Amiti Uttarwar Is Blazing A Trail For Inclusive Bitcoin Development

In letter

  • Bitcoin’s first confirmed developer, Amiti Uttarwar, is a top notch engineer, but she’s also committed to making the community more diverse.
  • Her work focuses on two key areas: Bitcoin’s privacy and the development of test networks.
  • She warns that emotional stamina is an important requirement for anyone looking to get into Bitcoin development.

Amiti Uttarwar was surprised to learn in 2018 that Bitcoin had no female developers. Shortly before Carnegie Mellon, Uttarwar had worked as a software engineer at a number of startups before getting a job at Crypto Exchange Coinbase. However, their eyes were on a bigger price: becoming one of only a handful of developers maintaining and improving Bitcoin’s code.

Her determination was rewarded earlier this year when she became the first known developer (despite anonymous contributors) to work on the Bitcoin core and the recipient of one highly coveted $ 150,000 development grant from crypto exchanges BitMEX and OKCoin.

Uttarwar’s passion and ambition led her to the ultimate price: responsibility for a cryptocurrency with a market capitalization of $ 300 billion. Her technical skills are obvious, but what is really inspiring is her honesty, eloquence and potential as a driver of diversity:

“I realized that this was an area that I could influence,” she said Decrypt, on a recent call from her home in the Bay Area. “It is very important that I do the technical work and make a contribution. But I also realize that I’m in a position where just being out there could attract more diverse contributors. “

A bitcoin journey

Uttarwar’s parents are from Maharashtra, West Indies, and their father is a tech entrepreneur who set up his family in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley.

Amiti Uttarwar is looking for improvements in robustness, reliability and privacy for the bitcoin code. Image: Amiti Uttarwar

She grew up amidst innovation and quickly showed an affinity for puzzles, games, and then coding.

In 2014 she graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a BS in Information Systems and then worked for various internet startups before winning her dream job in software engineering at Coinbase.

There she became increasingly fascinated by Bitcoin. And in 2019, with the consent of her employer, she began a residency at the renowned Bitcoin development center Chaincode Labs.

“I wanted to challenge myself and make a difference. The idealist in me wants to build a better future, ”she said. “In this life or in the next, we will have a global digital currency, and Bitcoin is the type I would like to see because of its inclusive nature. Whether it is successful or not, I know that the lessons we learn from Bitcoin will influence the type of global currency that we see. “

Uttarwar had found her calling and although she had to quit a great job and take a cut, there was no going back. After her Chaincode residency, she quickly established herself not only as a first-class developer, but also as an outstanding communicator and force for progress.

Initially, her work was sponsored – for most of the past year – by the Hong Kong-based crypto wallet and banking company Xapo. Then came the coveted BitMex / OKCoin grant. Currently she is one of only around 21 full-time Bitcoin developers Get funding. She estimates there are currently 30-40 developers, mostly sponsored, contributing to the code. (And More focus on open source Bitcoin projects at Lightning Labs, Blockstream, Square and other startups).

Who is Funding Bitcoin Development? Image: Bitmex Research.

Bitcoin privacy enhancement

Uttarwar’s development focus is on the peer-to-peer layer of Bitcoin. “This is basically how you choose which nodes to connect to. How do you pass on the messages they send you? “She explained.

The work that she has proposed so far is divided into two areas: The first concerns improving data protection – for example reducing the speed and frequency of message retries of unconfirmed transactions.

“Developing the Bitcoin core is difficult. Really difficult, ”said Dan Held from Kraken Decrypt. “Despite this harsh environment, Amiti is always optimistic about preparing Bitcoin as the foundation for the financial system.”

But development is not all that Uttarwar does. Together with other developers – including one of her mentors, Australian Bitcoin core developer AJ Townes – she sits on the advisory board of the Coinbase Crypto Community Fund. Last month, Coinbase announced its plans to provide grants for two Bitcoin developers.

And she is increasingly committed to public relations and looking after people. “I’m trying to help them either get ahead technically or figure out how to get ahead or acquire the resources they need,” she said. One of her mentees is about to graduate from the University of California at Berkeley, and Uttarwar has helped her secure funding to work on the Bitcoin core. As a result, there will soon be not just one fully funded female Bitcoin developer, but two.

A force for diversity in Bitcoin

The world of software development is – to its disadvantage – homogeneous; in the US only One in five software developers is a woman. But Studies have shown a wide range of experiences and perspectives spurs creativity and is invaluable in software development. This could be vital for a cryptocurrency with a manifest promoting inclusivity.

“I don’t think it’s a toxic culture. I think it’s a very encouraging, discourse-oriented, meritocratic one, ”said Uttarwar. “But there’s this separation of, you know, it’s a group of people dominated.”

This is something she really wants to change. “I hope that more and more women, and not just women, people from different backgrounds, get involved and participate,” she said. “Perhaps more feminine traits – vulnerability, a little more room for skepticism and empathy – would strengthen the community.”

Bitcoin needs more people with different backgrounds and different levels of wealth, “because cultures have a big influence on how we make decisions. And money is so deeply embedded in all aspects of life, ”she explained. And the impact of Bitcoin development decisions on some cultures can be misunderstood. She said she recently learned, for example, that bitcoiners in Dubai actually don’t want more privacy because “black money” is linked to the ruling elite. A traceable digital currency would account for it. “I found it just shocking, so different [from] the shared stories, ”she said.

She recognizes that for some cultures it is unaffordable to get involved when the time it takes to learn about Bitcoin is a luxury that people cannot afford. “In many places around the world, that is the high initial cost that must be paid to become a full-time employee,” she said.

And “the hardest part of contributing to Bitcoin is not technical, but emotional,” she said tweeted recently.

Bitcoin’s development is on the other scale of the spectrum of a traditional career characterized by linear progression, she said. That means developers have to be resourceful. They have to find their own sources of funding and there is very little feedback.

Amiti Uttarwar believes that Bitcoin developers need to be resourceful. Image: Amiti Uttarwar

“It’s a career choice that relies on emotional regulation to maintain the focus and confidence required to work on Bitcoin code, and a lot of people struggle with it,” she said. Some people step back as they progress slowly and steadily or in the face of adverse reactions to their work. “You need to manage your own ideas about success and progress and the value you derive or offer. It’s a very difficult thing, ”she said. “It is important to self-regulate and find a sustainable way to focus and make meaningful contributions.”

Bitcoin: naturally inclusive

When it comes to Bitcoin adoption, Uttarwar believes that building a broad network is critical: “A lot of education needs to be done to teach people how to handle their funds and what keys they need, to unlock them, ”she said.

“What makes Bitcoin really nice to me is the fact that it’s inherently inclusive,” she added. “In the digital age, all the currencies we’ve seen are inherently exclusive. You build on these ideas of trust that are defined and controlled by a small group of people. The exclusive system is great when it works, but when it doesn’t work you need an alternative. And Bitcoin is a really powerful alternative in my opinion, ”she said.

But she is also a skeptic: it is by no means inevitable that there will be a fairer distribution of wealth, ”she said. “If only the people who got rich in our existing financial system transfer their wealth to Bitcoin, we won’t change anything.”

And having bitcoin as a viable alternative digital currency is more important than mass adoption, she said. To illustrate her point of view, she pointed out cases of a sex worker in America who cannot get a bank account, a freedom fighter in Belarus who does not have access to her funds, and an Iranian woman who is legally incapable to control their own, use wealth. There are many more prosaic examples too, she pointed out.

And she’s excited about ongoing developments like Taproot, which was implemented into the Bitcoin code last month and ultimately offers the world’s best cryptocurrency smart contract functionality comparable to Ethereum – unlocking more advanced financial contracts and promoting greater usability.

“We’re setting up the infrastructure to do this over the next five to ten years. It looks like it’s going to take a while. But these are big, big leaps in building the foundation, ”said Uttarwar. “It will release all the things that we have seen from different cryptocurrencies – which can be unlocked with a blockchain as the base layer. These are much more practical with Bitcoin, ”she explained. “You know, it may be painfully slow – as most of Silicon Valley has moved on because Bitcoin is now boring – but we’re going very slowly and creating a super tough, sturdy foundation.”

For Uttarwar it’s about sustainability and diversity.