Kevin Owocki is an open source software developer who founded Gitcoin, a platform that uses blockchain technology and cryptocurrency to pay developers who work on open source projects. During a walk in San Francisco, Kevin shared how the technologies that Gitcoin uses can be leveraged to pay bounties, gifts, or fees to developers working in hybrid and distributed teams. “We are trying to test out new paradigms in terms of how work can get done."
Short on time? Here are three takeaways from Kevin’s interview which outline how blockchain and cryptocurrency can be used to improve how developers are matched to projects and compensated:
- Cryptocurrency and blockchain are disrupting the software development world. They create a way to pay people anywhere in the world for work they do, which is especially great for engineers working in places without stable financial systems.
- Instead of just being applied to decentralized finance or investing, blockchain and cryptocurrency can be used to improve how people work. The secure and decentralized nature of the technology opens up opportunities for payment and contracts.
- There is an immense amount of capability in the open source community, but not enough funding. However, there is capital in blockchain. To take advantage of this, platforms are needed to find developers and funding, manage projects, and get money to contributors.
What follows is a long-form write up of the key topics we discussed in our interview.
In this episode, Kuba took a walk with Kevin Owocki around the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco to talk about how blockchain and cryptocurrency are changing the way companies find software development talent — and how developers around the world can find work. Kevin is the founder of Gitcoin, a platform that connects freelance developers with online jobs solving bug bounties, building features, and designing creatives. These jobs are paid in cryptocurrency. Focused on the open source software community, they have distributed over $2.5 million in bounties, contributions, or thank you grants to developers.
Giving back to the open source community
From the time Kevin started his career as a software developer in 2006, he worked for a variety of web startups that used open source software. He shared that “instead of rolling my own web server or database server, I will just pull a web server off of Github and leverage that. That has been a real accelerant when working on a startup that goes to market quickly.”
"We are really standing on the shoulder of giants."
After working on platforms that leveraged the amazing open source resource pool, he wanted to create a company that gave back to the community and to developers. Kevin started Gitcoin to provide a platform for open source projects to give back financially, for companies in need of developers to find the right people, and for developers contributing to open source to earn a living.
Building a hybrid development team with blockchain
Kevin explained that the critical technology behind Gitcoin is the Ethereum blockchain platform. It allows them to create a marketplace for projects and developers to create hybrid, distributed development teams. The most significant advantage of using blockchain and cryptocurrency in this situation is paying developers around the world without using traditional financial transactions. He pointed out how "it is incredible for people who don't have access to the western financial system to be able to get access through cryptocurrency. I think it is something we take for granted in the States, that our financial system is fairly stable and we don’t have to worry about the banks intercepting our payments."
"Sometimes there are some new mindsets that are useful to adopt when you start working on Gitcoin."
Gitcoin does not use any particular cryptocurrency. Kevin pointed out that for cryptocurrency projects, people can pay employees with their own coin in order to align developers with the project’s incentives. Or, they can use a stable coin that is pegged to a well-known currency, which Kevin said is the second-most common coin that their customers pay with. It is up to users of the platform to decide.
To help those who are building teams find the right developers, Kevin noted that "targeting is a really big part of our platform." He pointed out that many of the projects that use Gitcoin leverage it as a “try before you buy” platform. “There are 25,000 software engineers we can market your project to. No recruiter in the world can do that."
Summing up why a company should use blockchain and cryptocurrency to build a hybrid distributed team, Kevin listed three reasons that project leaders use bounties, contributions, and fees that rely on those technologies:
- People want to add missing features.
- People don't have the time to fix something themselves.
- People want to recruit a software engineer.
Making a living through disruptive technology
The conversation later shifted to the perspective of the developer looking to make a living working on open source projects. Kevin noted that “supply and demand economics in the blockchain space is more favorable to software engineers.” The same technology creating the demand can also be used to create a marketplace for developers.
As mentioned earlier, the people in places without stable banking are delivered an immediate benefit. Most people working in blockchain are focused on decentralized finance or coin investing. Instead of doing that, he said, "I think that from first principles, the internet of money can change anything that has to do with money use cases. Most people spend more time at their jobs than they do thinking about their investments." So he and his team set to work on a blockchain platform that focused on delivering for the work side of people’s lives.
“In a world where digital products are kind of the gold, then we kind of think we are selling pickaxes to the gold miners. We are selling axes to software engineers.”
Besides using cryptocurrency for financial transactions, Kevin shared the value of using a blockchain platform to put contracts in place. He wisely pointed out that "we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There are sometimes good things with legal agreements. I'm 35 with a kid and a mortgage and stuff. If I didn't have an agreement for someone to pay my salary, that would cause a lot of stability issues for me."
Riding four mega-trends
Near the end of their talk, Kevin mentioned that he was very excited about his project because "I like to think that we are in the middle of a few different mega-trends. There is blockchain, there is open source software, there is remote work, there is the gig economy.” Blockchain and open source can be used as tools to enable remote work and further grow the gig economy. He mentioned that “there are a lot of places in the world where you can get engineers that are just as good as the [Silicon] valley engineers, but your money will go a lot longer."
“Blockchain is a great place to live in the future and build what is missing.”
Kevin discussed how the shift away from blue-collar jobs caused by automation is creating a growing number of software engineers who are looking for work. He is optimistic that the advantages of blockchain and cryptocurrency will continue to disrupt the industry and benefit both developers and open source software projects, giving back to the community that provided the foundation for his previous software projects.