much larger scale, and they're really flipping all of the traditional financial models on its head.

To think, okay, if we could rebuild this from scratch, how would we do it more efficiently and more effectively and more transparently and for a lower cost. And so to me, that's the driving factor behind my decision model now, on my life and investments and my career. It's like, how do I make finance more accessible using technology effectively?

And for me, that's like now a personal passion to ensure that no matter where you are in the world, you should be opened up to the same type of opportunities. And it still seems a little disturbing that like, just because you were born in a certain country, you can't get a certain bank account or you can transact in a certain currency. Or you have capital controls on your own money and how much you can withdraw on a daily basis.

Patrick Gallagher: Or you have to pay like 20, 20%, of your - the remittance, like all of those things.

Lewis Tuff: Exactly. And there's like, there's no option. Right. They have to go to the convenience store. They're going to take this huge cut. All people weren't aware of the spreads. The convenience store, or the grocery exchange may say, Hey, we charge your fees. But then our spread is like 300 bits or something or like a ridiculously wide. And so there's all these very obscure mechanics that, that are at play. And I think the consumer has not been put first uh, during this process. And I think cryptocurrencies help change that. It's like putting the power and control back into the individual's hands and all the innovation is getting built off the back of that.

Patrick Gallagher: I think this is something that a lot of people relate to and resonate with, is like: the early pitch you got for your first job out of college was like, you'll be able to work on really hard technical problems. And I feel like that's something that a lot of people, a lot of traditional software companies, that's the thing it's like, oh, come here, you'll work on this really hard technical problem.

Are Blockchain engineering challenges harder to solve?

Patrick Gallagher: It's gonna be a great experience for you to grow. For, for like blockchain problems, would you consider them harder, or are they like a different type of difficulty? Is it a different class of difficulty within that scale?

Lewis Tuff: Well, I think like any industry or any company, you have a wide spectrum of problems. So if you're referring to working on the crypto native kind of first principle approach, understanding the protocol, understanding the life cycle of a transaction, understanding how to kind of, really build on top of the EVM the Ethereum Virtual Machine, working at that kind of low level does require subject matter expertise and does require a lot of education and iteration, to really understand how to do that effectively.

But equally, we need engineers also that are building web services that can scale and are stateless and can keep up with demand.

Right? A lot of the space uh, will benefit from many different profiles and skillsets of engineers. 'cause accessibility is key here. So, there are a lot of really hard technical problems to solve, but not every engineer needs to work on those because actually creating a great, delightful product experience where you've abstracted away all that complexity is equally as hard in my view.

Right. And whilst from a computer science perspective, it might not be a hard technical problem, from actually from a product perspective and like how you create that abstraction effectively, how you articulate to a user, make it intuitive, how you ensure that they can recover their funds at any point, right? And then lose them because they forgot to back up their mnemonic phrase.

Like all these problems actually require a lot more experience and skills and thinking than just kind of solving hard mathematical problems.

Patrick Gallagher: I really appreciate that. It's a different degree of difficulty, but like the equal impact that, that has. Like a different class of difficulty. So, related to just the different models, I'm really curious about like, you know, most people listening are engineering leaders.

Unprecedented (but not unsolvable) problems in blockchain

Patrick Gallagher: I wanted to kind of dive into how blockchain or crypto companies are different from other software companies. And does it require a different way of thinking as an engineering leader? Like, are there different mental models that you have to flip? I would just love to know, like, is there a leadership paradigm that changes in this industry?

Lewis Tuff: Yeah. I think the key things that I live by and assess with internal employees and colleagues, but also prospective candidates, well, one of those principles is like technical curiosity. And I think you have to have an innate technical curiosity to want to jump into this space because you can't just go on Stack Overflow and look up the answer to your problem.

Many of these problems that we're solving are unprecedented and not many companies, if any, have solved them before. And so you need an engineer actually, that really loves getting into the weeds, diving into kind of root causes of problems and coming up with these elegant but commercial solutions.

And so I think that kinda leads me to the next piece, which is in our space that is moving so fast, then there's such a vast wealth of knowledge and complexity that is growing day by day. You have to be hyper-focused and so you have to choose your key areas of interest. Then maybe have a few passion projects where you're like, want to follow the trends, but you have to get comfortable with the unknown and comfortable with chaos because you can't keep on top of everything.

And I think like some of the individuals that we've hired that come from maybe more traditional companies and backgrounds. They find this transition quite difficult because they're used to working in a company where they can understand the whole stack end to end. And they understand all the technology and all of the flows and all the user journeys and all of the products and they know who they're competing with because there are established players in the market. And so they're always kind of looking at and iterating their product based on how the competition is moving.

Whereas here, you have like an infinite array of permutations of different products, services, utilities, tokens, exchanges, brokers, DeFi, NFT. It's just like so many of these different products and features that are trending and becoming popular and being used that you already have to decide as a company, what is your core focus? And then ensure that you have accountability and ownership within the team. And empower those individuals to step up and drive, move in their domain area. And so it's really carving out those kind of domain area experts, making sure you have a team that is kind of cohesive around those key pillars and then giving them the freedom to innovate and drive value.

Patrick Gallagher: What also stands out to me of like some of the team dynamics, is, it surprises me how lean some of the teams are that are building applications on top of the blockchain. I was just doing some research around the entity DeSo and what they're doing. And so they're providing - you might be able to explain this a little bit better. Again, my understanding within the blockchain cryptocurrency world can be no more than, superficial here. But from my understanding, they're building the overarching technology and the blockchain itself, and a lot of other players are coming in, not related to DeSo, building apps on top of their blockchain. And the teams involved, they have only like a dozen folks, like within their team that is building up that, but let's say like the leanness, to be able to build out some of these applications and technologies, I think to me, is really surprising.

Lewis Tuff: I think what you're seeing there is when you get highly proficient and capable engineers working around a problem they're passionate about and are completely aligned on the mission and product they're building, you can drive real value and that's kind of a compound effect.

And it's actually something that we, we're following in terms of our hiring practices. So, many of our competitors have thousands and thousands of employees. We're still in the couple of hundred range. We're just over a hundred engineers right now in our organization. And we're a little bit more methodical about who we hire and how we hire, because we'd rather have a smaller set of very high-impact individuals, than a much larger set of generalists that maybe are delivering less value.

Right? So we're looking for those high-impact, high leverage. I mean, they're referred to as many names that uh, I'll, I'll leave that because it's kind of an overloaded term at this point. And who knows what a 10X engineer really is, but a lot of people use these terms to describe kind of high-impact individuals. I think what it's about actually is not these solo individuals that are great in their own. Right. I think it's like, some of the parts are greater than the whole. And so if you have a team of engineers that are really aligned and are at similar proficiency levels, then you can really get a combined effect and a much greater output.

And so yeah, all of our teams actually are between both cross-functionally and focusing around between 5 and 10 engineers. Any more than that, it becomes hard, especially in a remote environment.

Patrick Gallagher: Jerry, it looks like you got a question.

Staying lean & focused while balancing team size & scope

Jerry Li: Yeah, I'm really curious to dive into the different ways of those... a small team of highly capable individuals with strong curiosity and can move fast versus that your competitors have much larger team, more resources.

Sort of diving into that to see what are the differences you notice on day to day basis on execution for those two teams.

Lewis Tuff: I think - look - you need to have a good balance. Even in a smaller company, like relatively like ours, a couple of hundred people. You need to have this balance of long-lived teams that are focused on the core platforms.

So if that's like modular architecture, shared services or libraries and frameworks that are reused. So these are like the engineers that are enabling the iterative process and the more feature-based development, which is generally a shorter time for most projects. So you need to make sure that every functional team has some kind of core: a set of individuals that are just focused on enabling your shipping cadence to continue to grow.

And so that's kind of how we've set things up here, where on mobile, we have a core team. On the backend we have the core team, web we have a core team. And these individuals are focused on the architecture, on the component libraries, on, say the frameworks, shared services, and that enables you then whilst they are kind of moving at a slower cadence, they're building the robust foundations of which everyone else can iterate on top of.

And I think then with the feature engineers or product engineers that are often called, we're able to pull together a cross-functional team, full-stack, around a particular feature. Like recently we launched recurring buys. And so you can bring those full-stack engineers together. To deliver on that one particular feature.

And you do that very quickly because they have the foundations, right? They have the wallet, they have the ability to do pay-in and pay-out that you just swap it, but all those other components have already been built by our team members. And they're just building on top of that additional layer of complexity and business logic, that we then package up as a product feature.

So I think that's kind of how we've tried to maintain that balance so that you're not too heavily focused on execution at all costs. And you're not so focused on making sure you have a perfect architecture, which then hinders or impedes your ability to ship.

Making the transition from "centralized" to "decentralized" thinking

Patrick Gallagher: Lewis I'm trying to wonder, like, how do you change somebody's paradigm from thinking centralized to thinking decentralized? And does that paradigm. change how you approach managing or leading an engineering team in terms of how you approach the problems or the feature sets that you're building?

How does somebody make that cognitive leap to go from centralized to decentralized thinking? And then does that have an impact in terms of how you set up and lead your engineering team?

Lewis Tuff: Yeah, that's interesting. I think that straight off the bat, the biggest difference between centralized thinking and having this kind of walled garden versus decentralized is interoperability. It's like opening up access to your platform and having a mindset where you're building a great developer-first environment, right?

Because ultimately what you want to do is lay the foundations for which other projects, other teams can build on top of. As engineers are thinking about the products we're building and features that we're developing, where there are opportunities to partner with other projects and offer great utility to our teams, we'd have to do so.

So we'd actually, you mentioned DeSo. That's a company and an organization we partnered with and did their launch of BitClout before they rebranded to DeSo and at BitClout one application of many in their marketplace. But I think for us, what we look to do is ensure that we take a very kind of API-driven approach. I think Stripe has best-in-class APIs and I love to use that as a reference for our engineers and really kind of thinking about, "Okay. We don't need to build everything full-stack because there are a lot of opportunities here to partner with: existing infrastructure companies, protocols, dApps, and anything in between. So how can we leverage that to best offer a rich product experience to our customers?

As in, for example, if we were to decide and try and predict even which technology was going to win or be the leader, I think we'd always be behind. And so again, it plays into this vision of being the most interoperable and accessible company.

Because for example, with NFTs, that's a whole topic this year, and many people are now finding their first experience of cryptocurrencies is actually buying some artwork, a lyric, some music, accessing some game.

And what's interesting here is that most people will know and have heard about OpenSea. There are many other NFT marketplaces out there. The differences are built in different chains. And so when we think about this problem of like, oh, do we integrate with one of these providers or do we create something that is interoperable? We're always going for the latter.

So it's like thinking through, okay, if we want to be decentralized? For me, that really means how do we create the greatest accessibility to the projects that are either in a space and provide that as a product to our customers.

And so when we're thinking about building an NFT marketplace, which kind of was announced a few weeks ago, we're thinking about, okay, how do we build out a product experience that is cross-platform, fully interoperable, and gives the user the greatest feature richness possible without over-indexing on one and kind of assuming they're only ever going to trade on Ethereum or some other chain?

Patrick Gallagher: I think that paradigm of interoperability, I think helps make that really clear. Is that like, if you're trying to make a transition into the industry, understanding that the things that you're working on are probably going to be optimized for interoperability? And so coming in and thinking about that is probably a good frame of reference to start with

Lewis Tuff: And the great thing is with like the decentralized web and Web3, like many of these projects are built in the open, right? And so you're seeing these huge companies getting built overnight, where all of their software is available on GitHub.

And so if you really want to understand the mechanics and build on top of it, you can dive in there and go through and understand how they're building it, why they're making certain decisions and even contribute back, which is something that, yeah, some of the team numbers also do. To help kind of improve the community and improve the industry a whole.

How to use Github to source great engineering candidates

Patrick Gallagher: So with that, like with a lot of the source code being available on Github, is that a place that you would encourage somebody who is curious about learning more about the space to say, if you want to see what's going on, go look at some of the open-source projects there to get exposure?

Lewis Tuff: Oh, definitely. I think that's a great resource and you can set yourself a mini-project. Create your own mini blockchain. I mean, there are many of these tutorials actually available on GitHub, or just look at some of the simpler implementations available and really kind of understand what are the building blocks, all the blockchain, how does it all work? Has it fit together and what is securing your transaction and store value? And why is that being relied upon at scale?

And so, yeah. Github I think is a..., an invaluable resource. And it's actually also a great sourcing tool. I mean, we actually have hired a number of engineers through their contributions to our projects. All of our wallets are open source. And you can see full source code for all clients: Android, iOS, and web.

And yeah, we had one engineer recently that we hired who for the last year has been sending us PR request after PR request after PR request. And in the end, we were like, wow, we just have to hire this individual. He's like a prolific contributor to our codebase. Probably contributing more code than some of the internal employees. And so we're like, yeah, let's hire him. And so we ended up hiring this individual and they joined us a few months ago.

So it's also, yeah, a great way of actually finding great talent. And I think, yeah, I would recommend anyone to try, and one, use it as a reference and resource to learn the mechanics and the core concepts.

But two... try and contribute, because that actually helps to kind of build your discipline and your muscle memory and really understand the stylistic points of "What does it mean to build great software at scale? How do you architect it? How do you write great comments? Great tests?" Like all of the kind of best practices of software is forced upon you when you contribute someone else's codebase, because they have very strict guidelines that you have to follow. So I think it's a very quick, accelerated way of learning the ropes and understanding what works and what doesn't.

Do you need to be a domain expert to manage teams in blockchain/crypto?

Jerry Li: For a new leader thinking about jumping to the crypto space and managing your own teams. Uh, I think one question I may have in their mind is that "Do I have to be an expert in a domain to be able to effectively manage a team because engineers are domain experts. So, curious to hear your thoughts on that.

Lewis Tuff: Yeah, that's a good question. And it's something that I thought about a lot recently as we kind of expand the team very fast and I need to hire more and more engineering managers and leaders that can really help me to scale and grow their organization.

And I think the key thing that I've come to think about and realize during the assessment is that there are definitely some teams where deep domain expertise is required. And I think it's, for example, we have an exchange, it's a low latency architecture. So having someone go in, that's never built anything that has these tight constraints of microsecond round-trip times and is built on-prem in C++. It would be hard for someone building kind of web services and node to jump into that environment, right? And manage that team effectively. So I think there are cases like that where subject matter expertise really matters.

And on the crypto side, there are crypto native teams that are building on top of the protocols or, or working with the protocol teams directly where yes, it would be hugely beneficial if you understood and have done some work with some of these chains.

But I think, generally speaking, that's not the case. So what, what I look for and what we look for is this innate curiosity. You need to have done some research, get your hands dirty and really understood the core concepts. And even if you just take, say Bitcoin and Ethereum, and you just understand what is the key differences, between Bitcoin and Ethereum, what are the main similarities, that will start kind of driving these key core concepts.

Like how does the Akamai model differ between Ethereum and Bitcoin? Understanding that actually then dives you down this rabbit hole of understanding the transactional model. Understanding how you can pull balances. So it's actually pretty complex on Bitcoin to reconstruct your balance on-chain because of all the unspent transactions you have to pull.

So I think you don't need to be an expert in every protocol. There are far too many, I am definitely not an expert in every protocol, but you have to have enough of the fundamental knowledge to understand where the challenges are. And where the technical complexity is. So when you're building these products on top of these protocols, you can better size up and estimate the effort required, the team composition required, and the roadmap ahead.

And so yeah, having this technical curiosity, understanding the constraints of the technology you're building upon and really then thinking through, "Okay. Where are the interesting challenges? Where would I like to spend my time? And what are some of the products that I've used and how do they work?"

Patrick Gallagher: I think just to highlight another different part of like the paradigm. It was what you mentioned is that, like, it's not just about servicing your company, but it's also about supporting the entire ecosystem of the Ethereum network. you're not just optimizing for your own app, but you're also trying to optimize and support the entire network.

So I think that type of optimization is really interesting.

To me, it seems like the ability to get experience here is more accessible than getting experienced with the code base of, of most other companies.

Lewis Tuff: Yes.

Patrick Gallagher: Yeah, like that's, that's wild.

How engineering leadership is similar in blockchain companies & crypto’s ethos of “paying it forward”

Patrick Gallagher: So I was wondering if you had like other common pathways that people could get into the world of crypto, but also I think for an engineering leader specifically, is that pathway different?

Or would you recommend, get some access to exposure to the technology first and then like... is that pathway for them to become an engineering manager and engineering leader within a crypto company different than somebody who's necessarily just engineering and working on the code?

Lewis Tuff: Well, look, I actually recommend the same kind of materials, whether it's books, blog, posts, decision models, or frameworks to the engineering manager, technical lead, here at Blockchain.com as I would at any other company.

What does that mean? It means actually the framework of how you run an effective high-performance team doesn't necessarily change, but understanding the principles of the technology you're working with and who you need to hire into those teams - the team composition is key here. The mindset is key, and then having this kind of appreciation of how you're building, as you say, and contributing towards the space and not just the company's tech stack is super important.

And so, yeah, I wouldn't say that you have to kind of rethink your whole approach to how you build, manage, and scale teams. I think it's more, you tailor it to the space because there are a lot of opportunities that - there's a lot of accessibility to in projects, and so you want to encourage your engineers to be curious.

And so I think like some companies don't want you exposing any of the internals of what you're building, right? And even just at a high level of component level or architectural diagram that they just obfuscate everything, remove all names, remove any kind of technical details. So when you see somebody's presentations, you're like, "Okay, well, I didn't really know what's going on. It's just one box and a couple of hours. And that doesn't really tell me anything." So I think like there's ways as a leader, that you can actually help your teams to contribute back, both technically through code and working with like token projects and through just speaking.

And it's like doing podcasts, doing videos, pushing out blog posts, and being kind of more open and transparent about what we're doing here, how we approach problem-solving, technical architecture, and design, and how we work within the community to actually drive value. And I think that those are kind of key qualities and things that are encouraged and advocated.

And if someone wants to speak at a conference or wants to kind of take something that we've done internally, and talk about it publicly. I'll help them do that because I think it's important to be able to shout about the kind of key things you're doing.

And ultimately it helps to drive value in the space, right? If someone else then learns from your approach and improves it, you can then learn from their improvement and hopefully take for inspiration yourself, right?

So there's this paying it forward mentality, which I think is super important here. And it's kind of driving the whole ethos of the space from the beginning. And yeah, it's something that I personally live by.

Patrick Gallagher: That is huge. Do you want to make sure we acknowledge that? Cause I think like the, having a pay it forward mentality at the very foundations of the technology is so different than I think a lot of other spaces that we're seeing. So continue Lewis. But I was just like... that to me is like, wow.

Why it’s not too late to start a career in blockchain/crypto

Lewis Tuff: Look, I think that more than ever: there's real value in creating content and being able to share knowledge. And the crypto industry is a fun space to work within because people are passionate about the space. They do become evangelical and fanatical, but that means actually they are trying to just spread the word to ensure to offer people benefit from it.

Whether that's technically, operationally, whether that's providing utility. And so there's just a lot of people now that are generating content. There are loads of podcasts, loads of blog posts.

A number of members of my team actually have extremely successful YouTube channels of hundreds of thousands of subscribers. They might have to find time on weekends, to do all of that crypto-related content. And that's hugely beneficial because the space is still nascent. You're still early. If you want to get in now, you're still early. I think that's the kind of something to remind people that...

I was at an event the other day talking with other engineering leaders. And many of them were like, "Oh I've, missed the boat now, it's too late". I was like, whoa whoa, whoa whoa you have really misunderstood the space. So that went on to kind of, an hour conversation about why they're not early and actually why there's so much growth opportunity here.

If you get in now, there are still so few people: engineers, leaders, companies... still in the space relative to all of software engineering or even relative like FinTech, relative to like one specific domain of technology that's kind of grown over the last few decades. We're super early. And so I think that no one should be put off about jumping in. There are many projects, many teams, small and large, going through their own journeys.

And yeah, you can get started by just contributing and volunteering your own time and learning the ropes and that can then lead to an offer of employment.

Jerry Li: I have a selfish question to ask about blockchain because you mentioned the "paying it forward" mentality, which is really critical for the space and also for communities as well. I see a very interesting relationship between the technology, the space, and also community building.

How blockchain leverages the power of community

Jerry Li: What's your take, how those two can help each other or how else will the blockchain technology and community, are there ways then you get into merge or like, can we use, for example, blockchain to reinforce or build a better community?

Lewis Tuff: Yeah, look, I think there are a number of projects that are focused on this problem like the DeSo organization. They want to create a new social platform that isn't a revenue-generating centralized model for a single entity but actually is giving back rewards to content creators that have great followings that are interested in their kind of engaging content.

I think it's really kind of changing the approach and that ultimately then is, has a ripple effect. It changes the community because the incentive alignment is different. And so. I think there are many people that want to contribute because they genuinely believe in the technology and space as others that are doing it because now the incentives are more aligned, right?

And they realized that actually you didn't have to work 9-to-5 in a traditional role or company. They can make money by putting out podcasts, doing Twitch live streams, by like, speaking at events, by contributing code, right? There are many different ways now because of the internet, because now this kind of currency or economy that's built until the internet, that's evolved. That you can sustain your life and meet really interesting people and connect with peers halfway around the world and build something together that ultimately is impacting uh, users globally. I think that's a really exciting prospect.

And so yeah, community building is extremely important. I think that you've seen that with the most trending projects. And you've seen that with the likes of dogecoin and Elon, and then you got Shibu and many other dog-related coins that have become trendy and start spiking.

It's all community-driven and yeah, that is purely speculative. But it does actually show the power of how the internet is a great leveler. It brings people together very quickly. And if they all take action, decide, and move in the same direction, that creates waves. And that's super exciting to see and play out.

Patrick Gallagher: I've been so fascinated by that space of community because...

Like the big news, like this week as we're recording this is Rivian just went public and they reserved some equity for people who were early adopters and pre-ordered their cars. In a lot of ways now, those people are evangelists for Rivian and they're so excited that now they get to participate in the success of that company.

In a lot of ways, the implications for creators I think is so fascinating to be able to engage in and have more of an aligned community. So I think those elements are really exciting...

And Jerry... I wrote this down in one of our notes as like a joke, but maybe we follow this, maybe we don't? But like if we had an NFT as a ticket for our ELC Summit and that was like access, but then that's something that people could collect and hold on to for years to come. And the value of that continues to grow and maybe like build off of something like that. But that was something that I thought was so fun in a way to engage people in a different way but aligns their participation with you.

This is like... my brain has blown up a lot this week. Lewis, preparing for our conversation. I've had to change a lot of my mental models for this, so...

Lewis Tuff: Yeah! Yeah! I mean, NFTs are fascinating. Like there's a lot of speculation with artwork right now, but as you say, there are many real-world use cases and applications.

Some of the most interesting ones in my mind... One article that I saw was around the pharmaceutical industry and how clinical trials now potentially self-fund by selling NFTs of their early research. And then those contributors are hoping that their clinical trials turn into some revelation. And then the output is then a new medical approach, whether that's medicine itself or just a new way of diagnosing a particular element or illness.

And I think that's fascinating because traditionally in the medical field, funding has been kind of top-down, right? There are grants available. You have to apply for - there's limited funds available.

If you suddenly open that up to everyone globally and say, "Hey, you can buy this genome sequence", or "You can buy this formula that helps to diagnose algorithmically like cancer in these images", like whatever part of the puzzle that you decide to invest in, and then potentially then even see a return, if it then becomes mainstream and as a breakthrough? That actually drives real value.

I think it's super exciting as you're going to see these different models where people now can self-fund projects that potentially have real-world value and really actually accelerate innovation.

The other thing I've seen is social enterprises. And so there are tons of social enterprises that are trying to do good all around the world. Humanitarian efforts, education, financial literacy, just to name a few.

And I think, again, all of them previously relied on donations or corporate sponsors. Whereas now if you're opening it up and you're saying, "Hey, we want an NFT that... yeah! It is a sponsorship, but this token can potentially appreciate depending on XYZ mechanics that we build into our tokenomics.”

Or it gives you access to say a Summit, or gives you access to the individuals that are going through these programs?

I think there's a lot of really interesting innovation there that can help to drive these groups to actually provide more value. And again, remove the existing model of this top-down approach, where you have to have really expensive leadership running a charitable organization, and flipping on its head and crowdsource the funding and crowdsource even the voting mechanism. So you have these centralized authorities and organizations, these DAOs that are spinning up...

And so again, you can buy an NFT that becomes a vote to be able to actually decide on the direction of the funding that has been raised and how it's deployed.

Again, I think this makes the whole space more accessible, more transparent, and hopefully will drive more value.

Patrick Gallagher: Absolutely. The other use case that's been really interesting is like, I'm involved in the art space and I'm an advisor for a nonprofit in the dance and art space. And I just think the ability for a creator, like, let's say, somebody who was painting... like previously, their only income was they sold the painting once and that was the only way they could participate.

But so like the mechanism and the concept of being able to like participate every time, like to gain some type of income every time there's a transaction or the concept of like sharing dividends to people that own your token. I think it's so fascinating and the relationships that it opens up.

I wanted to ask one more thing to follow up, and to give some people some final direction...

The first thing you should do to explore a career in blockchain: Try out the products & technology!

Patrick Gallagher: So tactically, if somebody wanted to transition into the blockchain crypto industry, what would be the next or most immediate steps that you would encourage them to do? If they wanted to like, yeah, like this was an awesome conversation. I'm interested in exploring more opportunities. Like what would be their most immediate steps?

Lewis Tuff: Yeah. So I think first things first: get familiar with the products. Download some of our wallets. Download some of our competitors. Actually try it out firsthand, right?

The number of candidates that I interview that have not even gone through the process of signing up and downloading our app, or even a competitor's app and parting with £10 or $10 is kind of mind-blowing.

I think that it takes you 5-10 minutes and you gain a lot from that experience and you can provide real feedback then, on the product experience. So I think first things first is on the product level. You should understand the market. So try some of the top and leading companies and try their product experiences because there are a lot of nuances here.

So for example, in our case, we're not just a custodial offering or regular products. We're also a non-custodial offering. You can hold your own private keys. You can interact on-chain. That kind of paradigm is very different from your traditional banking app or your Venmo or your Square. Like you really need to like, understand, okay, the technical complexity there, of bridging this gap between these two worlds.

So I think... try products, get familiar with the space and understand who are kind of the leaders in them.

Where are the hottest markets/locations for cryptocurrency right now?

Patrick Gallagher: That's great. And the follow-up question to this really - and you can also choose not to answer this - but are there any like locations that are hot right now? In terms of creating different types of crypto organizations. Like I know New York and Miami are in this competition of who's mayor can take the most amount of salary.

Like El Salvador has "Bitcoin is legal tender" you have Wyoming passing crypto-friendly legislation. Are there any hot locations right now that you'd have people pay attention to?

Lewis Tuff: Totally. Yeah, I think that actually there are some really exciting opportunities in Africa in Nigeria, Kenya. There's a ton of really interesting investment going in there. So many VCs are waking up to “Actually, there's great talent, there's great teams, great projects!”

And cryptocurrency is a real enabler, for a fragmented infrastructure that actually... it's not a marginal improvement, it's a step change to have people that can transact on a global scale.

So I think that will be one to watch and definitely one to look into.

Rapid Fire Questions

Patrick Gallagher: Fantastic. So there are a couple rapid fire questions. What are you reading or listening to right now?

Lewis Tuff: The book title is, slightly strange, but it's “First-Rate Madness” and it's basically the link between leaders in mental illness. I'm really interested in psychology, obviously leadership and really understanding what works, what doesn't, and how people are able to gain large followings.

And yeah, this book kind of takes you on a journey of some of the greatest leaders in history and, and actually many of them had some kind of mental illness or symptoms of it. So it's an interesting kind of crossover: psychology, leadership, and impact.

In terms of listening... I actually listened to a lot of podcasts. And so whenever I'm kind of taking my puppy for a walk I'll try and listen to something on the go. And aside from this podcast and Blockchain.com's podcast, I think the Noise Project, Zero-Knowledge and Hidden Forces are probably three of my most listened to podcasts. And they have a wide array of content from very crypto native, to more mental models for how to think and be effective.

And then my science, technology, and finance.

Patrick Gallagher: Do you have a favorite or most powerful question that you ask or like to be asked?

Lewis Tuff: Well, I think we've kind of referenced it. It's like, "Are you ready to go all-in?"

That's the question that really gets people thinking and, yeah, decides wherever you're gonna take that step forward.

Patrick Gallagher: I love the intensity behind that question so much.

Lewis, all right! Last question to wrap us all up. Is there a quote that you live by or a quote that's resonating with you right now?

Lewis Tuff: I think the one that I live by is just fail fast, fail often. Like I love the fail-fast mantra and mentality, and it really plays to the startup space, the crypto industry, any industry that's trying to disrupt and move fast.

Like everyone is learning. No one has all the answers and should not proclaim to. And I think the only way to learn is to go through failure multiple times over. If, as long as you are kind of focused on that mindset and making sure that nothing is going to be perfect, things change too fast to kind of try and reach perfection, get waves on the way, ship it, ship it. Get product feedback, get user feedback.

You're going to fail. Some products don't work. And some features wouldn't work. You're going to bring down production multiple times... Like these things happen! But you learn from each case and hopefully won't make the same mistakes again.

Patrick Gallagher: Fantastic. Lewis, thank you for an incredible conversation. And the person to help demystify for us what different careers in engineering leadership are like in the blockchain and cryptocurrency space. Thank you for being just so generous with your time. We really appreciate it.

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