#138 Kristy-Leigh Minehan almost burned seeking a crypto highscore
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Kristy-Leigh Minehan 0:00
How you mined Bitcoin was you just downloaded the software and you just started mining on, you know, a laptop, your desktop, whatever device you had. And we became obsessed with figuring out how to get a higher hash rate because you could overclock your machine and you get a higher number you could undervolt to get better energy efficiency, which would allow you to overclock more, it was obsessive. And what was happening was there was a continuous feedback loop in the same way that video games give you this feedback loop, you set a goal for yourself, you know, you want to, you want a high score, and so you achieve that high score. And then there's a new goal to reach another high score and you just keep doing that. And it was it was addictive. It was feeding. It was feeding my brain that kind of dopamine and serotonin rush it needed. And we had a lot of fun until one guy my best friend at the time ruined the party by coming up with a 20% performance increase and not sharing how he did it at all.
Tim Bourguignon 1:13
Hello, and welcome to developer's journey, the podcast bringing you the makings of stories of successful software developers to help you on your upcoming journey. My name is Tim Bourguignon and on this episode 138 I receive Kristy-Leigh Minehan. Kristy is one of the world’s leading authorities on cryptocurrency mining and is a well known personality in the Bitcoin and Ethereum space. Kristy is currently the CTO of NEM. or N.E.M. Kristy, how do you pronounce it?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 1:43
NEM, one word.
Tim Bourguignon 1:45
She's a frequent speaker, and has an obsessive curiosity and a passion for improving everyday. Kristy, welcome to the journey.
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 1:53
Thank you so much for having me.
Tim Bourguignon 1:55
So Kristy, the show exists to help the listeners understand what your story look like and imagine how to shape their own future. So as always, let's go back to your beginning, shall we? Where would you place the start of your dev or tech journey?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 2:10
Oh, well, the start of my tech journey that was before 2009. That would be around, you know, 2007 where I got incredibly curious about video games, specifically ROM hacking, I wanted to cheat as much as I could, on my end 64 games. And then I got into that led me down a whole rabbit trail of what the hell is wrong? How is the file format packaged? And how can I manipulate that data. And then that sent me down a rabbit hole of here's what an emulator is, here's how it works, so on and so forth. That is that is where I really started to get curious. And and for me, you know, I, I programming never stuck with me when it was pulled the traditional way. So I took I took classes in high school. And it was incredibly boring. just reading a textbook, doing some some snippets, it just it didn't stick. And it was the same reason that I was never really good in school for mathematics, or science. It was the traditional ways of teaching. It just didn't work with my brain. But I got incredibly fascinated when, you know, there was some goal I had in mind, like, hey, I want to have unlimited lives, or Hey, I want to have unlimited money. And then that was enough to motivate me to try and get to try and achieve that goal. So that's where I got really, really curious. And from there, it was just a rabbit hole of research. You know, once you start learning how emulators really work, you get into graphics, you start learning how you're going to you start learning all about graphic drivers, all about open CL which I still maintain is a terrible, terrible framework. But I digress. You start learning, you learn about drivers and the entire GPU infrastructure and you just get it's almost obsessive, it's one thing after another. And that never really, you know, it never really bundled up into something useful until well, not even, not even until 2013 I would think you know, it never translated directly into money for me until 2013. Um, but it did give me the the basis of knowledge that I needed to enter the Bitcoin space in in early 2009 and 2010.
Tim Bourguignon 4:40
Did you have the willingness to make it something that could provide you money? Or were just searching or inquiring into it, just for the sake of it for satisfying your curiosity and curiosity back then?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 4:56
You know, I think I did have the willingness at that point in my life. Life, there was a lot going on. So I was I was on my own, I was a very young teen, out of my own, I was working two jobs, flipping burgers was one of them, which I absolutely hated. But I make a mean burger now. So in retrospect of, you know, actually quite happy about it. You know, I was so focused on other things that I just, you know, this was sort of an afterthought, when you're focused day to day on just surviving, you don't put enough, you don't put enough time, and energy and resources into bettering yourself. But when I had a goal in mind, when there was something that really excited me, that was my motivation path. And that's kind of why, you know, cryptocurrency was, was my big lore. So I got it a little bit into game development. In early 2008, and 2009, started off as a creative writer, it was for a little company called broken bone entertainment, they were building a really cool, a really cool game engine, specifically for for PC at the time, and they had big aspirations of an MMO. And, you know, I worked from being their creative writer to actually designing their entire world for them. Then when they started running into issues with the game engine, specifically around, specifically around their Codex, I was like, hang on, I know some of this stuff. I knew this from my emulator days here. And it's just like, it's like, your brain connects the dots, and you start connecting all these different memories together almost to where you can actually be useful. But with Bitcoin specifically, that was, Oh, that's a funny story. So the white paper, the white paper got dropped in an IRC chat channel, around around security and networking, that a bunch of a bunch of my online friends and myself were always frequently and we would just man Am I allowed to swear on this podcast?
Tim Bourguignon 7:02
Of course, I'm European!
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 7:09
So I was just shooting the shit all the time with my friends, we talk about all sorts of things, you know, maybe, maybe interesting research papers, maybe interesting projects, sometimes about problems we were facing, sometimes personal stuff. But now that nevertheless, one of my friends drops the white paper into the channel in 2009. And, you know, everyone is super excited about it, there's the a bunch of discussions talking about the implications of this, how it's going to completely transform the world, the economical impact, and I'm sitting there going, I don't really see what all the fuss is about. Because I was I was a kid I didn't understand much of economics at the time, I kind of like goes through that class mostly. And you know, I just didn't understand but I wanted to be excited because all my friends were excited. So it was like yeah, Bitcoin great. And then it largely left you know, it largely left, um, you know, my, my life until the the actual first Bitcoin software was dropped. And then a bunch of my friends and myself downloaded it. And we became obsessed with competing, specifically, figuring out how we could get a higher hash rate, because in those days, how you mined Bitcoin was you just downloaded the software, which was both your wallet and your node, and your mining software, all packaged into one. And you just started mining on you know, a laptop, your PC, your desktop, whatever device you had, and we became obsessed with figuring out how to get a higher hash rate. Because you could overclock your machine and you get a higher number, you could undervolt to get better energy efficiency, which would allow you to overclock more. And it was very small things that you know, overclockers do today to get on high charts. Mostly overclocking and video games gives you higher frame rates. It's where you mostly see it. But it was obsessive. And what was happening was there was a continuous feedback loop in the same way that video games give you this feedback loop, you set a goal for yourself, you know, you want to you want a high score. And so you achieve that high score. And then there's a new goal to reach another high score and you just keep doing that. And it was it was addictive. It was feeding. It was feeding my brain that kind of dopamine and serotonin rush it needed. And we had a lot of fun. Until one guy my best friend at the time ruined the party by coming up with a 20% performance increase and not sharing how he did it at all. Because up until this point, we've been incredibly collaborative. No, we were a group. We were a family. We were best buds. And then this jackass was like: "Hi. Look at me. Look at my score, look at my hash rate, it's bigger than yours, I'm not going to tell you how I did it. Pay me $300, I'll share it with you." And that infuriated me so much it, it just made me so angry that I was like, You know what, you're not that smart. If you can do this, I can do this as well. And so for a solid three weeks of just constant studying lots of Stack Overflow, lots of just trying to figure out C and c++, I just taught myself everything I could. And I was going to challenge him head on, and actually managed to achieve some results, you know, it took me a good solid month. But all of a sudden, I got a very slight increase over his results. That was like socket. And then I distributed it for free to all my friends. And that that was the start that was just the start of my career, the start of this obsession with optimization, and constantly thinking about the limited resources you have on your machine, and how best to assemble them in almost a puzzle to get the highest, you know, the highest hash rate, the best high score. And that's evident all over software development. It's evident when you're thinking about processes and multi threading. It's evident when you're thinking about, you know, machine learning workloads, it's very evident in games. And, you know, I maintained today that cryptocurrency has taught a new generation of developers to be obsessed with performance, absolutely obsessed with performance. Because crypto is incredibly punishing, especially the mining industry, it's very punishing, if you are not constantly thinking about how to carefully manage your resources, then you're going to get lower returns and lower revenue. And the other benefit of it is, of course, it's, you know, it's completing that feedback loop very fast. So in traditional software development, developers, you know, don't get to realize the fruits of their labor for often months, or sometimes years until their product actually ships. And you know, that's not the same for every industry, sometimes you'll, you'll debug something or ship out a patch. And, you know, it's in the hands of your consumers and a few weeks. But in general, that doesn't really translate to some sort of, you know, metric for success that you can, you can own yourself as an individual. But with cryptocurrency mining, you know, if you, if you optimize your kernel, and it performs 30% better on a given CPU, that translates into real world dollars that you immediately get, that's incredibly addictive.
Tim Bourguignon 12:53
Yes, dangerously so, probably.
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 12:56
It is a little bit dangerous. But you know, at the at the end of the day, it's it's a, it's a harmless addiction, it's almost like encouraging you to keep pushing your skills and your limits as a developer, you know, just keep constantly thinking about, okay, I have this operation here. It's consuming, you know, full cycles, when it should really only be consuming too, what is going wrong? Let's dive into the compiler how let's look at this, look at the assembly. Because we can't trust compilers in crypto compilers are your worst enemy when you're when you're working in the mining space. So you just have to really dive into the assembly and figure out what went wrong, what went wrong in the translation? Um, and, yeah, it's just it's that feedback loop that constantly pushes the boundaries of your knowledge.
Tim Bourguignon 13:45
And the sky's the limit, probably. There is no high scores to reach there, there's always better.
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 13:50
No, there there is a high score. So there's only so much you can push hardware, you know, you're limited by physics, really, you're limited by the maximum clock speed of, you know, your CPU or your GPU, you're limited by how fast you can physically push the hardware, and how many operations you can cram, you know, in a given cycle in a given clock cycle. So there are some limits. But what often happens in software development today is most developers are just focused on let's make my application work. We're abstracted a lot of times from actual machine performance. So we're very much focused on let's just make sure this works. And that it operates within, you know, within my given container or within within my given resource allocation. With with mining specifically or in any kind of low level kernel development, you're instead already given a box you're told you have this many resources. Here is your starting, you know, frame and it's up to you to figure out how to almost create a create a very efficient, very efficient pipeline. To achieve to solve your problem, and so you already know that you know what your what your ceiling is. And that means you can keep tuning and trying new things and continuously optimizing until you hit that ceiling. And I think that's important because otherwise you don't know when to stop and move on to the next thing. You know, you have to know when you begin, what is what is the target you're trying to reach? It keeps you almost sane as well. So then you can find people online when they say, Hey, I achieved some, like, absolutely ridiculous number, which often happens in our industry?
Tim Bourguignon 15:40
Yep, that's exactly what I was getting at. Having a goal in front of you and really wanted to go on to have something tangible to reach will get you somewhere, definitely. But what happens if this is not reachable? Or when you have reached it? How do you set your next goal? How do you find out what that next goal could be and find something that is maybe not too challenging, but still challenging enough to make you making us a big step anyway, and learn something out of it?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 16:16
Exactly. And I think if you don't know, you know, your target or your goal, when you begin, you can that can almost drive you mad. And it's I have the utmost respect for people working in quality assurance and in testing, because oftentimes, they have to create that goal on the fly for themselves, you know, they're given a very high level framework of this is broken, please fix it. And it can, it can absolutely drive you mad. That isn't really a goal. I mean, it is, but it's not really like, it's like this is broken. Okay, here's 300 ways in which this one piece of code is broken. Where do you want me to start? By the way, I know you need it tomorrow. So really, where do you want me to start?
Tim Bourguignon 17:03
So how did you manage to not go mad until now? Or maybe you are mad...?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 17:10
I think we're all a little bit mad if we if we weren't. You know, part of that was making sure that so in the early days of crypto, it was very much a hobby, it wasn't your job. It was a fun little hobby. And so having something else, you know, a full time day job helped me stay sane. Because if I was focusing on a problem, and I wasn't getting anywhere, I could sort of jump over to my day job, in a completely different industry completely forget about the problem, come back with a clear head. And I think that's incredibly important. When you're thinking how you grow as a software developer, you know, sometimes you just need to take a step back and let your brain reboot. You do the same thing with our machines, you know, we defrag our hard drives, or at least I hope people are, you know, defragging their, their windows machine. We don't need to do that in in good old Linux. But you know that defragging there drives your brain also needs to defrag you need to spend some time just reflecting, doing something else, give your brain a rest, and then you'll come back. And it will be a lot more a lot more clearer. And I think doing that helped me a lot. Of course, I didn't recognize I was being incredibly mature and wise, then I was just like, ooh, video games, or Ooh, this shiny problem here. But, yeah, that that helped a lot. And as I got older, I went through a period of heavy burnout. And I recognized that the reason I was burning out was because I wasn't giving my brain that much needed rest. And because I wasn't taking a step back, I was just sort of throwing myself at the problem, trying to almost headbutted until the solution would just come to me.
Tim Bourguignon 18:57
Hmm. Can we talk about that for a minute?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 19:00
The burnout, yes!
Tim Bourguignon 19:03
How did you, in hindsight, realize what was happening?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 19:08
So that was about the time when I when I left core scientific. So to set the sort of set the stage, I worked on a pretty what we would call a controversial proposal to aetherium as a contribution to the etherium ecosystem. And it was controversial because of the nature of the authors. So there was a group of friends myself, who I went by the handle if and my other two friends definitely else. So together we were if def elves. Really cool, I know. And so there was a period of time in a theorems life in in 2017, and 2018, where asix were on the rise and why that's important is theorems. Proof of work the the algorithm was designed to favor GPUs. And all around in all of their materials. Even in their white paper, there was a statement that this this algorithm we've designed, it's meant to be GPU friendly async should not be efficient on it, they should not be performant. No asix would ever be built. If you hear about an ASIC, it's probably a scam. And for our listeners, if you're not familiar, you know, a second, in crypto mining world, it really just means a machine solely dedicated to mining cryptocurrency, it doesn't always mean an async chip. Sometimes it can be an FPGA that's in an ASIC, which is incredibly confusing. I know. And also frustrates me. But uh, yeah, that that was incredibly controversial it. So people were very skeptical of this proposal. And we set out to do this, because, you know, we saw all these claims about a theorems proof of work algorithm, and then an async suddenly hit the market. And everyone was really concerned. And people were concerned, because traditionally asix you know, at that point in, in the history of cryptocurrency, they were only available to people who had a lot of money, we're talking, you know, multiple millions of dollars, who could front run the entire operation, you know, pay for all of the hardware in one go. And largely, they were only available to two people in China. So you know, if you had your hands on this, you were, you know, 10 x 20 x sometimes 100 x more efficient than your nearest neighbor who was working with a GPU, so it upset the economic so that the area, and we're sitting there going holy hell, whoever designed this algorithm is kind of silly. There's a giant floor right there. That's really stupid. Why did he do that? That's not even efficient on a GPU, we got so frustrated. And then we saw a bunch of other people proposing new algorithms, and they also suffered from the same issues. And so you know, def def is a systems validation engineer, that's his background. And he's an absolute wizard, with with systems validation, testing, but specifically around hardware design nowadays, and else is like a performance wizard. So he, he is the authority in my mind on kernel optimization. And myself, I was scrappy mining girl that sort of like Doug everywhere, was really obsessed, knew how to optimize at hash, which is a theorems mining algorithm. And so we work together. And we ended up drafting a first a first white paper of our new proof of work algorithm called ProgPOW, which was designed to treat a GPU like an async. And what that means is an async is just you know, it's any, it's an async is just a hardware chip, that is, you know, application specific. So a GPU is usually an async. For mathematics most people think it's for, for graphics, that's not true. GPUs are highly, highly efficient of mathematical operations. And so when you're designing a mining ASIC, what that means is you want your algorithm to fully saturate and use all elements of the hardware. And so we kind of flipped proof of work algorithms on its head by instead starting out with our target box of resources, and figuring out how can we design an algorithm that utilizes all of those resources to 100% capacity, then you couldn't make any more efficient machine. You know, you can't go out and say, here's a better a better async machine. That's done in in fixed function hardware. And it was a very big challenge, really big challenge, because not only are you trying to design for, you know, design, something that will work across both AMD GPUs and Nvidia GPUs, which aren't quite as interoperable as you would think they are. But you're trying to design something that will be performant, across multiple generations past and future of GPU hardware. So a lot of challenge, but we managed to cobble something together. And in the spirit of Satoshi Nakamoto, we released it as if that helps. And it largely went unnoticed until 2018, when there was a big surge of, you know, surge of excitement and curiosity, and the serious discussion about let's change a theorems proof of work algorithm. And I had just joined core scientific at the time. And you know, that was my full time job. I was really focused on that. And the the etherium community asked me to go speak about prog pal, and I did and then I suddenly found myself in the role of a champion. So what a champion is in a theorems ecosystem is it's someone who has an idea makes a proposal quote, an AIP, and basically has to champion that idea in the same way that you would defend your thesis. You have to get it over the finish finish line and essentially do all of the work to get it implemented into a theorems core protocols. And it's not just, it's not just, you know, putting your idea out there online, you have to make sure that the code is compatible with all of the existing clients, you have to do all of the unit testing, you have to do a lot of education and teaching. And it was it was a lot of work. But luckily, I had a supportive boss. And I managed to focus on that. And then the greenlit was given, you know, the theorem, core dev said, we're going to go do this. And then in about 2019, a bunch of async manufacturers and a bunch of other people got very angry at and mostly these were people that you know, were very angry at the idea of changing the proof of work algorithm, for whatever reason, maybe they were they had invested in another form of hardware. And as I'm explaining this, I'm really realizing how crazy it sounds, to to listeners. But yes, let me assure you cryptocurrency mining is a little bit crazy. But yeah, people were getting very angry. And first, it started with, you know, trying to attack me and my algorithm, myself on its merits. And then it started to attack to the point that we had submitted this proposal as anonymous individuals. Until I came out as nysif and decided to be the public face definitely wanted nothing to do with, you know, the, the, the storm that was brewing. They were happy to comment as their aliases, but they did, they saw no reason to be public. And quite frankly, the ethos of cryptocurrency and the ethos of how working in the software development ecosystem is, it is okay to to be anonymous, you know, you judge your code on its merits, not based upon someone's name, you should never do that you should never have bias like that. But One guy in particular, one, one big thought leader in the ecosystem, decided to just completely make it his life's mission, to ensure that I would, I would never succeed, not just in this but in life as well. He, he he, he brought a bunch of paid audits on Yahoo Finance, he brought a bunch of he just went on an absolute war on social media. He, he wrote death threats, he encouraged people to write death threats, he came off to my partner at the time, my family, he, he wrote to any conferences I was speaking at to try and get delisted. And he came up with this amazing narrative, where I was a supervillain that had somehow worked with top CEOs of Fortune 50 companies, including the video, and Intel, and AMD had worked together to engineer this algorithm that would put a theorem in the hands of Fortune 50 companies, it was great, like, great for my career and being a superhero. And he was, he was like, in his mind, he truly believed I was this person. And then he came out with articles and fake images, saying that, um, you know, that I was seeing in China working with this, this manufacturer, and I was seeing this top executive meeting, and I was seeing planning, and then the internet loved this. So, you know, for folks that are familiar with the internet, they just run with things, whether it's true or not. So all of a sudden, the internet's and a bunch of anonymous folks are chiming in and going. Yeah, yeah, I heard I heard Christie, you know, is currently working with the Bank of England to do XYZ. And she's currently working with, you know, XYZ big mega Corporation. And I'm sitting back and going, Wow, these people actually think I leave my house. But he made it his life's mission. And it was amusing for a time until it started affecting my job, where, you know, he wrote to investors, and I told and I mentioned, he wrote to conferences I was speaking out, he started writing to colleagues, and people largely ignored him. But I felt incredibly uncomfortable. And at the same time, the process was going on of I was trying to get this algorithm implemented, which may meant working on clients debugging, and doing performance testing. And then just dealing with the onslaught of attacks online, mostly people going in saying, you have no knowledge of this industry. You know, you didn't go to university. You know, you didn't do XYZ. A bunch of people thought I was, apparently there was a rumor going around that I was actually just trained on GPT GPT. Two, and I didn't exist online. That was the best example. Yeah, it just got out of hand. And I was throwing myself constantly at this algorithm, and constantly, you know, trying to solve very, very simple bugs that I should have figured out. I And it got to a point where I couldn't even write a basic unit test, I was just so burnout. I had many sleepless nights. And all of this culminated in me just saying, you know what, fuck it, I started to get physically ill, whenever I sat down at my computer and, and opened up sublime, I started to get physically ill looking at GPU code. And meanwhile, this entire onslaught on you know, my, my personality on my own, my individual being was happening. And I would vent to Devin else, and they'd say, dude, just step away from this, they don't deserve this. But, you know, I felt that it was kind of my, my, you know, my responsibility. If I had proposed this, you know, just in the same way you defend your thesis, you have to see it through. And yeah, eventually, I just got to such a big burnout that I just said, you know, what, I don't want anything else to do with this. I'd been in crypto for 10 years at that point. And I just got so burnt out that I just didn't want to do any of it anymore. And I did not touch any, any kind of code for a good solid, I would say, five, five months, I was just so incredibly burnt out. I didn't even touch a computer for that time. And I think, you know, in hindsight, what was really happening was, I'd been throwing myself at an impossible problem. But I'd also been trying to, you know, handle the politics of an incredibly decentralized, you know, autonomous beast that is Ethereum and dealing with a lot of personal attacks and slander, that was anything from you know, my weight, and how I dyed my hair, to my accent to my pattern of speech to my friends and family. And, you know, the the colleagues I worked with, and it affected all points of my life. And I just said, You know what, I don't need to step in this industry anymore. So I decided to move completely away with it did some consultancy, which was great. Starting to get into expert witness stuff, which is also incredibly fun, and rambled a little bit there. But there's the big, big, the big mess that really taught me what burnout feels like,
Tim Bourguignon 32:12
Wow, thank you so much for sharing this, this is a this is very deep. Do you fear that this might happen again? I mean, not the onslaught on your private life, but you becoming so focused on something that's you "lose yourself again", and flirt with a burnout again?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 32:32
I do I do every day. And you know, that's why now I'm trying to set very strict boundaries. So one of the things I refuse to do was, I would always work on weekends, always no matter what. And now, I think as I've gotten older, I've sort of started to take a step back as well. And so I've always, I've started to make sure that I always have Saturdays, you know, completely off, I don't take any meetings, I don't do anything work related, I don't even check my emails. And for a time I was incredibly, you know, I would still pick up my email. So what I ended up having to do was actually just set up a completely different desk with a different machine, so I wouldn't be tempted. It's small things like that, you know, having to set really harsh boundaries for myself. Now that I know what burnout actually feels like. There's more boundaries as well, like, I blocked my calendar for sleep. And it seems like such a weird, silly thing to do. But it's especially important in this COVID age, because people will just continuously book you for meetings, you know, if they see an hour gap in your calendar, they won't even think about what times on your own, or what you might have going on, they're just going to book you for a meeting. So you know, I block my calendar out now for for meetings and for eating dinner and for sleep and for personal stuff. And, you know, I've made sure that I have in my life, I have a separate office just for work and you know, a separate a separate room just for gaming. And I've tried to separate and almost compartmentalize my life as much as possible to ensure I have those boundaries in place. And then part of it was stepping away from social media, realizing that, you know, the reason I was feeling so bad was because there was this constant onslaught of awfulness, and all I had to do was just step away. But it's kind of like a train wreck, train wreck, you want to watch it, even though it's a horrific, horrible thing. Your brain can't help it. So, you know, limiting limiting the amount that I consumed completely Just stop it. Not checking Twitter, not checking, you know, telegram not checking Twitter. And it was a it was a big big learning process, but it helps a lot. And then, you know, I think, you know, three years ago I was I was a lot younger, I was a lot more immature. I think these experiences They just helped mature us a little bit more, and we start to put in boundaries in place. And yes, there's a chance that a lapse, but then you just go back and you figure out where did you go wrong? What mistake did you how did you make? And then you're like, Well, okay, that's the root problem. Let's put in, you know, let's write myself a human unit test so that I can then figure it figure that out and not do that again.
Tim Bourguignon 35:26
Did you get some external help?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 35:29
Um, no, no, I mean, my partner, my current partner has been an absolute lifesaver, I will say that, but no knowing no external help. And that isn't necessarily a good thing. It's just that I didn't need it at that point in at that point in time, or even today. But you know, my partner, he's, he's a lot younger than me. And he also suffers from a lot of the same issues that I had at that age, which is burnout. You know, very rarely when, where, when people, specifically, when you're, you're very curious developer, you don't want to step away from a problem, you want to just sit there and solve it until it's solved. And it can almost consume you. And a lot of us when we're younger, we have that obsession, and we have the energy to match it. But as we get older, we have to recognize our limits. And so he's he's been an absolute lifesaver. And that, you know, jointly, we've started to, you know, compartmentalize our lives like that, we make sure we both take Saturday off, so we're not tempted, you know, if someone's on a work call, one of us isn't gonna sneak away and get to our email. And, you know, it's just been a lot of a lot of reassurance that it's okay, you know, if you step away for a day, it's okay, if things take, you know, two more days to work out, it's okay, if you, you know, you miss this deadline by a few hours. You know, it's okay to sleep. And I'm starting to see those same patterns now that I've, you know, I'm going from being a, you know, from being an independent contributor to a software developer, to a CTO, I recognize and can quickly identify a lot of those patterns and the team's advantage. And, you know, I'm able to put in put in checks and balances for them. So we still have to remind a lot of our engineers to, you know, sleep and go take personal vacations and personal time.
Tim Bourguignon 37:28
How do you handle this edge of allowing people to lose them themselves, like you did, maybe not up to a burnout, but allowing them to geek out and really get get passionate about something to the point of forgetting to sleep at some point, because they're just just geeking out and you just want to solve it? And at the same time, being a boss with air quotes and having to put boundaries but not necessarily wanting to wanting to be to be a parent, for those developers. How do you you tread do the waters?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 38:10
Yeah, I think there's, you know, there's no playbook for this, every, every CTO, every manager is going to have their own style. For me, it's it's a lot of one on ones with my team members. And one on ones for me aren't just about, you know, let's talk about your progress as at your job, but what's going on in your life, let's catch up as friends. A lot of people gave me the advice early on, which is you can't be friends to your, to the people you manage, which is very bizarre, it was actually really bad advice. In hindsight, you know, I think the best teams work as one one unit, and they look out for the bolts. Sorry, they look out for their peers. So part of it is, you know, making sure that they're starting to learn their own individual rhythm, you know, how long on average does it take them to complete a sprint? What are their strengths and weaknesses, making sure as a manager, I assign them tasks where I know they're, they're going to succeed, but also give them some tasks that are just challenging enough, where they might struggle, but after they that they can succeed on that I know, you know, personally, that they can succeed on giving them help when they need to. And if I if I start seeing their lapsing, you know, maybe it usually takes them, you know, two weeks to complete their specific sprint or maybe, you know, they're, they've been stuck on this one. One problem for so long, making sure that you know, we give them some time. Just saying, look, dude, go take a break, go play a video game goes and zone out. It's not even being a parent. It's just being a friend to them, just making sure they realize that, you know, their job security, you know, it's not going to be dependent, how to phrase this, that they're not going to lose their job if they have to step away to you know, make lunch for their kids, or if they have to step away in a meeting because their, their, their little girl has come in and is, you know, once once some food, you know, and I think every manager is going through this right now in the COVID era, no, we're having to we're getting a very deep emotional insight into our employees lives. And we're starting to see them as you know, as more than just our peers, they're they've become friends, we see their pets, we see their family quite often, we live our life through cameras. So I guess I don't really have a good answer. It's more just being really intuitive, recognizing those signs of burnout early based upon performance. And I think that's a skill most managers learn over time. And part of it is also holding myself to the same standards that I do. So making sure that I set a precedent and I do a bad job of this. Sometimes I pull crazy all nighters. But you know, making sure that if someone tries to schedule me for, you know, a quick chat about something on Saturday, I set the boundaries and say, Hey, Saturdays, and off the day for me, can't do it that that day, let's let's try for Sunday instead. So I guess leading by example, as well, yeah,
Tim Bourguignon 41:17
That is indeed very important. And now, and not to forget the pandemic we have on our hands, which are, which is making things even more crazy than they should be?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 41:24
Yeah. Oh, yes!
Tim Bourguignon 41:28
I would love to circle back to, to your goal setting. We saw the very beginning that this this engulfing yourself in in finding a high score and, and really trying to beat the clock and do something, something even better than then than yesterday, it was very driving for you. How do you set goals for yourself nowadays?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 41:51
So at some point in my life, and I'm not sure when it happened, I went from I want this to be the fastest to I want this to be the prettiest, the nicest, the cleanest looking. I don't know when that when that happened. And it could have happened around the time that I sort of made that transition to a manager. But it happened at some point where, you know, I still, I still care about making sure things in my life are performant. And that's evident in everything from you know, the the code I write, to how I have my house laid out to, you know, very small things like the appliances I choose. But it happened at some point where I just, I started caring a lot about usability. And in reflection, I think it happened when I hired this fantastic UI UX designer. And she was obsessed with accessibility. She previously worked at a large company at ServiceNow, where she was head of their their UI. And she was we had a lot of chats about the hidden design of things, and the hidden elements of accessibility in UX that we never quite think about as developers, and it was like an entirely different, different world. And through my discussions with her, and through my reviews with her, I started realizing that UX design, it's another form of optimizing things, except you're not optimizing code, you're optimizing how as a human you process information, as a human how you receive it information. And today, a lot of my goals are around is this not only the most pleasant experience, but is this the most usable experience. And that's, that's become evident in the products that we we build and the products that we lead, the things I talk about, but also in my day to day life. I'm just I'm obsessed with ensuring things are labeled and organized. Not because it inherently looks pretty, but because it allows me to do things in the fastest manner. You know, if you have a pantry, not a pantry, it's a bad example. But if you have like a I have a giant closet in my house full of like cables, and tech as like one of my friends. It's cute like imagine a four door closet that is normally for clothes, and instead it's just a bunch of little boxes of cables and spare parts and chips. And one of my all friends joked that whenever he comes over to Christie's house, it's like shopping at Best Buy. But every every box is labeled it's like USBC five meter cables USBC USBC to us be a 10 meter cable. And people think that, that I'm OCD or have ADHD or some that they try and put it under a disorder. And they're very, you know, they're very weirded out by it. But for me, what it's translating to is when I suddenly need something, so you know, when I need a cable, I can go to that closet, and I can instantly find it. No digging around, no trying to measure out length, it's just there. It's a really quick, easy way to access something. And, you know, in one of the biggest pain points that we're now getting in, in cryptocurrency, and blockchain in general, is the usability, we've reached the point where, you know, it's kind of proven itself as technology. And it's proven itself as an asset class. Now, we have to solve the great problem of making it usable, and many people think making blockchain usable is you know, is going to be building better technology, building links between technology making sure that you can, you can build your next app in c++, making sure that you know, you have the best tools at your disposal. But that's not actually quite quite the route that we need to take it. Making blockchain usable means that you should be able to bring your ideas to life with no coding experience, making blockchain usable means that your your, your elderly relatives should be able to use use their phone, to send and receive crypto, and that they should not have to memorize a, you know, a 32 character string of randomized letters and numbers to know to send Bitcoin they should be able to have a human readable address. It's small, very subtle things like that. And that hasn't really been achieved. It's here bits and pieces in the blockchain industry. But as a as a big, like, as big industry. We haven't really quite hit that mark. And so to answer your question, you know, how I set goals, it's now about, not only is this the most, you know, performance thing, but is it the most well designed thing? Whatever I'm trying to do be that be that an email I Croft or, you know, notes I take, or, in the rare occasion, the code I write just Is this the most well designed thing
Tim Bourguignon 47:14
That is awesome. It is really cool. Reminds me of so many discussions about the internals of something that nobody would ever see. But we wanted to make it pretty inside as well. And it had to be this way, otherwise, it didn't feel right. And I wonder when that happens in a career, when that shift happens?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 47:39
Yeah, I wish I could tell you mate, I think you know, there's just, it can also be like, as you mature, your brain goes through multiple stages. You know, if I think about it, when I was when I was young, I didn't inherently care about how something looked. I just cared about Did it work? And was it false? And I think at some point, we, maybe it's around the time we start buying throw pillows and are in you know, in our age, we start caring about our furniture, we start thinking you know what, it would be really great if this, you know, I would really like a nice green lawn. Like, this just recently happened. And it's started to make me scared of my own my own mortality. It's where I decided, you know what, there's a patch of yellow here on my lawn. I'm going to go buy some green grass spray paint, which is actually the thing to make. It's it terrifies me I'm turning into my into my dad.
Tim Bourguignon 48:47
Oh yes, I know that.
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 48:51
I'm where we just start. We start caring about the design of things. Our brain, you know, I guess just starts thinking a little differently. Um, and yeah, it's, it's a little terrifying. But that's, that's okay.
Tim Bourguignon 49:04
Let's embrace it. Exactly. Is it and make the best out of it. So Kristy, you gave us the worst advice you ever received already, which was to not be friends with your, with your staff or with your with your teammates? Did you get a very good advice, all the best advice you ever got
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 49:23
best advice? I mean, there's there's actually, yes, the and it's wasn't necessarily related to my, to my career. But, you know, a former boss told me something that stuck with me today, which was he told me you need to keep a open heart and an open mind. But keep a firm hand on your wallet. And it seems silly and I'll tell you why. That's my best advice. Um, what he was really trying to say is that you need to, you need to be very open as an innovation Be willing to embrace, you know, new ideas, new concepts, new people. But you always need to make sure that you're putting boundaries in place to protect yourself. You need to make sure that you don't give too much of yourself away. And as an individual, I have a bad habit of doing that I invest a lot of time in, in people be that financially or emotionally, I want the people around me to succeed. And I'm the first one, you know, if something goes wrong, to try and offer help, even if I'm, if it will put myself at risk or Jeopardy, you know, a bunch of psychologists I'm sure would would call that almost, you know, our, our fourth response, we have, you know, sorry, our phone response. So we have our fight or flight response. And we also have the phone response, which is our desire to help people our desire to take care of people, and our desire to be a people pleaser. And that was, you know, in the moment, it was incredibly insightful advice because my, my former boss was this very, very seasoned Silicon Valley, you know, a manager, extraordinary CEO, he was, he was fantastic, and he had a lot of wisdom. But that in particular stuck with me. And it's, it's wrong, true. And I think, for most people that are that are similar to me, that were people pleasers were usually, you know, the people that want to take care of everyone around us, we just have to remember to take a step back and take care of ourselves sometimes as well. Amen.
Tim Bourguignon 51:43
Thank you for that. That's very wise. And in light of what you said before about about your past. Definitely something to to look out for and and watch out for. Thank you very much for sharing that. Kristy, where would be the best place to continue this discussion or start a discussion with you.
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 51:57
So the best place would definitely be Twitter. So if anyone's interested in reaching out, Twitter is always a good a good place, you can reach me out at oh god a girl.
Tim Bourguignon 52:11
I will add that to the show notes. Anything coming up in the next month or anything you want to plug anything on your plate?
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 52:16
Well, what's on my plate right now is, um, is the symbol hackathon we have. And so we didn't really touch on what I do for a day job. But symbol is a next generation protocol. blockchain protocol that's really focused on enterprise has a bunch of cool features. And we're hosting actually a hackathon with a quite exciting prize pool, about building some of the first applications that will run and be used on symbol. And so for for anyone looking to get more information, or wanting to join, please reach out. It's going to be amazing. We have also an incredible judging panel, as well as a great team of mentors that will actually work with you through your project and help answer any questions help guide you. So it's a definitely check out symbol and check out the hackathon.
Tim Bourguignon 53:12
And we'll add that to the show notes. Kristy, thank you very, very much. That was awesome.
Kristy-Leigh Minehan 53:17
Thank you for having me.
Tim Bourguignon 53:19
And this has been another episode of developer's journey. And we'll see each other next week. Bye-Bye. Wow. What. A. Ride. I was mesmerized by Kristy's journey each time I heard it. And I did listen to it a few times during the editing process. From her dabbling with ROMs, to tweaking the internals of her Kernel to get closer to those mining highscores, all the way to the chilling tale of her ProgPaw proposal, the horrendous campaign she lived through and her burnout. What a story. I took many quotes from this discussion, but the one which stuck with me the most is _"When you are focused day to day on just surviving, you don't put enough time and energy into bettering yourself."_ This is so true, and from my very priviledged vantage point, I have to remind myself and otherse about this regularly. What did You take out of this discussion? Please let me know. You can reach me on twitter, I'm at @ timothep, or use the comments section on our website under the transcript of this episode. As always, I'm going to ask you to send this episode to a few friends. Kristy's tale was full of warnings, flags and actionable tips to avoid derailing your life. But it was also full of joy and the devouring fire of passion. Do your friends a favor and send them this episode, both as a warning but also as a source of inspiration!