A Conversation with an Ethereum Smart Contract Developer, Kedar Iyer

Since graduating from UCLA  a few years ago, Kedar Iyer has been traveling all over the world “just to get another paycheck.” While the California native was living in New York City, he had heard about Ethereum and saw an opportunity to be a part of a growing industry. Kedar is a Solidity developer, which means he codes the smart contracts that take place on the Ethereum blockchain. Wanting to know more about not only his perspective about Ethereum and other cryptocurrencies but how he ended up in such a new and cutting-edge industry inspired me to pursue this interview.

Where did you grow up and go to college? Did you really almost got kicked out of school for starting a food delivery service?

I grew up in Santa Clara, which is in the heart of Silicon Valley about 40 miles south of San Francisco, so I’ve been exposed to technology from a young age. My first tech memories are of the dot-com boom and crash, so I’ve got a good grasp on how people act in bubbles.

I went to college at UCLA, and yes, State Assemblyman Mike Eng asked UCLA to expel me and my roommate for a food delivery service we ran called Ching Chong Ling Long Takeout. The name was a joke of a video that had gone viral around that time and apparently, his constituents were highly offended. Thankfully our chancellor Gene Block refused to expel us, and we quietly closed down the business.

You have had an interesting path since graduating school. How did you end up where you are today?

I have a bad habit of moving cities and jobs fairly quickly. I’ve worked in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Chennai, Mumbai, Los Angeles again, and New York in the last 4 years on various software projects. The highlight in the middle of those years was starting a dating site in Bangalore called LetsChai. The demand for the service wasn’t nearly as high as anticipated, so we shuttered the site after a few months.

I landed in crypto when I was living in New York less than a year ago. I attended a small talk on crypto trading and got so into it I opened a Poloniex account that night. 3 months later, everything was going to the moon.

How did you get into programming and then Solidity?

I wrote my first C++ program when I was 13 and proceeded to not touch programming again outside of the occasional script until after college. I imagine my life would have been different if I’d kept pursuing the subject back then itself, but all I cared about then was playing sports.

Coming out of college, I wasn’t enamored by my Mechanical Engineering major and saw that software was the future, so I got into the field with a software internship as the first employee at a web startup. I’ve worked with web development, Linux systems, back-end software, robotics, and even as a bootcamp instructor so I’ve seen software from a lot of different angles.

I got into crypto trading before I got into Solidity. Once I read the Ethereum white paper, I thought it could be the next big tech wave, and decided to teach myself Solidity.

When did you first hear of Bitcoin?

Around 2011 or 2012. It blew my mind when I first read the white paper and I told everyone about it for the first couple weeks. The first time I saw Bitcoin it was trading at under $2 a coin. It was way harder to buy back then. You had to meet someone in person and swap coins. No one with coins lived within 10 miles of me and I didn’t have a car, so I never made a purchase. I didn’t buy my first small amount of bitcoin until exchanges became more prevalent in 2013.

What is Ethereum and why is it useful?

Ethereum is a trusted computing platform on a trustless network. That means you don’t have to trust the individual participants of the network to trust that the code on the network will execute as intended. If the code says only the person who owns the private key linked to an asset can transfer that asset, I can trust that will be true 100% of the time. If the code says only the person that wins the lottery will be able to access the winnings, I can trust that it will happen as written.

A conventional database always has admins that can modify any part of the database. There’s an IT guy at Bank of America who can freeze your account, a.k.a. not allow you to make any changes to your entry in their database. A gambling site can get raided by the FBI and seize all your winnings on their site.  With Ethereum, none of this is an issue. If you own the asset, nobody else can touch it without your key.

How would you explain a smart contract and could you give an example of it in use?

A smart contract is a block of trusted code on a blockchain. It is generally used to move assets around or perform money related computations. Who won the bet? How much of my ICO token should you get in exchange for your 10 ether?

Smart contracts are the building block of Ethereum. They can contain multiple functions. When you send a transaction in Ethereum you are executing the code in one of the functions of a smart contract. By examining the code beforehand, you can know exactly what will happen when you send your transaction.

As an example, let’s say I have 10 ether and I want to use it to buy 100 of your COIN token (made up name), but neither of us know each other and it’s the Internet so we definitely don’t trust each other. If I send you my 10 ether, I have no guarantee that you will send me your 100 COIN. But I can create a smart contract that works as follows: I send my ether to the contract, you send your COIN, and the contract only makes the exchange when both of us have sent our portions. If one of us fails to make the payment within a specified time frame, the smart contract returns our funds.

Ordinarily, this sort of escrow service would require a 3rd party. In fact, there’s a whole industry dedicated to providing escrow services. With Ethereum, the smart contract acts as the 3rd party and unlike a normal person or business it is automated and can be trusted to do what it says it will 100% of the time. These are the sort of businesses that are going to be disrupted by blockchains.

Do you ever see normal consumers interacting with blockchain technology? If so, how and when?

At the moment, no. The closest I think the normal consumer will get to it in the near future is for large or international payments. I’d say Bitcoin is currently the best way to send amounts greater than $1000 or send money internationally. Blockchain technology is going to transform the way a lot of businesses operate, but from the user’s perspective, they might not even notice the changes happening.

What do you think is necessary in order for a cryptocurrency to be successful?

I think Bitcoin already has everything it needs to be successful as a store of value. It can’t be seized by external authorities, and you can fit millions of dollars in your jacket pocket without the risk of losing it or having it stolen. Rich guys love Bitcoin. Don’t fool yourself into thinking Bitcoin adoption is going to fueled by the common man. Governments won’t ban Bitcoin; they’ll be the ones using it. It’s a millionaire’s dream asset.

For a true everyday use cryptocurrency, the main barrier is going to be transaction fees. No one wants to have to pay money to use their money. Unfortunately, transaction fees attract miners and miners secure the network. That riddle will have to be solved before we see mainstream currency adoption.

There’s one way to get rid of transaction fees, and that’s by centralizing the network. One or a series of central authorities are authorized to verify transactions, but users still control their own money through private keys. And who do we know that specializes in issuing centralized currencies? Central banks! I think we’ll see a central bank crypto sooner than we think in the next 3 years and they will be the ones that fuel mass adoption of crypto. They know there’s a seismic shift headed their way and they’re smarter than they look. They’ll be looking to get ahead of the game and maintain as much control over the system as they can.

How do you see blockchain technology such as cryptocurrency reshaping the structure of society if at all?

In the long term, I think all assets and deeds that can be digitized will be stored on a blockchain. Stock exchanges will use blockchains for inter-exchange clearing. Real estate deeds, gold certificates, birth certificates. It will be a slow march until central banks adopt the technology. Then someone will figure out how to link the central bank crypto to smart contracts on Ethereum and all hell will break loose.

We’ll all be carrying around hardware wallets with our personal assets and information on it. Think that sounds a bit far-fetched? I’m an Estonian e-resident and everyone in the system gets issued a USB key they can use to sign documents with their government-issued private keys. That’s exactly how a blockchain works. They already have the infrastructure in place, they just have to add a blockchain on top of it. Look to Estonia to be the first to issue a central bank crypto.

What is your advice to crypto-noobs out there?

You will never understand the true power of crypto until you hold your own private keys and watch a transaction you sent clear on the blockchain without anyone knowing it was you. Buying and trading on exchanges aren’t the same. Facebook and Google have all your personal data, your phone tracks your every movement, and credit card companies know about every purchase you make. Crypto is our generation’s last grasp at a semblance of personal liberty.

Bitcoin is the gateway drug of the crypto world. The best way to get hooked is to buy a cheap hardware wallet and walk around with $100 or $1000 in your pocket. For the 100% raw experience, convert all your money to crypto held on your own keys, don’t pay the fee on your next parking fee or car registration, and watch the DMV go mad as it tries to place a lien on all your conventional accounts. Or just buy Bitcoin. Whatever floats your boat.