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Cover image for Kristy-Leigh Minehan almost burned seeking a crypto high-score... and other things I learned recording her DevJourney (#138)

Kristy-Leigh Minehan almost burned seeking a crypto high-score... and other things I learned recording her DevJourney (#138)

timothep profile image Tim Bourguignon πŸ‡ͺπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ‡©πŸ‡ͺ Originally published at timbourguignon.fr ・4 min read

This week, I published Kristy-Leigh Minehan's #DevJourney story on my eponym Podcast: Software developer's Journey. Among many other things, here are my main personal takeaways:

  • Kristy's developer's journey officially started with some programming classes she had taken as a kid, but none of that stuck. Instead, she placed her real start in 2007, with games and the goal of hacking them to win! This desire to win the game led her to a rabbit hole, learning about ROMs, file format, emulators, graphics, drivers, GPU architecture, etc., and it took her until 2013 to see it enter her professional world.
  • Kristy saw the initial Bitcoin whitepaper drop on IRC very early on but didn't realize the impact it would have. A few years later, when the first software was released, she became obsessed with competing in mining and getting a better hash rate. This quest became another rabbit hole of overclocking and finding ways to push her machines ever farther. Through this friendly competition, she went deeper and deeper down the stack. From overclocking to tweaking her kernel and not trusting the compiler, she used to get better results and "win the game" against her friends.
  • Cryptocurrency mining has a very tight feedback loop. If you manage to get a performance boost, you get a hard-cash reward almost instantly. Kristy described this as the "ultimate dopamine boost."
  • Searching for this high-score, always pushing further, can drive you mad. At first, Kristy managed to remain sane by not making crypto her day-job. Thus she had a way to step back and do something else.
  • Ethereum's proof of work was supposed to be designed to favor GPUs and thus to NOT favor ASICs (crypto mining machines). But this was not true. In 2017-2018, ASICs hit the Ethereum market, bringing tremendous revenue to big companies, mostly in China. Kristy worked within the group IF-DEF-ELSE on a new proposal (ProgPow) to fix this loophole and make the algorithm treat a GPU like an ASIC. Kristy became the face of this proposal. During the months when she defended this proposal, she became the target of a full-fledged smear and death-threats campaign that ended up in her burning down, abandoning the proposal, and even leaving computers for half a year entirely. You HAVE to listen to that story. It starts around the 19 minutes mark and is as fascinating as it is chilling. Anyone searching for more info, I recommend this article called Ethereum ProgPoW Explained.
  • When I asked Kristy if she fears burning out again, she instantly responded "I do, every day!" Nowadays, Kristy compartmentalized her work, put boundaries in every aspect of her life, and mostly left social media.
  • I asked Kristy how she handles her employees' passion and focus now that she is in management. She said that one of the worst pieces of advice she ever got was "do not become friends with your employees." She then said that in this COVID-era, where the lines are blurring more and more between employees, families, friendship, etc., this hasn't been more untrue. She needs to see and treat her employees as whole human beings, and as such, also as friends.
  • At the end of the interview, I circled back to Kristy's goal setting. Since she was so focused on "beating the high-score," I wanted to see if her standard had evolved after her burnout. And her response was amazing. She said "somewhere along the way, I went from wanting things to be the fastest, to being the prettiest and most usable."

Advice:

  • "You need to keep an open heart and open mind but a firm hand on your wallet". Kristy's interpretation is "you need to be very open, but put boundaries to protect yourself."

Quotes:

  • "When you are focused day to day on just surviving, you don't put enough time and energy into bettering yourself"
  • "Initially, everybody was excited about the Bitcoin whitepaper... and I didn't see what all the fuss was about"
  • "Cryptocurrency has taught a new generation of developers to be obsessed with the performance"
  • "We can't trust compilers in crypto"
  • "An ASIC is just a hardware Chip that is application-specific, so a GPU is an ASIC for mathematics"
  • "One thought leader in the Ethereum ecosystem made it his life's mission to ensure that I would never succeed. Not just at this, but also in life as well. [...] it was amusing for a while until it started affecting my job."
  • "When you are a very curious developer, you don't want to step away from a problem. You want to solve it. It almost consumes you."
  • "Making blockchain usable means that you should be able to bring your ideas to life w/o any coding experience"

Thanks, Kristy, for sharing your story with us!

You can find the full episode and the show notes on devjourney.info or directly here on DEV

Did you listen to her story?

  • What did you learn?
  • What are your takeaways?
  • What did you find particularly interesting?

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