Interview with Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of the Hyperledger Project

[Bit]coin flipping: It’s up to the developers how soon blockchain goes mainstream

Gabriela Motroc
Brian Behlendorf

The discussion about blockchain’s adoption is gaining momentum, but where are we now? How far are we from seeing blockchain in all industries and how can we help speed up the process? We talked to Brian Behlendorf, Executive Director of the Hyperledger Project about all this and more.

It’s been four months since Brian Behlendorf became the Executive Director of the Hyperledger Project. We talked to him about his latest blog post in which he claims that Hyperledger is an “umbrella” for software developer communities building open source blockchain and related technologies.


JAXenter: You mentioned in your latest blog post that you “see Hyperledger as an ‘umbrella’ for software developer communities building open source blockchain and related technologies”. How have software developer communities reacted to the idea of Hyperledger? Are they actively involved in it? 

Brian Behlendorf: We have five projects active now at Hyperledger, two initially when we launched in February, and three more added since.  Collectively they involve a couple of hundred developers and contributors and many more are following the email lists and Slack channels.  Since we’ve started talking about the umbrella idea to other communities we’ve had substantial interest in additional projects joining.

We are 50 years into general-purpose computing, and I’d argue only now can we consider it mature.

JAXenter: You also stated that “Blockchain and smart contracts are still in the early stages of a 20-year, if not a 50-year, adoption and maturation cycle.” Why does blockchain need 50 years to reach maturation and where are we right now? 

Brian Behlendorf: We are 50 years into general-purpose computing, and I’d argue only now can we consider it mature :)  I sometimes say it feels like 1994 and the early days of the World Wide Web, when some of the key pieces such as HTTP and HTML were in place, but Javascript and CSS and Apache and Firefox were still long in the future.  Joi Ito sometimes says it’s more like 1989!

Writing secure, trustworthy smart contracts is proving to be a bigger challenge than most engineering challenges, simply because barring a major intervention (like the Ethereum community’s response to the DAO hack) a smart contract can not be easily revised later should a similar bug be discovered, and it may take awhile for smart contracts to be written that all parties to it can trust to be fair to their own interests.

SEE ALSO: Apache Foundation founder joins Hyperledger Project as executive director

JAXenter: There is indeed a global talent shortage for developers who understand not only cryptocurrency and blockchain engineering challenges. How does Hyperledger want to solve this problem?

Brian Behlendorf: First, by expanding the number of developers for whom working on these technologies can be attractive. Focusing on non-currency applications is one way to do that.

Secondly, the Linux Foundation grew the Linux developer ecosystem through frequent conferences and events, as well as training programs, even certification programs, that have reached millions of individual developers.  It made being a “Linux Developer” not mean you needed to be Linus Torvalds or Greg Kroh-Hartman, but simply understand enough about its APIs and what it’s best used for.  The LF just announced a partnership with EdX, actually, to start putting free training content up on that system – one of the few non-academic organizations allowed to do so.  This year is about building great products, but over time, we see these kinds of activities as highly relevant.

JAXenter: The Wall Street Journal cited Bart Cant, a principal in Capgemini’s financial services practice, as saying that there are probably less than 100 blockchain experts globally. How many blockchain developers does Hyperledger employ and what does the profile of a full-time Hyperledger developer look like?

Brian Behlendorf: The Linux Foundation actually employs zero developers today for Hyperledger.  We may in the future when we find someone with exceptional skills who prefers working for a non-profit and growing a community, but today we depend entirely upon the developers and experts that join the community, whether from our sponsoring members or not.

SEE ALSO: The world is in dire need of blockchain developers

I don’t know how many of the “100” number that Capgemini mentioned are one it, it’s at least a few :) But I think that number is growing.  There’ll always be a “top 100” but the numbers working with distributed ledgers worldwide must be an order of magnitude greater already.

JAXenter: Why should developers enter this field? What is the payoff?

Brian Behlendorf: We believe this is a technology that will become pervasive in enterprises, government agencies, perhaps even the public sector. Any time a community of organizations needs to have a common system of record and build useful automation on top of it, a blockchain will make sense.  Technical talent that understands the physics of these systems is in high demand today, and we haven’t even gotten to widespread production deployment yet.  This is a skill that will be highly relevant for many years to come.

JAXenter: In these four months since you became the executive director of the Hyperledger Project, have you identified new challenges that can prevent blockchain from becoming truly mainstream?

Brian Behlendorf: “No challenges… only opportunities”

For me, it’s a question of timing rather than impact – not how deeply, but when.  It may trickle in, as the web did for its first ten years, to be honest.  Or it may all arrive next year.  It depends on how quickly many of these pilots underway today can shift into production, and how repeatably we can build these systems.  It’s all up to the developers.

Thank you very much!

Gabriela Motroc
Gabriela Motroc was editor of and JAX Magazine. Before working at Software & Support Media Group, she studied International Communication Management at the Hague University of Applied Sciences.

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