Is Blockchain Truly Decentralized?

How the people in power behind Bitcoin are threatening its growth.
Is Blockchain Truly Decentralized?

Decentralization — the notion that we can build a platform that requires no trusted third party intermediary — is a key aspect of blockchain technology. It’s driving the current gold rush in blockchain space. Investors are pouring money into the ecosystem through ICOs and angel investments as entrepreneurs hope to build “decentralized” versions of everything: money (Bitcoin), file storage (FileCoin), identity (SecureKey), supply chain (Viant) — the list goes on and on.

Why is decentralization important to you? Because it makes the products and services you consume more secure. Data on a blockchain network is distributed and encrypted, making it much harder to hack. Imagine if there was a decentralized version of credit reporting, where your information was encrypted and distributed across multiple places instead of a single location. This would make it much harder to perform the next Equifax hack.

But how decentralized is blockchain technology? Not very, if we look at the Bitcoin scaling debate of 2017.

Bitcoin is currently the largest blockchain in existence. Perhaps the most decentralized blockchain in existence, Bitcoin has almost 10,000 nodes running its protocol, making it all but impossible for a bad actor to take control of the blockchain. But Bitcoin has a scaling problem. Currently, the network can process roughly seven transactions per second. By comparison, Visa can process roughly 50,000 transactions per second (it’s everywhere you want to be).

The scaling problem is solvable, but in the community, there’s a heated and sometimes vitriolic disagreement on how to do so. Without going into great detail into the technical nuances between competing options (which would be a blog post on its own), there are essentially two camps:

  • Bitcoin miners — These are the people who bring all the hashpower to Bitcoin’s blockchain, validating transactions and leveling security. A sizeable portion of hashpower influence comes from a small group of large mining operators, most notably Bitmain. They want to see larger block sizes to scale the network. Currently, Bitcoin blocks are limited to 1mb and it’s creating a bottleneck.
  • Bitcoin core developers — These people build and maintain the Bitcoin protocol. They argue larger block sizes should only be created if a consensus of nodes on the network asks for it. And they worry that a small group of large mining operations shouldn’t be allowed to “change the rules” in a network built on decentralization.

To be clear, I’m loosely defining these two camps. In any crowdsourced community, there are individuals within these groups who might not align with these positions, but this is essentially how the debate has shaped up. A compromise was offered by the Digital Currency Group at Consensus 2017 called SegWit2x. (You can learn more about this compromise here.)

Here’s the problem: SegWit2x didn’t happen. The upgrade was called off in November 2017 due to lack of consensus among the participating nodes. And so the scaling problem continues.

The way I see it, two concentrated groups were controlling the debate and ultimately the future of the Bitcoin network. And unfortunately, the lack of agreement has led to a tribal mentality, similar to our American political system, where groups talk past each other while everyone suffers. How is that decentralized?

Let’s put this in a larger context. According to Rod Collins, our Director of Innovation, digital transformation is a social revolution as much as it is a technological one. Blockchain technology has the chance to fundamentally change how we operate — our businesses, our governments, and our communities. But we’ll never get there if centralized groups within the network prohibit its growth through lack of agreement. The irony here is that blockchain, the technology, is built on computer algorithms that rely on a consensus of computers on the network to agree. But blockchain, the social movement, suffers from a lack of consensus on how to move forward, at least in regard to Bitcoin.

Perhaps Bitcoin and other blockchain networks can learn from their ancestors — the open source movement — on how to generate a consensus from a loose-knit group of community participants. If we don’t get there, the dream of decentralization will never become a reality.

Chad Hahn
Author Details
Optimity Advisors, Inc.
Chad Hahn is a partner overseeing the digital & technology practice at Optimity Advisors. He is an entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in strategy, business development, operations, and technology, and has started and sold two successful service businesses. He has a strong background in software engineering and enterprise architecture, with deep expertise in both traditional and emerging technologies.
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Chad Hahn
Optimity Advisors, Inc.
Chad Hahn is a partner overseeing the digital & technology practice at Optimity Advisors. He is an entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in strategy, business development, operations, and technology, and has started and sold two successful service businesses. He has a strong background in software engineering and enterprise architecture, with deep expertise in both traditional and emerging technologies.

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PledgeLA to Boost Diversity and Inclusion in The Los Angeles Tech Community

PledgeLA to Boost Diversity and Inclusion in The Los Angeles Tech Community

As the tech sector in LA grows due to the saturation of the tech industry in the San Francisco area, the same problems in Silicon Valley are now coming up. There’s a growing tension between the upstarts of the tech industry and the regular folks in the community surrounding this IT boom.

According to critics, what will follow in LA will be what happened in San Francisco if there’s nothing done about it. Regular people and longtime residents will feel alienated and looked down upon. They will feel like they’re being forced out by the higher rents and costs of homes as well as the prices of regular consumer goods.

That’s why more than 80 entrepreneurs and tech investors are joining Mayor Eric Garcetti and the non-profit Annenberg Foundation to launch PledgeLA. This is the LA tech community initiative that seeks to avoid what happened in San Francisco and to the people there who felt disenfranchised by the growing tech boom.

PledgeLA Features

Features of the initiative include the following:

  • More opportunities will be provided for everyone, regardless of race, background, or gender. So even non-white women who grew up poor should have the same opportunities as the white guys who grew up rich.
  • Those who signed to the PledgeLA agreement will track civic participation and diversity data each year. That data will be made public so that people will know if a tech company is made up of exclusively white males from the Ivy Leagues and other top schools.
  • Startups and funds will report on the composition of their workforce noting various factors. This won’t be just noting age, gender, and race. It will also note socioeconomic origin, educational attainment, and even sexual orientation to see if there’s bias against hiring members of the LGBT community. Other factors will include the status in regards to disabilities, immigration, and military service veteran. Even the tenure at a firm will be noted.
  • The signatories also will come up with a proper code of conduct centered on diversity and inclusion, and diversity will be practiced in corporate hiring.

Good Business Sense

While many who signed PledgeLA did so out of a sense of moral and ethical rightness, it also makes good business sense to emphasize diversity on corporate hiring practices. A Diverse workgroup brings different points of views when it comes to making decisions. It helps with networking for sources of talent, and the diverse work group can help build a diverse consumer base as well.

LA has now become one of the top 5 US destinations for technology investment and it’s now one of the top tech hubs in the country. The top 100 tech companies in LA and Orange County has reported a 24% increase in employment within the last year.

There are a still a few notable holdouts to PledgeLA, however. Tesla and SpaceX have not yet signed on, and nor has Snap. But LA is an inherently diverse area, and such a diversity must be maintained in the tech workplace as well.

Author Details
Santa Monica, Culver City, Venice, Hollywood, and beyond
LAStartups.com is a digital lifestyle publication that covers the culture of startups and technology companies in Los Angeles. It is the go-to site for people who want to keep up with what matters in Los Angeles’ tech and startups from those who know the city best.
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Santa Monica, Culver City, Venice, Hollywood, and beyond
LAStartups.com is a digital lifestyle publication that covers the culture of startups and technology companies in Los Angeles. It is the go-to site for people who want to keep up with what matters in Los Angeles’ tech and startups from those who know the city best.

Appz, a Smart Personal Assistant for Your Instagram

What is Appz and why should you use it?

If you have an Instagram account you know that managing and handling it can be quite the nuisance. You need to spend a lot of time writing comments, replying and talking with customers. That’s why you need every helping hand you can get. And it’s a good idea to try Appz if possible.

This is a really nice Instagram assistance that allows you to do the right amount of maintenance while also automating the processes that eat up so much of your time. What you will like the most about Appz is that it’s a personalized, brand-building assistant.

Once you install Appz, you can automate just about any Instagram process you can think of. It works great for auto-commenting, auto-following, and auto-liking as well. It works great if you want to acquire new followers too because it will like content created by people that have similar interests to you.

How can you use Appz?

The way Appz works is simple, you just need to add the desired hashtag and then it will do the rest for you. Appz will find people that share and access similar content and then you can engage with those persons in no time.

Not only that, but you can also monitor what Appz does via a dashboard. You can see things like engagement stats, activity statistics and so on. Every detail matters and with Appz you really get to have all the info you need in a comprehensive package. The interface is very easy to use and you can easily get a good idea of what people you need to reach, how to approach them and so on.

Appz does a very good job at optimizing your content since it works non-stop to find similar hashtags to the ones you are using and it also creates the best way for you to reach more people on Instagram. It’s nothing forced, everything is natural and it works exactly the way you want.

Why should you use Appz?

You should get the Appz Instagram Assistant: Lifetime Subscription because it makes it easier for you to find followers and generate more leads for your business. You also get to figure out what triggers the engagement, where you can find new followers and how you can promote your business even more. Plus, you can even drive up your likes, increase your reach and affiliate with influencers.

If you want to improve your Instagram presence and acquire more leads or customers, Appz is here to assist. It delivers great value and efficiency, and you will be amazed at how many followers you can get this way. Plus, Appz can be fully automated and it works non-stop for you in the background. Avail this great opportunity and check it out today!

Also, check out these 15 Hacks to Get More Instagram Followers

Author Details
Editor-In-Chief
A native Angeleno. John studied engineering at UCLA; founded Schmoozd, an offline social tech networking event in LA with 30,000 subs; ran a startup accelerator (StartEngine). Worked for several major brands like Toyota, DIRECTV, Hitachi, and Raytheon. A mentor at LMU Entrepreneur School. And advises a dozen local LA startups building amazing tech in various industries; also invested in some.

john@lastartups.com
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Editor-In-Chief
A native Angeleno. John studied engineering at UCLA; founded Schmoozd, an offline social tech networking event in LA with 30,000 subs; ran a startup accelerator (StartEngine). Worked for several major brands like Toyota, DIRECTV, Hitachi, and Raytheon. A mentor at LMU Entrepreneur School. And advises a dozen local LA startups building amazing tech in various industries; also invested in some.

john@lastartups.com

Can You Measure Software Developer Productivity?

Can You Measure Software Developer Productivity?

The cost of software development kills innovation by limiting resources available to solve problems

THE PRODUCTIVITY DILEMMA

Let’s face it – software development is expensive.  Really expensive.  It’s not hard to understand why – software development is a complicated and still-maturing industry, and as the sector grows, it actually gets more complicated, not less, because of the acceleration of changes in technologies, programming languages, and toolsets.

As a technology consultant, one who is paid to help build expensive, complex systems, I should be happier than a fanboy on a Fortnite bender about this trend, right?  Wrong – it frustrates me a great deal.  My job is to solve problems and build things that people need, and that gets harder when funding becomes a challenge for our clients.

So here’s the question I’ve been grappling with – how can we make software development more productive to reduce costs?

There are lots of things our industry has done over the preceding decades to tackle this problem:

  • Developed working methodologies to build repeatable practices – Waterfall, Unified Process, Agile, XP, etc.
  • Created design patterns to solve common problems – MVC, SOLID, GoF, and many others
  • Leveraged lower cost resources through offshoring

None of these have been a panacea.  Look at any enterprise and you’ll find competing for SDLC methodologies, loose adherence to design practices, and the common efficiency roadblocks due to offshoring.  While these efforts have been helpful in managing cost, it is very difficult to measure the effect they have really had.

MEASURING PRODUCTIVITY

What to do, then?  More than anything, the focus of productivity has to start with the most human element of all – the individual developer herself.  The focus has to be on how to increase the speed that a developer can turn a designed solution into working code with as few errors as possible.

Anyone who has been in the software industry knows there are broad ranges in developers’ productivity.   It depends on the individual’s ability to understand programming theory, their educational background, years of experience, a personal situation at the time, how much Fortnite they play, etc.

Why is this important?  Quite simply, time is money.  The longer it takes a developer to code a solution, the more it costs.  In today’s environment of nearly full employment, demand for software developers has never been higher, which brings a lot of varied talent into the picture to meet the demand.  Anyone who has hired a developer knows the productivity gap I’m talking about – hiring is an expensive proposition and no matter how much interviewing you do, and you’re never sure what sort of productivity you’ll get until that person gets to work.

Why is measuring productivity so hard?  Because a good measurement involves an apples-to-apples comparison between developers, yet they will almost never complete the same task to produce the same set of code.  Since every development task is different, we cannot establish a baseline for how long it SHOULD take to perform a task versus how long it WILL take a specific developer.  Throw in each person’s differing levels of experience, education, and general abilities with the discipline, and…you get the picture.

Does that mean we’re stuck with technical interviews, coding tests, and answered prayers to create a team of highly productive software engineers?  Not quite.  Agile practices give us an opportunity to solve the biggest challenge in measuring developer productivity – creating a baseline to measure the variance between the estimated and actual time to perform a coding task.

HOW IT WORKS

Every ALM tool – Jira, or otherwise – allows a Scrum team to create story sub-tasks during their planning sessions.  Usually, a developer assigned to a sub-task has an opportunity to estimate the time it should take to complete that task, measured in hours.  During the sprint, developers can then track the actual hours spent so the team can evaluate the variance between estimated and actual hours.

This variance isn’t particularly helpful as a productivity metric because the individual developer may be much faster or slower than the average, and their estimations likely reflect this bias.

The solution to this problem is to have all the developers on the Scrum team estimate each subtask duration, creating a proxy baseline and a more reasonable expectation of the task’s duration.  Then, once a task is assigned to the individual developer, the variance calculations can start to have some meaning.

What meaning are we to glean from this variance? When looking at large sets of variances (hundreds or thousands of tasks over multiple projects), we can observe patterns in individual developers’ productivity.  If they consistently take longer to complete a task than the established baseline, we can look more deeply at the data to find root causes and potential remediations.  Is there a skills mismatch, allocation mismatch, or something else?  Does the developer need more pair programming or training in specific areas?

If a developer consistently performs tasks in less time than the estimations, we have hard metrics to reward that individual and encourage continued productivity.  We can also look at the data to see how we might have other developers emulate good behaviors from these high performers.

IMPLICATIONS

I know I know – I can hear the complaints now.  A small group of 2-4 developers on a Scrum team estimating a task cannot be used as a valid baseline, you say.  It’s a fair point, but any leftover estimation bias from a small sample size of developers would be offset by the volume of variance data we would collect.  As a manager, I care more about the variance trends and less about the exactness of anyone variance calculation.

But wait, you say.  All of this supposes a developer will be truthful in reporting their actual duration on a task.  People lie to themselves and others all the time (just read “Everybody Lies” by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz) – if a developer knows they’ll be measured on variance, they’ll manipulate their actuals to improve their perceived productivity.

Again, fair point, but there is a self-policing solution to this problem.  An employee is generally expected to work 8 hours a day.  If a developer consistently under-reports their actual durations on a task, it would appear they were consistently working less than they should be.

Say a developer is assigned two 4-hour tasks, and he takes 1 day to complete both but only reports 2 hours of actual duration for each task.  We would see a report that shows him only working 4 hours that day.  With enough data points, we could easily spot a trend of under-reporting and take corrective action.

CONCLUSION

Why is all of this important?  As individuals, not just employees, we should all strive to improve ourselves every day.  That’s how society is supposed to work – we do things, we make mistakes, we learn from them and we grow in the process.  But we can’t improve what we can’t measure.  The method I describe is very easy to implement, as long as your team is following the Scrum ceremonies.  With simple metrics and trend analysis, maybe we can finally solve a difficult problem and leave ourselves more time to knock a few more things of that ever-growing to-do list.

Chad Hahn
Author Details
Optimity Advisors, Inc.
Chad Hahn is a partner overseeing the digital & technology practice at Optimity Advisors. He is an entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in strategy, business development, operations, and technology, and has started and sold two successful service businesses. He has a strong background in software engineering and enterprise architecture, with deep expertise in both traditional and emerging technologies.
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Chad Hahn
Optimity Advisors, Inc.
Chad Hahn is a partner overseeing the digital & technology practice at Optimity Advisors. He is an entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in strategy, business development, operations, and technology, and has started and sold two successful service businesses. He has a strong background in software engineering and enterprise architecture, with deep expertise in both traditional and emerging technologies.