Fundamentals of Smart Contract Security covers how blockchains function, design choices for smart contract development, common vulnerabilities, and best practices for writing smart contracts. This interview is one of a five-part series where we go behind the scenes and learn a bit more about the authors.
Jan is a Ph.D candidate at the University of Waterloo. His research interests include complexity theory, software verification and formal methods, discrete mathematics, and blockchain technologies. At Quantstamp, his role is to keep up with emerging technologies, assist in protocol design, and develop ideas with the engineering team.
Can you share a bit about your background, and how this led you to your role now as a Blockchain Researcher for Quantstamp?
I had an interest in Computer Science and began to get into Bitcoin in early 2009. I started mining coins, which I remember my friends weren’t really into at the time. I was studying formal methods and working part-time at a bakery. Steven Stewart, Quantstamp’s co-founder, was really impressed with my work, and that’s how I ultimately ended up at Quantstamp.
Part of your role with Quantstamp is keeping up with emerging technologies. Given that this industry changes incredibly fast...how do you keep up, both individually, and as a team that needs to stay on the cutting edge?
Yes, things move quickly and it’s definitely hard sometimes. I do a lot of reading and keeping up with websites - but you could pretty much dedicate all your time to it. I don’t follow the markets, so I read more whitepapers than investment stuff. Being part of Quantstamp helps too, because I often learn about developments or news from other people on the team.
Who do you think will benefit most from reading this book? What do you think this is contributing to the field of smart contract security?
Definitely novice developers in the space, because the book is fairly accessible and includes lots of references and follow-up material if you want to learn more. It will give you a sense of what you’re looking for, and if you’re already technical, I think it would be valuable too. Going beyond the basics, there are caveats and nuances discussed in the book that would be helpful for someone at a more advanced level.
As for how the book is contributing to the field, it’s really the first resource available that offers all this information in a concise, accessible way. You might be able to cobble some of the same content together from a number of sources, or find similar information that’s presented in a more general way, but the book offers a “checklist” and reference for smart contract security, all in one place.
As a Ph.D. candidate, your education has proven very relevant to your day to day work. With the increasing demand for talent in this space, do you think universities and colleges will need to change in order to meet this challenge? While there are a number of universities with dedicated blockchain research centers, do you think there is a need for more blockchain technology education, even at the undergraduate level?
Yeah, I’d say there definitely needs to be a change. There are already lots of labs being set up - I know several professors with graduate students. At the undergraduate level, it’s unfortunately a bit more difficult. Unless they offer a full course, it’s a challenge to cram something like that into an already packed schedule. There are already some cool blockchain courses in university, but I think it’s going to be a while before it’s mandatory. Change will be slow, and likely a lot of education will be coming from other places - like co-op placements or blockchain companies.
What you like most about your work, and what’s the most challenging part of what you do?
I like all of it. There are a lot of new challenges and contributing to them is very exciting – and reading about how others are solving problems is intriguing too.
The most challenging part is adapting to the change of pace. I’ve already mentioned that keeping up with the technology could be a full-time job, but it’s more than that. Working in industry is more fast paced than in academia (though there are certainly times when you feel the pressure), and that’s been a bit of a shock. But it’s been nice: ideas are developed and tested much more quickly in many cases, and that brings closure much more quickly too.