MIAMI – Last Tuesday, I landed in Miami for Bitcoin Magazine’s Bitcoin Conference 2022, and I hurried over to a blue-collar area outside the city to attend a hackathon put on by Jeremy Rubin, a Bitcoin developer. I arrived at an industrial building where a flimsy sign shepherded me to walk up some stairs and around the corner where I was greeted by 30 to 40 people either furiously coding or watching people code.
Somehow, it was entirely unimpressive, but incredibly interesting. This felt like “Bitcoin.” This was as “cypherpunk” as it gets, because cypherpunks write code. The building was uninspiring. It was barebones and there were random items strewn about.
The event I was there to cover is called pleb.fi – the “pleb” being a one-syllable version of the word “plebeian” meant to identify regular people who like Bitcoin. Pleb.fi is an event centered around hacking, mentorship, workshops and discussions on how to contribute to improving Bitcoin’s functionality using tools like Sapio (a programming language designed by Rubin that enables Bitcoin smart contracts), Taproot and BIP-119 CheckTemplateVerify.
But the low-key presentation by no means was a measure of its sophistication. The content was highly technical and the proposals that won the event were serious projects. Rubin wrote to me on Twitter that “this sort of event isn't just lip service to an agenda, it's actually becoming an important venue for people to experiment and learn.”
This particular iteration of pleb.fi was two days long and started with a half day’s worth of presentations. After the presentations, attendees broke up into teams to start the hackathon and competed to create the best Bitcoin functionality project they could, the winner taking home $5,000. Since I showed up on the second day, I had a chance to sit down with Rubin to talk about his event while competitors were building.
Meeting Bitcoin philosophy with action
Rubin shared that pleb.fi is his “love letter to the community … and you can co-sign the letter, but I’m not changing it.” Rubin has contributed to the Bitcoin code and most think that’s enough, but he wants more, saying there’s a “philosophy of inclusivity in Bitcoin, but we now need to meet that philosophy with action.”
That action has come to life through a grant program to help pay for women to attend the event and people who have some sort of obstacle to attend pleb.fi. Taken from the event’s website itself (in comic sans, of all fonts):
“If there’s an obstacle, let’s get rid of that,” Rubin said. “Let’s cover travel for people, then let’s see how far we can stretch it. Maybe attendees need a babysitter? Bitcoin is for everyone, but you gotta meet them where they are.”
And it seemed to have worked to some degree. At one point I counted eight women out of the 26 competitors in the hackathon. At the end they shared their stories.
A mother of two spoke about how she is a self-taught developer and she was very happy to have been given the chance to participate. Another back-end developer shared that she was excited to find that she was able to contribute to Bitcoin, even though she didn’t have experience in C++, the main programming language of Bitcoin. Yet another said that she was “previously a degen,” but is now fully “inspired to really contribute in more technical ways to Bitcoin because I am capable.”
This small event felt like a big success, and Rubin is looking to build on it. He plans to have a “pleb.fi Potluck,” which will function like the TEDx grassroots initiative. His goal is to publish a guideline that outlines the principles of a pleb.fi event so that events can take place all across the world using the framework.
The last thing Rubin said to me before I walked out to attend the other conference gatherings was: “Let’s get back to building stuff, pleb.”
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