I spent most of 2022 continuing my time off school to embrace a playful approach to life, which allowed me to pursue side quests that didn’t have an obvious “forward” or “upward” trajectory. Returning to school for my last year after a two-year stint in industry has, in ways, felt like taking a step back, but I trust that the break from industry will provide me with a fresh perspective. I’ve learned to be more intentional with my time, to say no to things that I’m lukewarm towards to leave more space for projects that excite me. I’ve been identifying what values matter to me and am more comfortable with letting personal values guide my decisions rather than following paths that society deems to be “right”.
In 2022, I launched Referents.xyz, a web3 linguistic exploration that blended my interests in linguistics, crypto and building something from the ground up. I co-founded Rabbitholeathon where we organized retreats with technologists across North America to dive down rabbitholes and think more intentionally about their roles as technologists in the contexts of ethics, societal structures and social impact. We raised $90K+ in grant funding to support two more years of these impactful retreats. I embarked on crypto sidequests including zkPin (zero knowledge power in numbers - commitment pools) and Interform (decentralized forms, privacy-preserving information collection). My 2022 goals were to build in public and engage in more unstructured learning. Reflecting back - I’m proud of my progress.
Last year, Josh Stark, a core member of the Ethereum Foundation (EF), published an influential piece titled “Atoms, Institutions and Blockchains”, at the height of the bull market. It cut through the noise of the crypto craze and clearly explained the impact of blockchain and how it can solve critical problems. The piece presented the analogy that blockchain enables digital hardness, similar to how institutions enable societal hardness and atoms enable physical hardness. While Stark’s work has had an undervalued influence on the larger tech ecosystem, this was an intentional choice. Stark and the EF have a philosophy of maintaining a flat hierarchy and subtracting power, rather than expanding it. Their approach has significantly impacted my views about technology, corporations and power structures.
Stark's work and the EF's philosophy have been instrumental in shaping my perspective on crypto, and I want to be part of shaping this narrative. However, while blockchain and software have the power to shift paradigms and create a permissionless, trustless world, I hesitate to default to software for every problem. Most problems require a degree of ‘softness’, of humanity. Trust, collaboration, and adaptability cannot be expressed through code alone. Tech-enabled solutions need to be designed intentionally to recognize the limitations of technology and to strive for a balance between the digital and physical worlds.
From a more meta perspective, I’ve been spending this year figuring out what it means for me to be a technologist. There is an obsession with growth, power and influence that drives a lot of tech media and mainstream tech figures. I’ve been grappling with the identity I want to carve out as a technologist and toeing the line between voice and exit as I figure out which meta-games to play, which ones to resist and which ones to remove myself from.
I turned down a shiny, lucrative offer because of a gut feeling. Despite being something that 20-year-old me would’ve jumped at. The offer was to work as a crypto researcher at an influential venture capital firm and felt like the culmination of three (scattered) gap years' worth of work. It checked all the status-game boxes.
In the last few years, I’ve been in and out of school to experiment with life outside the ‘traditional tech path’. I dabbled in performing arts and autonomous vehicle engineering before discovering a deep interest in crypto. At first, I was drawn to the impact that I, as a budding software engineer, could make in advancing economic freedom and privacy rights. However, the more time I spend in crypto, the warier I become of being caught up in the hype. Over the past year, I've been more intentional about identifying my values. Writing has helped me gain clarity of thought as I sift through my mind on paper. Through this journey, I found myself outgrowing some of my old goals that were driven more by external pressures rather than intrinsically motivated by my values.
The “three most lucrative things you can be obsessed with are people, technology and money” according to Ava Bookbear (I'm literally obsessed with her writing if you haven't already noticed from my curius). In 2023, I’m going all in on people. Prioritizing people is the first step in leveraging tech for positive impact. What is technology without the people you are serving? After a two-year gap, I returned to school this semester, taking classes in Political Science, Psychology, and Gender Studies to supplement my CS education. I’m embracing my community builder identity, through sustainably scaling Rabbitholeathon and running Socratica (weekly coworking sessions). I’ve been obsessed with the notion that ‘privacy is a human right’ and found it to be the perfect intersection between people, societal issues, and technology. 2023, will be a year of experimenting, recalibrating, and reflecting as I narrow down what I want to focus on.
I’m not sure how this will pan out. I returned to school, which, at times, feels like a step back, to take a pause from industry. While it felt like I walked away from everything I worked for, I’m privileged to have a community around me that makes it easy - normal even - to adapt, pivot and take risks.
I wrote this as part of my Interact application in 2023. Edited for this post and putting it up here to look back on in 2024 when I reflect on 2023 me.